Contamination (1980)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #405

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Also known as Alien Contamination, Contamination: Alien on Earth, Toxic Spawn
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: August 2, 1980
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror
Country of Origin: Italy, West Germany
Running Time: 95 minutes, 84 minutes (R-rated version)
Director: Luigi Cozzi
Producer: Charles Mancini
Screenplay: Lewis Coates, Erich Tomek
Special Effects: Giovanni Corridori
Cinematography: Joseph Pinori
Score: Goblin, Agostino Marangolo, Fabio Pignatelli
Editing: Nino Baragli
Studios: Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film
Distributor: The Cannon Group
Stars: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn, Carlo De Mejo, Carlo Monni

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Suggested Audio Candy

Goblin “Connexion, Withy & Bikini Island”

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In 1979, Ridley Scott birthed unto the world Alien, a film which is still regarded as the template for sci-fi horror over thirty-five years later. It went on to enjoy massive worldwide success and leagues of low-budget film-makers began to rub their hands together excitedly at the prospect of emulating its global success on just a fraction of the budget. Some of the better examples of this in action were Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror and Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World from the Roger Corman stable, and William Malone’s Titan Find. However, word traveled fast and, before long, the Italians had formulated their own attack plan.

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With Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Bruno Mattei, and Lamberto Bava leading the charge, it was an exciting time for Italian cinema and Fulci’s Zombi 2 was understandably turning heads the world over. Luigi Cozzi wanted in and had already been responsible for sci-fi fantasy Starcrash in 1978, a film which enjoyed moderate success and put his name on the map. Having watched Alien, he decided to give the world his own interstellar horror flick and set out to make Contamination with the very best of reasoning, that being to earn the almighty buck and ride this new wave before it inevitably came crashing down. His was one of two Italian efforts to emerge in 1980, with Ciro Ippolito’s Alien 2: On Earth also doing the rounds about the same time. However, where Ippolito’s wonderful B-grade schlockfest disappeared without trace, Cozzi’s effort gained considerable infamy.

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It surfaced in the UK in 1982 after receiving nearly three minutes of cuts and was promptly banned in October 1983 and placed on the DPP’s video nasty list a few months later. After unsuccessful attempts to prosecute, it was dropped from the naughty list in 1985 and, thirty years on, is available fully uncut with a 15 certificate. It’s hard to decipher just what all of the fuss was about but it provides additional evidence of how misguided the censors were as they pressed the panic button amidst national outcry.

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The film’s production company was based in the same offices responsible for Zombi 2 thus it appeared a no-brainer to Cozzi to attempt at hiring the exact same cast. He failed in his bid but did manage to accost Ian McCulloch, while plans to include Caroline Munro a second time fell flat due to producer Claudio Mancini’s stipulation that he cast an older actress. Actually, Mancini proved to be his nemesis (and our worst nightmare) as he insisted on Cozzi focusing more on James Bond-style elements in an endeavor to gain wider appeal.

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To rub marinara in his deepening abrasions, he also vetoed the director’s plan to use stop-motion for the alien organism at the film’s close and demanded that animatronics be used. As a result, The Cyclops was barely functional and had to be manipulated by stage hands with rapid jump-cuts being used to paper over the cracks. The deluded suit then conjured up the moniker Contamination: Alien on Earth for release in certain regions which sparked mass confusion, given the parallels to Ippolito’s title, so it was swiftly shortened to simply Contamination. Personally, I preferred another of its working titles, Toxic Spawn, but Contamination works for me also. Nevertheless, what a fucking douchebag!

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Budgetary constraints also left Cozzi hamstrung and any hopes to set his movie in space were quashed, thus the Earth became his playground and he brought the aliens to us instead. How delightfully thoughtful. It started, much like Zombi 2, with a massive sea vessel drifting into New York harbor, seemingly devoid of life. A crew were dispatched to investigate the ship and discovered a most ominous cargo, tucked away beneath the coffee beans. After likening these gooey green ova to avocados, they soon rued their inquisitive nature as a number of the orbs burst in their sorry faces, coating them in flesh-dissolving gunk. An unsolicited face mask turned out to be the least of their concerns as contact with the eggs provoked rapid inflammation within their stomachs causing them to explode from the inside out like primed pimples.

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As far as openers are concerned, Contamination had itself something of a doozy but it is here that Mancini’s meddling ways became evident as it settled into a sedate pace for the next hour or so as it struggled to build up the same head of steam a second time. The espionage sub-plot was borderline dull and it was left to McCulloch to liven things up with lines of brie dialogue such as “I looked at Hamilton – and he was, his eyes, he was beginning to… Hamilton… HAMILTON!” followed by a priceless dramatic sound bite.

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As well as a number of glaring plot holes, there was also a considerable amount of padding with instances of supposed tension dragging on far too long, pointless travelogue scenes, and precious little in the way of exploding chests or melted away faces. Fuck James Bond and his shaken Martinis, we wanted to see some splatter, and it all felt contaminated by its overly pernickety producer’s insistence that it play to entirely the wrong demographic. Watching any spaghetti horror from the period meant accepting particular realities, any fan of Fulci would be required to overlook a lack of coherent narrative, and it mattered not as his work delivered on many other levels. Cozzi’s film was occasionally borderline lackluster and that proved a far more bitter pill to swallow.

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In that respect, it fell short of Alien 2: On Earth in my estimations, at least where the fun factor was concerned. However, it wasn’t all bad by a long chalk. Goblin provided the score which is never a negative and, whilst not one of their better compositions, it assisted in creating a moody atmosphere. In addition, by the final third, Contamination ceased dragging its heels and offered pay-off for our perseverance, albeit a tad preposterous. Should you possess a book of Sudoku and a crate of cheap industrial strength lager, then knock yourselves out as amidst numerous troughs lay a number of notable peaks. However, you’ll be needing those rose-tinted spectacles and perhaps even a shot of adrenaline or three to make it through 95 minutes.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: While the censors could hardly level misogyny against Cozzi and its residence on the video nasty roster appears somewhat misinformed, there was plentiful splatter to engage with. The slow-motion exploding chest effects, while often masked by bulky hazmat suits, were rather delightful and watching The Cyclops break down one of our main players as it digested him whole was also a joy to behold, even if the creature in question called to mind a gargantuan glob of space snot. It boggles the mind to consider what would be left after nearly three minutes of cuts had been enforced. Endless exposition and a ton of naff dialogue made for a fairly droll 84 minutes.

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Read Galaxy of Terror Appraisal

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Richard Charles Stevens

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  1. Ah Ding Ding Ding, Now I remember it!
    At first when you mentioned this one to me I couldn’t place it. Thank gawd for your stellar Appraisals cause I am constantly reminded of films I had long since forgotten about.
    Keep up the GREAT work!!!!! 🙂

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