Color, 1980, 95m.
Directed by Luigi Cozzi
Starring Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Gisela Hahn, Carlo De Mejo
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC), Blue Underground (DVD) (US R0 NTSC, UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), CMV Laservision (Germany R2 PAL)
Made at the height of Italy's international domination of the exploitation market around the world, Contamination (first released in American theaters as Alien Contamination) now stands at the top of the heap among that odd subgenre, the Alien rip-off. No one involved has made any secret of that inspiration, with director Luigi Cozzi (who helmed this in between the much daffier homages to Star Wars and Clash of the Titans, Starcrash and Hercules) packing the screen with gory scenes of bodies blown apart by a horde of invading alien eggs. However, this time the action is switched to Earth (all the easier for budgeting) with more than a few fun spins on the material to keep viewers on their toes.
When a ship pulls into a New York harbor from South America with crew responding on board, investigating officers led by Lieutenant Aris (Mase) are startled to find a cargo containing strange, oversized eggs and the bloody remains of the humans on board. Those eggs promptly start to hatch and turn everyone but Tony into a splattery mess, which puts him in quarantine under the watch of some scientists and military personnel headed by Colonel Stella Holmes (Marleau). His story rings true, especially thanks to the involvement of astronaut Commander Ian Hubbard (Zombie's McCulloch), who believes this is all connected to an ill-fated trip to Mars that may have brought back something nasty indeed. Taking a weird cue from the previous year's Moonraker, all clues lead the trio to the apparent source of the potential outbreak at a Columbian coffee farm where they stumble through the jungle to uncover a threat even more grotesque than they could have imagined.
Fun, zippy, and very trashy, Contamination offers a fun ride for fans of Italian gore and flagrant imitations of recent box office hits. Fortunately it also manages to tweak the unofficial source material into something wholly unique as the bursting eggs, splashy gore, bizarre plotting, and sincere performances create a memorable slice of drive-in hokum Of course, a large chunk of its cult appeal also lies in its insidiously catchy score by the legendary Goblin, who had recently come off of Dawn of the Dead and were experiencing their usual musical chairs with band members while working on titles like Beyond the Darkness and the Italian release of Patrick. This music definitely fits in well with those latter two as it ramps up the dance beats and synths for a percolating symphony that couldn't have come from any other country or era. As for the actors, McCulloch is enjoyable as always in the last of his great Italian horror trilogy (coming off of Zombie Holocaust), with a lengthy career in British TV awaiting him. He's saddled with some particularly nutty exposition here, but as usual he makes the most of it and turns out to be a fine heroic figure.
Blue Underground first released Contamination uncut as one of their earliest titles on DVD in 2003 in the US, with a UK edition porting over the identical contents the following year and a later two-disc reissue arriving paired up with The Shape of Things to Come. Click here for our earlier thorough rundown of that release including frame grabs for comparison as well as the film's VHS history. That release contained the theatrical mono track as well as a Dolby Digital EX 5.1 mix (and a stereo mixdown) that added some new punchy sound effects (mainly squishing and splattering) in the vein of other Bill Lustig-supervised remixes like Zombie and Quatermass and the Pit. That revisionist sound mix is unlikely to pop up again anywhere, so hang on to that disc if you're a real completist.
The 2015 revisit from Arrow Films in both the US and UK as a dual-format release (Blu-ray and DVD) is similarly framed but improves dramatically by virtue of featuring a transfer benefiting from fifteen years of technical advances. It looks quite beautiful and gives the film a classy, very clear presentation beyond what most fans would ever expect. Colors look appropriately balanced, grain levels appear accurate (accentuated as always during those dark opening helicopter shots), and detail is often astonishing compared to how to this used to look. You can also make out far more details in the darker scenes (which comprise a huge chunk of the running time), and the reds in particular look far better resolved here than before. The English and Italian mono tracks are presented in LPCM and sound excellent. with optional English subs for the Italian version. Since the film was shot in English (with McCulloch providing his own voice) that's the preferable option, but there's always a kick in hearing actors speaking Italian pretending to talk about Brooklyn.
An additional audio option is a new audio commentary by Fangoria and GoreZone editor Chris Alexander, offering a self-described fan commentary in which he basically runs through his love of Italian cinema of the period and his encounters over the years with Cozzi and McCulloch. You won't learn a huge amount about the film's production here, but he's enthusiastic in his admiration for this "ugly duckling" of its subgenre and covers the basics of both its charms (including its copious gaps in logic) and major players. Carried over from the DVD are the trailer, an expanded graphic novel adaptation, and the archival "Luigi Cozzi on Contamination," with the director covering its making (with tons of behind-the-scenes footage) for 22 minutes. He starts off "writing" his screenplay wearing a gas mask, so you know a good time is in store. A lighthearted Q&A with Cozzi and McCulloch runs 41 mins. and is hosted by Arrow's Ewan Cant at the Abertoir Horror Festival in 2014, with topics including the origin of the film, the bizarre nature of Italian retitlings and financing, the lack of pickiness you have as a starving actor, and the joy of working with explosive, splattery special effects.
In "Sound of the Cyclops," Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini chats for 11 minutes about the creation of the film's score, opening with a great rendition of the theme on his piano and touching on the bumpy history of the group around that time as he stepped in after the (first) departure of Claudio Simonetti. Instead of the "Alien Arrives on Earth" featurette from the prior DVD, the new HD interview "Luigi Cozzi vs. Lewis Coates" takes a much broader (almost 43 mins.!) look at his career in Italian horror and sci-fi with the genial filmmaker seated in front of a ridiculous green screen flashing images of the film and exploring everything from his early love of fantastic cinema through his numerous career highlights as both a director and writer. It's a great thumbnail sketch of Roman production at the time as well with anecdotes about everything from strikes and dubbing to international casting. In the 17-minute "Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery," Maitland McDonagh and Temple of Schlock's Chris Poggiali run through the amusing history of Italian cash-ins of the era including the proliferation of Jaws, The Road Warrior, and Alien copies and some of Cozzi's other hits like the beloved Starcrash. It's a very entertaining primer with some giddy trailer and film clips that will probably have you updating your watch list after you've finished with this endearing, squishy gem of Italian drive-in insanity.