Given that his best decision during the making of Star Crash, his psychedelic Star Wars ripoff, was his hiring of both Caroline Munro and John Barry to star in and score the movie, respectively, it's difficult to hold much hope for Luigi Cozzi's follow-up, Contamination. That it's more commonly known as Alien Contamination in the US, where it failed to even get a theatrical release, should give you some idea of what Hollywood film was recycled for this Italian production. Sadly, the comparisons do come to a swift end, particularly when comparing HR Giger and Ridley Scott's alien to the papier mache creation of Luigi Cozzi and, one assumes, a man with no artistic ability and only half a finger on his good hand but who has a surplus of light bulbs and KY Jelly.
Contamination opens with the US coast guard taking notice of a cargo boat heading for New York, which fails to respond to a call to reduce speed as they approach the harbour. A small unit is sent to investigate what happened to the crew but they find the ship deserted, the bodies of what was once the crew and a cargo full of strange eggs. When one egg hatches, killing two of the investigating team by causing their bodies to explode, the surviving member is asked to assist in a search for any remaining eggs, which will take him from New York to Columbia and the strange story of an ill-fated expedition to Mars.
Star Crash was an entertaining little film, which was improved no end by the wardrobe department letting Caroline Munro wear little but a leather bikini, but Cozzi's cheap'n'cheerful effects were but a minor irritation in what was an enjoyably trashy theft of Star Wars. Similarly, and although it is an albino-pale imitation of Alien, there's an enjoyably ramshackle film hiding behind Cozzi's rambling script, which leaps from the improbable to the implausible without a care. It succeeds, though, in spite of the list of faults that could be pinned against it but much of the reason for this is due to Cozzi's crafty theft of scenes from Them!, Alien, Day Of The Triffids, Quatermass and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, as well as his keeping the film to a brisk ninety minute running time. The most obvious steal is from Quatermass II in which alien spores connive with capitalists to take control of the Earth but more low-key lifts occur throughout the film. That said, Cozzi does manage a surprisingly strong opening, in which the deserted ship approaches New York. The helicopter flight that introduces the film and looks down on the cargo vessel gives the story space to develop and when a three-man team sets their helicopter onto the boat, Cozzi shows himself capable of giving the story enough of a feeling of dread to last the entire film as well as an itchy tension when the first groans of the victims are heard.
It is this opening half of the film that works best, particularly with the makeup effects that sees anyone touched by the bacteria from the alien spores explode. Not that you'll actually be convinced by the effects, at least not when it becomes clear that the actors are visibly holding the high-pressure valves and bags of entrails sufficiently far in front of them to minimise accidental injury, but they're gruesome and outrageous enough to stand a comparison to the final bloodletting of The Evil Dead. That these scenes are played out without music and are soundtracked to no more than the groaning of the victims and the humming noise that, we assume, space spores make leave them as the film's most effective moments. The one criticism that you can make is that Cozzi flags these deaths as clearly as a horseless carriage at the beginning of the last century and despite there being much joy when foolish investigators suffer the dire consequences of holding an alien egg to close beneath their noses, there's no shock in seeing the event.
Yet the problem with Contamination is not in the basic effects, nor Luigi Cozzi's cod-scientific script, nor is it the uncomfortable love story but it is in the jump from the horrors in New York to the sci-fi/spy movie in Columbia. As though the appearance of a plane on a runway in this film and the presence of John Barry and ex-Bond girl Caroline Munro on Star Crash gave him licence to indulge his James Bond fantasises, Luigi Cozzi turns Contamination into a less-than-glossy action movie some forty-five-minutes into the film, leaving it unsure of what it really ought to be. Whilst there are still moments of horror, which are tempered somewhat by the dreadful model effects of the alien cyclops, Cozzi gives this part of his film such little support that as Ian McCulloch struggles through the jungle having crashed his light aircraft in an inexpensive and offscreen manner, you begin to miss the badly-lit cargo holds and warehouses of the New York half of the film. From a low-key and effective opening, Contamination just stops and although it's been left open for a sequel, we don't need history to tell us what really happened.
Luigi Cozzi admits that the film's producers and backers asked that he make Contamination less of a sci-fi/horror and more of an action film, which he disagreed with but, in being reminded of his place on the film, was given all the encouragement that he needed to remain quiet but for infrequent shouts of, "Action!" and, "Cut!". Whether or not this is true is open to argument but Contamination is a clumsy film that never gets to grips with the jump between horror and action in the Americas both North and South.
Presented in 1.85:1, the actual transfer of the film onto DVD looks fine in that there is little digital noise but the print, whilst maybe the best that Anchor Bay could find, is unimpressive with noticeable markings in the opening ten minutes. After that, it looks a little better but whether this is due to a less wear-and-tear on the print or that any damage is hidden behind the dark interior shots is open to argument.
The three audio tracks - Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 and DTS - are fine but the stereo track sounds the most natural. As with many Anchor Bay surround tracks, the rear speakers are used to give the soundtrack presence rather than actively adding to the experience.
As with almost all of their releases, Anchor Bay have released Contamination with an impressive set of extras, including the following:
Alien Arrives On Earth (17m29s): Being the title originally chosen by Luigi Cozzi for his Alien copy, this extra features an interview with the director, whose Italian is subtitled throughout, talking about Star Crash, the making of Contamination and how the scenes copying Alien were included to keep the producers happy whilst he snuck in scenes that paid homage to Them!, Quatermass and other films that he had loved as a child.
Along the way, Cozzi is honest about the cuts that were made to the budget and how this left him struggling to make the effects as special as they ought to be, particularly as he was required to give the film a dark, grimy look to hide, for example, the papier-mache Alien Cyclops from the film's end.
Documentary (22m52s): Unlike Alien Comes To Earth, which was recorded in more recent years, this dates from shortly after the original release of the film but covers much the same ground, though it does so with less honesty given Cozzi's attempts to promote the film at the time.
Theatrical Trailer (2m59s): Making good use of the film's earlier scenes and the short sequences set on Mars, this trailer plays up the tension rather than the later, action/sci-fi, Columbian-set half of the film.
Graphic Novel: Created after the release of the film, the images in this graphic novel were drawn by Sergio Muratori from Luigi Cozzi's original script and features scenes that were not in the completed film. Running to fifty-four pages, this is available as a PDF document when the DVD is placed into a PC.
Poster & Still Gallery: Sixty-five promotional and behind-the-scenes still images are included in this bonus feature, which can be viewed as a slide-show from the DVD.
Conceptual Drawings: Twenty-five sketches are included in this extra, which features some of the same art as that drawn by Sergio Muratori in the Graphic Novel.
Biographies: Still-screen biographies are included for Luigi Cozzi (6x screens) and Ian McCulloch (4x screens).
Film Notes: Seven still screens of background information on Contamination are included but much of what is written here has been taken from Alien Arrives On Earth and the Documentary.
Once again, Anchor Bay deliver a little-known film on a DVD that shows there are all manner of bonus features to be found if you go looking for them. That two interviews exist with Luigi Cozzi talking about Contamination is a staggering thought and indicative of someone's love for the film, however misguided you might feel about them.
That's not to say that this is anything other than a cheap, Italian copy of Alien, out of which bursts an ill-advised spy thriller, but Contamination is an enjoyably grim experience if not as enjoyable nor grim as Zombie Flesh Eaters, Basket Case, The Evil Dead nor Cozzi's own Star Crash.