Incredibly – some might say unbelievably – Contamination (alternate titles include Contamination: Alien on Earth and Toxic Spawn) once featured on the so-called ‘video nasty’ list in the UK following the implementation of the Video Recordings Act 1984. How times have, mercifully, changed. Decades later Contamination certainly is nasty... but perhaps not quite in the way history once recognised it.
Breezily directed by Luigi Cozzi, Contamination is often said to be ‘influenced by’ (and we’re being generous here) 1979’s Alien – and whilst Contamination absolutely exists because producer Charles Mancini had seen Ridley Scott’s classic and wanted something similar - in truth its origins lie way back in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and, to some degree, Britain’s own Quatermass II. But because ripping off one genre is never enough, Contamination throws a bit of James Bond-lite action and adventure into its tale of deadly germinating alien seeds pods which make their way to New York in an apparently abandoned ship and which have a habit of bursting and causing the bodies of those splattered with snotty green gunk to explode in a shower of gruesome bright red entrails. It was this then-graphic body horror which gave Contamination its reputation (and its UK ban) back in 1980 and whilst it’s gooey and icky in its own rather sweet way, it looks remarkably tame and almost amusing in an era when TV shows like The Walking Dead offal... whoops, offer far, far more graphic stuff on a weekly basis.
But Contamination presents a ragbag of daft delights beyond its gloopy gore. Random filming in New York, Florida and Columbia gives the movie the desired impression of a low-rent 007 adventure, much of the dubbing is eye-openingly clumsy and the casting is all over the place. Louise Marleau looks desperately uncomfortable and out of her depth as Colonel Stella Holmes, leading the investigation into the origins of the pods and the clearly-Italian Marino Masé (the clue’s in the name) is the least-convincing wise-cracking NYPD cop in cinematic history. Britain’s Ian McCulloch, who enjoyed a year-long flirtation with Italian exploitation horror movies in the wake of the huge success on Italian television of his 1970s BBC TV series Survivors brings his characteristic grumpy charm to his role as (quickly recovered) alcoholic astronaut Ian Hubbard. Yet this mismatched trio are agreeable company as the film blunders along crashing into cliché after cliché and leaving no pod unturned in its cheerful determination to mix and match as many genres as possible in the hope that it’ll do something interesting (and competent) with any one of them.
Achingly tame by modern standards, Contamination does have its moments, however. The sequence where Stella is trapped in her hotel bathroom with a pulsating pod as Ian and Tony dick around in the corridor wondering whether to invite her to dinner is effective because of its languid pace and escalating tension and the pods themselves (clearly inflated balloons covered in dripping gunk) are memorably eerie thanks to their mournful, plaintive throbbing heartbeat. But the film’s climax is frankly ludicrous as McCulloch, machine gun blazing, drifts into full-on budget Bond mode, infiltrating the Columbian coffee plantation/pod containment centre run by his former astronaut colleague who is under the control of a ‘hideous’ alien creature, a massive life-size and virtually immobile animatronic creation which is at once both repulsive and ridiculous.
Once again Arrow have done wonders in scrubbing up a cult classic (available in a dual Blu-ray/DVD package) - there’s some grain evident on the print, as there should be, but otherwise it’s pretty sharp, if a bit muted on the colour palette front – and it’s loaded with bonus material which will tell you just about everything you could ever want to know about the making of a rather dated, naïve and clunky horror film which only really earned its reputation from a handful of splatter sequences. Painfully silly but still irresistibly, embarrassingly entertaining.
Special features: Commentary, Archive documentary with Luigi Cozzi, 2014 Q&A with Cozzi and McCulloch, Sound of the Cyclops, director interview, featurette on ‘cash-in’ Italian genre movies, trailer, reversible sleeve, collector’s booklet.CONTAMINATION / CERT:15 / DIRECTOR: LUIGI COZZI / SCREENPLAY: LUIGI COZZI, ERICH TOMEK / STARRING IAN McCULLOCH, LOUISE MARLEAU, MARINO MASÉ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW