Contamination (1980) [Blu-ray review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-07-07 00:01
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Contamination (1980)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: July 7th, 2015

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman




The movie:

The opening credits of Contamination insist it’s based on an original story by Lewis Coates (the American pseudonym for writer/director Luigi Cozzi), presumably because it would have been too unwieldy (not to mention possibly illegal) to simply acknowledge the truth: Alien made a ton of money, and, therefore, the filmmakers behind Contamination wanted to make a lot of money as well. It’s a well-worn tale, one that’s been passed down through the exploitation circuit for decades, and this particular stretch yielded some peculiar efforts that took Ridley Scott’s film and ran into some wild directions. Contamination isn’t exactly one of those films, though, and is primarily concerned with aping the infamous chest-bursting sequence and leaving everything else to be a dull afterthought.

This is especially problematic when your film is in a hurry to get its good stuff out of the way. You may recall that Scott was patient in building suspense, with the chest-bursting sequence arriving after the film had simmered for a bit. If Contamination is any indication, then Luigi Cozzi is not a patient man, or at least he wasn’t 35 years ago when he wondered what the beginning of Zombie might look like with more exploding bodies. We have a similar situation as in that film: a derelict ship eerily drifts into New York, warranting an investigation from local authorities. Their cursory inspection reveals an empty ship until one of the cops opens a door to reveal a hollowed out corpse that seems to have burst from within.

Within a few minutes, Contamination has revealed more grue than the entirety of Alien, and it doesn’t stop there: more bodies are discovered, only these are in slightly better condition in so much as they can at least stagger about. Soon, though, they, too rupture right before our eyes in a righteous display of blood and guts pyrotechnics. Sequenced by Giovanni Corridori and Valerio Mazzoli, the scene perhaps offers a glimpse at what a Sam Peckinpah helmed splatter film might have looked like as Cozzi’s slow-motion photography captures each exploding squib and every chunk of viscera with painstaking detail. For lack of better praise, it is fucking awesome.

It’s also the high point of an otherwise tedious movie. You might also recall that Scott had plenty of places to go after destroying John Hurt’s torso and did so with grace and intrigue. Cozzi attempts to wander down the same conspiratorial rabbit hole by shipping another trio of investigators (Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, and Marino Mase) off to a Colombian coffee plantation in order to snuff out the origin of some toxic eggs discovered aboard the abandoned freighter. The only problem is that he reveals all his answers too early and too often, leaving the main characters to play catch-up with the audience as they bumble through their investigation.

If these characters were the least bit interesting, it wouldn’t be a problem; however, they’re cut from the most cliché cloth imaginable, right down to the regressive sexual politics that unfold between them (a scene where Marleau goads one of the men into slapping her seems backwards even in 1980, for example). Marleau, at least, is striking in her iciness, but there’s so little for her and anyone else to do. For a long stretch, the most “suspenseful” thing that happens is an assassination attempt involving an egg in her hotel room that drags on and on. Never has a “do not disturb” sign felt so insidious.

To Cozzi’s credit, he does provide another show-stopping effects sequence to sufficiently bookend his film. More bodies explode, and the extraterrestrial hive-mind takes slick, gooey form for a memorable climax that slightly elevates Contamination above the typical Eurohorror muck of bad dubbing and loose logic. Goblin’s pulse-pounding score helps, too, but only so much—this is one of those cases where a revisit has done little to dissuade me of the notions I had a few years ago: Contamination has exactly one calling card, and it doesn’t wield it nearly enough.

The disc:

The good news, however, is that its lone calling card is ideal for gawking at in high definition. Thanks to Arrow Video’s Blu-ray release, this is now more than possible, as every gruesome frame has been restored to crystal clarity. Scenes that once resulted in Contamination being banned as a Video Nasty can now be poured over and rewound to your heart’s content.

Enthusiasts will also have plenty of supplements to work through, as this is another loaded release from Arrow. A commentary with Fangoria’s Chris Alexander provides one fan’s perspective on the film to complement the wealth of information provided by the cast and crew. A vintage production short from 1980 featuring Cozzi has the director discussing his influences on and hopes for Contamination, while some more recent material has Cozzi and McCulloch reminiscing about the film during a recent Q&A session. An interview with Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini covers the score, and another interview with Cozzi allows him to discuss his life and career.

One of the more interesting bits is a featurette entitled “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery,” in which co-writers Maitland McDonagh and Chris Poggiali discuss how the Italian film industry liberally borrowed and riffed on ideas from profitable American counterparts for decades. A trailer, a newly-created digital graphic novel, and a collector’s book boasting promotional material completes an impressive package. Even if Contamination isn’t my favorite Alien knock-off, it’s hard to deny that this is a definitive release. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch some bodies explode.
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