Contamination (15) | Home Ents Review
Dir. Luigi Cozzi, Italy/US, 1980, 95 mins, in English
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé
A deserted freighter speeds into New York harbor with a dangerous cargo on board: big, pulsing, exploding eggs that spatter people in corrosive goo that makes their chests explode.
A tough talking female NSA colonel, a horny, wise-cracking detective and a whiskey-soaked veteran astronaut look for answers … and uncover a criminal conspiracy that links a failed NASA trip to Mars, a Colombian coffee plantation worked by ‘white zombies’ and an alien invasion by proxy.
Contamination is in large part a variation on elements from Alien. Cozzi and his producers and his creative team did something similar to what 1970s Hollywood did with European films; analyzing what made Alien so successful they appear to have concluded that the ‘chestbuster’ sequence was the ‘eye of the duck’ as David Lynch might put it. So, their logic may have run, stuff the film with exploding torsos and you’ll have a mega-blockbuster …
It’s awful and rather fun – there was definitely no substantial need for this to be deemed a video nasty in the 80s, though by now most people are aware of the political and commercial agendas that were being promoted by the Video Recordings Act 1984.
The gore is exactly what it looks like: famed Italian FX artist Giovanni Corridori created a series of fake chests and simply stocked them with fake blood and butchers spoils. The chests were then sealed, filled with air bladders and then inflated to extremes on cue, until they exploded. The sequences were then slowed down in camera, making them look a bit like the deaths in Sam Peckinpah films.
“I actually tried to do The Wild Bunch meets Alien,” the director has said. “I wanted the audience to experience the pain of the violence as it was with Peckinpah’s violence.” Everyone’s an artist these days and maybe back then too.
One of the added attractions is the soundtrack by Goblin, the band who so memorably scored many of Dario Argento’s classic films. This is one of their minor affairs, I’d say. It’s very synthy, very simple and could actually be by anyone; in fact there’s a laughable extra in which the keyboard player talks about his inspirations for the theme while plinking the piano five times … even Andrew Lloyd Webber would call that simple, without being that effective.
Watching this, my strongest experience was an of uncanny feeling, and not because of the story. It feels weird to see something so trashy look so beautiful, so hi-def almost real, in this restored version. Fans of this sort of film would have chased down grubby looking VHS video versions in the 80s and 90s; now they can admire how much analogue technology and craftsmanship went into every element of even the trashiest kind of pre-digital film. Of course, there is the sepia-tint of nostalgia to take into account, as well as the role played by inherent qualities of 35mm film; all the same the uncanny feeling overwhelms the gore and the horror.
The displaced reality factor hit me with the dialogue: at first I winced at every clunky line, asking myself ‘is this a credible thing for the character to say?’. But then I realized that, because of over-exposure to clunky dialogue in films like this and the hundreds of thousands of larger budget films that followed, people do actually often deem it appropriate to talk with the sensitivity of a hammer about delicate or complex issues; though hopefully not while on the tail of a human-eating cyclops alien. So, perhaps this film contains its own contaminating seed …?
The brand new 2K restoration by those hard-working heroes at Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna comes with loads of extras:
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Newly translated subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
- Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker, Fangoria editor and Contamination super-fan Chris Alexander
- Notes on Science-Fiction Cinema – an archive documentary featuring behind-the-scenes footage and director Luigi Cozzi on the birth of Contamination
- 2014 Q&A with Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch
- Sound of the Cyclops: Maurizio Guarini on the music of Contamination – the Goblin keyboardist discusses Contamination’s dark, progressive rock score and a lifetime of making music for Italian terror
- Luigi Cozzi vs. Lewis Coates – a brand new interview with the director in which he discusses his filmmaking career from past to present
- Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery: A Critical Analysis of the Italian Cash-In – a brand new featurette looking at the Italian genre movies which sought to cash-in on popular Hollywood blockbusters
- Theatrical Trailer
- Graphic Novel based on the original Contamination screenplay (Disc gallery)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
- Fully-illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Alexander
Review by Colin Dibben
Contamination is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.