AKA Alien Contamination. Italy. 95 minutes. Directed by Luigi Cozzi (under the name “Lewis Coates”), 1980. Starring Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch.
A cargo ship drifts into New York Harbor. Seemingly abandoned, quick investigation reveals that the crew has died and that the cargo, coffee crates filled with green, egg-like objects, is exceedingly dangerous. The eggs, when exposed to heat, burst, and any organism which comes into contact with the liquid inside explodes on contact. It’s up to an unlikely trio of investigators to track down the source of the “eggs” and neutralize what appears to be an alien threat to all of humanity…
By his own admission, writer/director Luigi “Lewis Coates” Cozzi wanted to rip off Alien. He appears to still be pissed off that some meddling producer changed the production’s title to Contamination from the original Alien Arrives on Earth. Title aside, Cozzi’s methodology towards his film is sound. If you’re going to rip off Alien, why settle for half-measures? Why not go for the throat? Why not ramp up the gore? Why not up the stakes by bringing the aliens to Earth, an idea that it took the stewards of the genuine Alien franchise seventeen years to get around to?
Well…yeah. It’s hard to fault Cozzi’s dedication to his goal of ripping off Alien (and as much as I want to judge Contamination on its own terms it’s a film that goes out of its way to invite comparisons at every turn), except it’s pretty clear from the first ten minutes that he doesn’t understand what makes Alien work. Alien is a suspense movie that has a couple of ugly-looking creatures, some blood and one or two (depending on which cut you watch) mind-bogglingly gross sequences.
Contamination, on the other hand, is a gore movie. If it were an Alien movie, there would be six or seven chestburster sequences in it. Cozzi seems to think that the scariest thing about the chestburster sequence is the idea of a human body exploding, but he’s wrong. The sequence is scary not because of what happens but why it happens and what it represents. The body-exploding sequences in Contamination are decent gore by 1980 standards, and actually more graphic than the gore in Alien, but they don’t represent anything. It’s just ick for its own sake.
Which doesn’t mean that Contamination is a total loss. If you don’t pay too much attention to the particulars of the story (my favorite part of which is that the U.S. government, after determining the threat to humankind these “eggs” pose, give a government scientist, a police detective, and an alcoholic astronaut 72 hours to resolve the crisis…and if they don’t, Plan B is for the Powers That Be to throw up their hands and start panicking. No wonder we lost the Vietnam War!), there’s enough stuff that works to keep the final product from being a complete loss. The cinematography is aces, at least during the New York phase of the operation. Ian McCulloch (the Zombi 2 and Survivors one, not the Echo and the Bunnymen one) is his usual fantastic self as Hubbard, and Louise Marleau is similarly engaging as Col. Dr. Holmes. The scene with the rat is genuinely affecting in a way that most of the pure-gore set pieces aren’t. And the Alien Cyclops itself is a great piece of design, even if it’s about as mobile as a band member in the original, non-CGI-ified cut of Return of the Jedi.
Put in its place, then, Contamination is certainly somewhat enjoyable even if it’s not particularly good. Just don’t think about it too hard…although, come to think of it, even if you do think about it too hard it’s still better than the AVP movies.
This is our final contribution to the Nasty Summer series of video nasty reviews. Thanks to Jason Soto over at Your Face! for organizing the summer-long event–it’s been a blast!