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Contamination (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: Luigi Cozzi (Lewis Coates)
Writers: Luigi Cozzi , Erich Tomek
Cast:  Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé
Year: 1980
Length: 95 min
Rating: R
Region: AB 1/2
Disks: 2
Label: Arrow Films and Video
Release Date:  July 7, 2015

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio:  English: LPCM 1.0, Italian: LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English SDH

Extras
  • Newly commissioned interview with star Jô Shishido
  • Interview with critic and historian Tony Rayns
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Photo Gallery
ContaminationItalian cinema is known for a lot of things. The country has birthed some of the greatest films of all time. Throughout the 60s and 70s, it was also a haven for some of the most innovative genre films, especially for the horror, crime, and western genres. But, it is also known, and rightfully so, by its cheap, quick, and often humorous knock offs. Mad Max, The Warriors, and Escape from New York saw the birth of countless post-apocalyptic gems and duds, while films like Rambo ushered forth Thunder and Jaws begot Enzo G. Catellari’s Great White and the less-than-ambiguous Cruel Jaws. They followed a very simple formula: if a movie (usually American) hit it big, they’d replicate it, exploiting it for maximum profit. While the producers’ intentions may have be less than artistic, these films cannot be wholesale written off. In fact, many of them are entertaining, some of them arguably masterpieces in their own right. Firmly entrenched in this cycle of filmmaking is Luigi Cozzi’s 1980 Alien­-inspired Contamination aka Alien Contamination. Now that Arrow Films and Video have released Cozzi’s madness on Blu-Ray, we can all take a closer look and see how it has stood the test of time.

The Film

In 1979, Ridley Scott unveiled Alien to the world, and really horror has never been the same since. While there are definite claims that Alien, itself, owes a great deal of its success to Planet of the Vampires and Jodorowsky’s unproduced Dune, the film’s innovation cannot be overlooked. It was a massive hit, changing the game for Science Fiction/Horror crossovers in its wake. Its clear that Alien served as the primary point of reference for Luigi Cozzi (credited, here, as Lewis Coates) Contamination, released only one year later. Yet to reduce Contamination simply to a rip off is not only not fair to the film, its not really all that accurate. In fact, it could (and probably should) be argued that for as much as Contamination takes cues from two specific aspects of Alien, it is almost more in debt to Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Beyond its influences, Contamination is really a bizarre, one-of-a-kind piece of cinema, certainly worthy of the cult following its managed to form.

The films opens as an unresponsive barge enters the shores of New York City. Investigating the report, police officers equipped with hazmat suits and lead by Lt. Tony Aris (Marino Masé) board the ship. The site is gruesome. Blood, guts, and corpses line the walls and corridors but with no sign of what went wrong. Finally, the investigators find the source of the problem hidden in a mysterious shipment of coffee: large, green egg-like objects (there’s your first nod to Alien). Curious as to what the eggs are, the investigators take a closer look, but when an exposed egg’s temperature rises it explodes on them. The investigators are covered with a green substance that, after no time at all, infects their body and causes their chest to explode (for those playing along, there is the second nod to Alien). Of the team that boards the ship, only one member survives (Aris), who is quickly quarantined before being sent off to be questioned by Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau). The rest of the film takes viewers down a strange cavalcade of plot twists and turns, inevitably involving the inclusion of an ex-astronaut(Ian McCulloch) to our leading cast. It’s not always cohesive but it is always entertaining.

Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

This review is not the first to note this (nor will it be the last), but one of the aspects of the film that is most appreciated is the obvious attempt to one-up Alien. Taking the iconic chest-exploding scene, Cozzi ramps it up making it bigger and bloodier than its predecessor. The film constantly reuses the effect, a fact that works very much in its favor. Contamination is exploitation cinema at its finest in this respect. Technically speaking, Cozzi is less of a craftsman than some of his contemporaries like a Castellari or Martino, but he’s also not as dingy as a filmmaker like Mattei. He falls somewhere between the two poles, making solid if not somewhat middling films. Cozzi is at his best when the violence and/or excess is being ramped up but does struggle with the pace during the scenes between these moments.

One almost gets the impression that Cozzi simply does not care about the minutia between chest explosions, but it is hard to deny that the film has more than a few lengthy lulls in plot development. Contamination is kind of anomaly, when you really think about many of the scenes, plot points they simply make no sense. There is nearly no suspense because the main foes, for most of the film at least, are immobile eggs (as Fangoria EIC Chris Alexander humorously comments on in his commentary track). Cozzi plays the suspense card anyways, however, and I have to admit I am willing to buy it (at least as long as the film is playing).

Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Its not just the eggs, however, that pose a threat. In the tail end of the film, Cozzi reveals the film’s real antagonist: a mind controlling, human eating alien. In the supplemental material, Cozzi recounts to us that the original idea for the final alien would have been smaller in scope but more effective in delivery. However, the producer decided that he would take it upon himself to create the alien and the result was the larger (of course), papier-mâché abnormality that we all know (and love). The alien is anything but scary. The effects are cheap, the movement is minimal, but it still works (despite the obvious strings, easily visibile on this print). The alien bears a striking resemblance to Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons. With Kang and Kodos not premiering until 1990 (10 years after Cozzi’s film), it begs the question as to whether or not Matt Groening saw/was a fan of Contamination.

The casting is a bit patchy and it could be argued that the cast has almost no chemistry with each other. McCulloch is fantastic in his role but it is rather small and thankless. The lack of chemistry or even much justification is no obstacle for Cozzi, as he seamlessly transitions the characters’ emotions towards each other (at one moment it would seem that Colonel Holmes is romantically geared towards Commander Ian Hubbard but that doesn’t stop her for also going after Aris only a few minutes later in the film). This lack of justification is littered throughout the film and, while normally this would prove to be a film’s Achille’s Heel, its this sense of perplexity that actually makes the film work best. Simply put, it is one of the weirder gems in Italian genre cinema and all the better for it.

Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Video

Coming in on Blu-Ray via a 1.85:1, 1080p 2K transfer, Arrow offers quite an impressive print for this low budget film. There are some problems inherent in the cinematography by Giuseppe Pinori, including a few painfully out of focus shots. Beyond some technical mishaps, the film looks beautiful in HD. The colors are a bit soft but they are still rather natural and the bright red blood really pops — should I say explode? There appears to be no attempt to sharpen the picture digitally, leaving an accurate looking representation of the 35mm elements. There are a few moments of dirt or dust present, but nothing distracting and no real major damage overall.

Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Audio

For Contamination, Arrow has provided two LPCM 1.0 mixes for both the original English and Italian soundtracks. As the film was marketed with international audiences in mind, the English track does have a slightly better fidelity, but each offer a fine listening experience. Both mixes are kind to Goblin’s score, which is maybe not their best effort but still has most of what you’ve come to expect from the group. The score was composed after Simonetti left the group, so a lot of the characteristics of his style — a bit more bombastic and dynamic — are replaced with a much moodier and minimal score. The main keyboard-driven theme, however, is quite phenomenal, standing up against Goblin’s best work.

Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Extras

Arrow are really among the finest when it comes to supplying hours of materials, and Contamination does not let down. There is a really fantastic commentary track with Fangoria’s Chris Alexander. Normally, single person commentary tracks tend to become a bit grating or tedious, but Alexander has a great time with it and offers up wide a range of observations that keeps the pacing strong. First and foremost a fan, Alexander is able to ackowldge the film’s less-than-logical characteristics but always grounds his discussion in a place between admiration and analysis. Alexander is also a major force behind a second feature, Sound of the Cyclops, shooting the interview with Goblin’s Maurizio Guarin. Guarin takes us through the all-too-rocky history of Goblin, sharing with us their process of writing for the film, and even treating us with a personal performance of one of the score’s main cues. In addition to Sound of the Cyclops, there are two featurettes with Cozzi — one vintage and one more recent — where he tracks the reasons behind making Contamination as well as some stories from the film’s production, the latter offering a near complete history of his career. Another nice piece included is a 2014 Q+A segment featuring both Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch, the two looking back on the film after almost 25 years. Finally, there Imitation is the Sincerest form of Flattery, a 17-minute mini-documentary about the cycle of Italian knockoffs, of which Contamination is a part of. The piece will not be too informative for those already “in the know,” but the subjects, authors Chris Poggiali and Maitland McDonagh, do provide more than enough to warrant a watch. Finally, it should be noted that this release comes with a slipcover with stunning newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin (I believe the first slipcase for the company), and an illustrated booklet with a new essay by Chris Alexander.

Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Bottom Line

It’s a bit of a shame that Contamination only stands — at the time of this writing — at a 5.3/10 on IMDb. Sure, the film is a jumbled and, at times, a bit amateur feeling, but there is also an undeniable value to the film. Much of the film is representation of Cozzi up against producers who weren’t completely confident to give him free reign and, for this, Cozzi manages to still pull off an impressive number. With enough chest-bursting to keep you entertained, Contamination is the gem you didn’t know you had to see. If you can suspend your disbelief enough to accept a world where immobile eggs are a global threat, this just might be the film for you.

Luigi Cozzi's Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980) [click to enlarge]

About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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