Other Titles: ALIEN CONTAMINATION; ALIEN ON EARTH; TOXIC SPAWN
Director: Luigi Cozzi, a.k.a. Lewis Coates
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Sigfried Rauch
Slo-mo exploding torsos
Point-blank gunshot to the head
Man-eating avocado cyclops
Machine gun killing spree
With the release of ALIEN: COVENANT this week, it’s only right that part of the film discussion include sweet, sweet ALIEN ripoffs. One masterpiece of mimicry in particular had the honor of being the only sci-fi fantasy film to make the Video Nasties list, though whether it deserved to be there remains up for debate.
When a cargo ship drifts into New York harbor, a team is sent onboard to investigate. They find the mutilated bodies of the entire crew, their torsos seemingly turned inside–out by an unknown force. The freight, numerous crates of pulsating green eggs, are the subject of a deep investigation by scientists. There is only one survivor, Lieutenant Tony Aris (Marino Masé). Aris tries to warn the authorites of the disaster and is then introduced to Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) who briefly quarantines Aris before joining forces with him to prevent a global catastrophe. Let not get it twisted: this is an Italian sci-fi B-movie. The budget is low, the dialogue is laughable, the dubbing is abysmal, and you’ve seen elements of its premise before in a bigger, better American blockbuster.
That’s the fun.
This is a pure cheesefest brought to you by Luigi Cozzi, the same auteur who directed the Italian sword-and-sandal spectacles HERCULES (1983) and THE ADVENTURES OF HERCULES (1985), starring the great Lou Ferrigno. Anyone who enjoys mockbusters and accepts the cornball exploitation formula won’t be disappointed here. The nonsensical plot is just a vehicle for the good stuff. The boneheaded decisions of every character are essential to the outlandish story, which makes sense because if the investigators in CONTAMINATION made smarter decisions, we’d have the movie ALIEN. It’s necessary to have the scientists discover the mutilated remains of the crew… and then venture further into the ship. It’s necessary for them to stumble upon crates of pulsating green avocado eggs… and then pick an egg up to examine it more closely.
CONTAMINATION contains full-frontal depictions of bodily explosions, plus dwelling shots of the grisly aftermath. Cozzi took drew a bead from ALIEN’s iconic chest-burst scene and milked that shocking gorefest for its 95 minute runtime. Once a person handles the throbbing egg it explodes, releasing a deadly spray of steaming liquid that causes what can best be described as torso detonation. The victim’s face melts a bit, sure, but the damage is largely concentrated in the trunk of the body. And because all nine of the torso detonations are depicted in slow-motion, it’s easy to see the bloated, boxy outline of the blood-and-guts squib underneath the actors’ clothing.
That’s the fun.
Special effects master Giovanni Corridori, who also did the effects for Argento’s TENEBRAE (1982) and OPERA (1987), delivers on the gory goods with spring-loaded intestines erupting alongside gushing blood with every explosion. It’s not as audacious as the effects found in your average Fulci film, but it was enough to drop the jaws of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, who cited its extreme violence as unsuitable for home viewing.
CONTAMINATION was added to the DPP’s Video Nasties list in 1984, as an unprosecuted title. There wasn’t much of a campaign to capitalize on its gore, since there wasn’t much gore to begin with. There are less than ten inside-out bodily explosions, and they occur only a handful of times with multiple casualties in each go. Most of the viewer’s time will be spent grinning at the bananas storyline, not recoiling at the gruesome effects. As far as hype goes, this movie is lacking.
Considering the fact that sci-fi was all but a dead avenue for filmmakers at the time, it’s amazing to see the scale that Cozzi achieved in his film, with such a low budget. The animatronic one-eyed alien queen featured in the climax is still impressive decades later, though it wasn’t the stop-motion animated monster that the director wanted. As a cross between a giant squid and the invaders from MARS ATTACKS! (1996), it would be a treat to get a NECA figure of the queen to grace the shelves of sci-fi cinephiles everywhere. Also notable is the outstanding score by Goblin (which you may recognize as the band that scored nearly every Dario Argento movie ever), which holds up well.
Watching CONTAMINATION purely because it’s a Video Nasty will leave you scratching your head, trying to figure out what the big fuss was. But going into the film with the sort of expectations one would have for, say, JAWS knockoff GRIZZLY (1977) will give the viewer a far more satisfying experience.
That’s the fun.
CONTAMINATION is now available on DVD through Arrow Video, and is currently streaming on Shudder.