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Contamination (1980)

Alien Contamination, Contamination: Alien on Earth, Contamination: Alien arriva sulla terra, Toxic Spawn

You can feel them in your blood!

Directed by:

Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 91 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: Italy, Germany

As sure as flies follow shit, cheap Italian rip-offs followed the American blockbusters of the seventies and eighties. The undisputed master of the spaghetti retread was Dario Argento's long-time collaborator Luigi Cozzi, who reimagined 'Star Wars' as 'Starcrash', 'Conan the Barbarian' as 'Hercules', 'Jaws' as 'Monster Shark' – and the heavenly 'Alien' (1979) as the more earthbound 'Contamination'. All the key elements from Ridley Scott's film can be found in 'Contamination' – large green cocoons (prompting the repeated scream “Get me out of here! There's an egg!”), exploding stomachs (plus an exploding rat), a strong female character (married, as one of the film's males puts it, “to a test-tube and a whip”) and the big killer alien (although instead of Giger's efficient killer, this extraterrestrial looks like leftover tat from the set of a 1950s B-flick or 'Dr Who').

'Alien' is not the only influence to have infected 'Contamination'. Its opening sequence, in which an unmanned boat enters New York City's waters, is, like the film's star Ian McCulloch, straight out of 'Zombie Flesheaters', Lucio Fulci's box office success from the previous year which in turn was an Italian response to George A. Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' (1978). The paranoia about a killer epidemic and the obsession with men in white protection suits is inspired both by the 'Quatermass' franchise and another Romero horror, 'The Crazies'. And the film's second half, in which the three main characters travel undercover to South America to investigate the suspicious activities of a coffee-producing factory, and end up being shown around the operation by the film's gloating villain, is pure James Bond – not that Blofeld ever conspired with a one-eyed psychic sidekick from outer space resembling a giant slimy mushroom with big penile tentacles.

'Contamination' is, like the alien it portrays, a hilarious hybrid which sucks you in by turning your brain to jelly. Delightfully dated now, and probably even in its own time, it combines explosive gore, an alien terrorist plot, a tragic love triangle, a mission to Mars, a Columbian operation to flood the US with a crop far deadlier than cocaine, and an alcoholic ex-astronaut's struggle to get back his mojo (“If you're always in this condition it's quite obvious you couldn't get it up, even if you used a crane”, as ice maiden Colonel Stella Holmes, played by Loise Marleau, so eloquently puts it). Ian McCulloch plays the strong-minded (if limp-dicked) Commander Ian Hubbard with a knowing smile, while Siegfried Rauch overacts with wide-eyed glee as the alien-controlled antagonist – and the mixture of these hams with so much cheese and all those pulsating eggs makes for a strange but satisfying omelette (even if it might make your belly want to burst).

It's Got: A soundtrack by Dario Argentos favourite synth progrock band, Goblin; exchanges of dialogue like "Its time for you to come to the Cyclops", "To the Cyclops?", "Yes, the Cyclops"; gory human explosions; a womans relaxing shower interrupted by the appearance of a throbbing egg; a hilarious-looking alien; and the line that all horror-fans love to hear, "we might as well split up".

It Needs: Difficult to say, as it is all the faults that make this film so watchable.

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of Dolby 2.0/Dolby 5.1 surround/dts; Alien Arrives on Earth (17min), an interview (Italian, subtitled) with director/writer Luigi Cozzi about his struggles with producers who hated sci-fi, the on-set mechanical failures of the alien model, the film flopping in Italy because it was released on the same day as a deadly Red Brigade bombing in Bologna, and his own retirement from cinema in the 1990s to run a sci-fi/horror memorabilia shop with Dario Argento; Notes on Science-Fiction Cinema (23min), a bizarre interview (Italian, subtitled), conducted shortly after the release of Contamination, with a young Cozzi dressed in protection suit and gas mask and surrounded by sci-fi knickknacks, who comments on behind-the-scenes footage with generalisations about the artifice of cinema; bios of Ian McCulloch and Cozzi; DVD-Rom access to the Contamination graphic novel drawn by Sergio Muratori and based on Cozzis original screenplay; poster and still gallery; black-and-white conceptual drawings; theatrical trailer; film notes. DVD Extras Rating: 7/10

Alternatives:

Alien, Dreamcatcher, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Quatermass: Enemy from Space, Species, Zombie Flesh Eaters

Summary

Pulsating alien eggs, ham acting and liberal amounts of cheese make for a satisfyingly silly sci-fi omelette.

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