Contamination (1980) Blu-ray Review: On Earth, Everyone Can Hear You Scream ‘Rip-Off!’

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery – it’s certainly the least-creative – but there are relatively few individuals out there with enough gall to market a movie of their own as a sequel to somebody else’s production. Nevertheless, the annals of exploitation movie history could quite literally be lined with one-sheet movie posters of low-budget movies shamelessly retitled in an attempt to lure unsuspecting filmgoers into thinking they were follow-ups to other (better known) movies. The lengths some of these shady distributors would go to were admirable, to say the least – with my personal favorite being the way somebody (who is probably still laughing at this, somewhere) somehow managed to market Tombs of the Blind Dead as a sequel to the original Planet of the Apes franchise (!).

Of course, there’s always one exception to the rule. Even if the rule isn’t really a rule. And this, of course, takes us to a short-lived wave of Italian movies that booted up around the late ’70s with Lucio Fulci’s celebrated Zombi 2. Released in America as Zombie, the two titles still confuse the uninitiated to this day, but the math behind it is really quite simple: George A. Romero’s massively successful Dawn of the Dead was released in most of Europe as Zombi, and there was a demand for a sequel – with any and all concerns for legitimacy, art, or at least shame be damned! It worked, of course, thanks mostly to a lack of copyrights and registered trademarks that had either become lost in translation or which were never truly understood (or maybe seen) by the respective parental parties in question.

A few months after Zombi 2 was released in Italy, Ridley Scott’s Nostromo-sized science fiction horror hybrid Alien made its European debut, causing yet another demand for a follow-up feature. Again, there was little need for a connection other than the title and the basic subject matter. This time, however, two groups of exploitation movie manufacturers jumped on the idea, resulting in the rather tedious (but funny) Alien 2: On Earth – a forgettable flick that reaches its anticlimactic climax in a 20th century-era southwestern bowling alley – and Luigi Cozzi’s better-known, bloody good splatterfest of a regular ol’ grindhouse pants charmer, Contamination – aka Alien Contamination, Contamination: Alien on Earth, and Toxic Spawn.

In an opening that even stoops so low as to mimic the very beginning of Zombi 2, a cargo ship drifts into New York Harbor one day, seemingly deserted. Authorities soon discover that the boxes of coffee stored aboard actually contain a shipment of football-sized objects that “look like big green eggs” to NYPD Lieutenant Tony Aris (Marino Masé), who starts off as a wisecracking New York City cop, only to become slightly flamboyant comic relief midway through. While Lt. Aris’ guess is a deadly accurate one (because this is an Alien rip-off/sequel), it isn’t apparent as to how deadly the eggs really are until one of them explodes, sending slimy green ooze onto investigators, which in turn causes them to explode (in slow-motion) from the inside-out; their contaminated innards shooting all over the place, potentially spreading the fatal threat to anyone that they may make contact with in the process.

As the only survivor to the mysterious slaughter, Lt. Aris soon teams up with a secret ops US military colonel, Stella Holmes (as portrayed by a plain-looking Canadian actress, Louise Marleau), to investigate the whole bloody affair. Now, I should point out that the film’s producer, Claudio Mancini, hired the homely Ms. Marleau for the part, while Cozzi had conceived the part for Caroline Munro – who had starred in his grandiose rip-off or (but not a phony sequel to) Star Wars, 1979’s enjoyable sci-fi movie mashup, Starcrash. It it even more interesting to note that many references to Col. Holmes’ beauty – which would have been totally appropriate had Ms. Munro inhabited the part – were kept in, and tend to make you wonder which box of coffee Luigi Cozzi opened the morning he wrote Contamination‘s script: the regular caffeinated kind, or that weird “Café Univerx” kind with a great big green slimy toxic egg in it.

So, anyway, getting back to the loose plot at hand here, Col. Holmes soon makes a connection between the weird ovulations of an unknown origin and an alleged fable a supposedly cracked egg of English astronaut (there’s an Eddie Izzard joke in there somewhere) named Ian Hubbard, as played by the great Ian McCulloch in the last of his now-legendary Italian video nasties trilogy after Zombi 2 and Zombi Holocaust. Soon, the disgraced space adventurer, the homely beauty G-Girl, and the now-flamboyant NYC cop are venturing off to South America to hopefully figure out just what the heck the story is supposed to be about. It is there that the trio discovers a 007-style subplot that just sort of pops up out of left field, complete with faceless minions wearing biosuits very much akin to the those seen in Romero’s The Crazies, and sinister German actors Siegfried Rauch (Steve McQueen’s rival in Le Mans) and Gisela Hahn.

All that, plus a huge immobile alien cyclops egg-maker thing (six years before Aliens), the voice talents of Nick Alexander and his crackshot dubbing crew, and a synth-heavy score by Italian progressive rock group Goblin. Again, for the uninitiated, Goblin composed the original score for George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead after European horror king Dario Argento had turned the maverick Philadelphia director onto them. Alas, Romero opted to snip out most of their work for the final cut, replacing most cues with stock music. They received an oddly plural (“The Goblins”) credit in the U.S. version of the film for their trouble, while their music was featured much more prominently in the Italian edit of the film, Zombi. Here, however, (The) Goblin turns in an above-average score – despite not having their most famous frontman, Claudio Simonetti, on-board. The infamous Bruno Mattei later outright stole music from Dawn of the Dead and Contamination for his gory zombie gut-muncher Hell of the Living Dead that same year. (Talk about flattery!)

Of course, I suppose if you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into here, Goblin’s soundtrack will come off just like Contamination itself. Heck, even if you do know what you’re setting yourself up for, Luigi Cozzi’s Alien/007 knockoff can be a pretty wild, weird ride, for, in addition to being pretty gory, Contamination is also pretty stupid and ultimately lacks enough vision to find see clearly out of its one big alien eye. And, while most of this is due to the various demands of the producer and the film’s restricted budget, those same elements are what have made the title so endearing to many folks who grew up with the title. And now we may look forward to spreading the Contamination thank to this new, worldwide High-Definition release from the folks at Arrow Video, who have – along with director Luigi Cozzi’s kind grace, generosity, and approval – have brought us the Blu-ray debut of this former Video Nasty to both their UK and USA labels.

The release boasts a brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, which is nothing short of breathtaking to a longtime fan such as myself. Previously released in the US via the defunct cult Paragon video label in the early ’80s, followed by a much-needed DVD in the early 2000s from Blue Underground, Arrow Video’s new 1080p release is an upgrade in almost every sense. Picture-wise, the colors – especially those blood reds and alien greens – are very lively and eerie here, while the detail is so fine, it simultaneously shows some of the gore effects for what they are while pushing them into your face that much more. The monaural English audio track sounds as marvelous as ever, and Arrow has also included the Italian mono soundtrack. Each track has its own optional English subtitle track, which is notable plus over the Blue Underground release, though this release lacks the Stereo Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1, and 6.1 DTS audio tracks present on said older disc.

But no matter how much of an upgrade the video presentation is here (and it is, big time!), man cannot live on just bread and water alone. Thankfully, most of the extras from the Blue Underground DVD have been carried over here, which include the original theatrical trailer for the film, an archive featurette with a young Luigi Cozzi on the creation of the film, and a newer graphic novel adaptation (which most people overlooked on the old disc, as it was not included in a stills/gallery form as it is here). New special features for this Arrow Video presentation consist of a 2014 Q&A with Luigi Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch; a featurette with Goblin keyboardist Maurizio Guarini; an all-new interview with Luigi Cozzi (in Italian, but with English subtitles) on his career and various inspirations; and a delightful featurette entitled Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: A Critical Analysis of the Italian Cash-In as brought to life by historians/writers Maitland McDonagh and Chris Poggiali.

Arrow Video’s outstanding new release of Contamination features an enjoyable audio commentary by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander – another individual who grew up with the film. The famous horror movie magazine frontman returns in written form for the Blu-ray/DVD Combo’s liner notes, which are lovingly packed with gory photos (which is about the closest we get to a poster/artwork gallery, I’m afraid to say) and restoration/release credits as well. Lastly, the new release – which also comes with a handsome glossy slipcover – features reversible artwork, so in the event you also think Gary Pullin’s newly commissioned artwork reminds you way too much of The Brain from Planet Arous, well then you can just flip that bad boy ’round to show off the classic US poster and video art (which I have always preferred anyway) instead.

Truly, the only thing that could have made this release any better than it already is would have been the inclusion of a poster/video artwork still gallery and/or the original Goblin soundtrack on CD (I’m still kicking myself in the pants for selling off my Japanese import CD all those years ago), but I won’t hold that against anyone: this one gets a “highly recommended” note, no two ways about it!

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Luigi Bastardo

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