Monday 10 August 2015

Contamination (Luigi Cozzi, 1980) Blu-Ray/DVD Review

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“They invade your body … control your mind … blow you apart!” If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Ridley Scott and Dan O'Bannon (the Director and Writer of 1979's Alien) must have been blushing like schoolgirls when Luigi (Starcrash) Cozzi's gut-busting spin on their 'haunted house in space' shocker exploded onto the exploitation scene. Taking a handful of iconic images from Scott's film – including the alien eggs and the chest-burster scene – Contamination dispenses with subtlety and goes for spectacular slow-mo splatter...

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“We've got a sighting – you're right – she's coming in fast, it's against every regulation in the book.” A chopper cuts through the skies of New York City and swoops down low over the Caribbean Lady cargo ship, charging full steam ahead towards the harbour – but where on earth are the crew? In search of answers to the mystery, Dr Turner (Carlo Monni) and NYPD Lieutenant Tony Arras (Marino Masé, Tenebrae) venture into the deep, dark depths of the ship with a hazmat team. At first it seems like everyone simply vanished, but then they start stumbling into bodies – exploded from the inside out and contorted in the agony of death. But within the hold, packed full with supposed boxes of coffee, they discover a whole host of pulsating eggs – and that's when things really start to get nasty.

“It's more like he exploded from the inside.” Examining one of the eggs, Dr Turner and one of his team get a face full of gunk as the glowing green orb tears open and covers them in some kind of vile fluid. In excruciating slow motion their faces burn and their torsos swell – before exploding in gleefully gory geysers of high pressure blood and innards! Suffice it to say, Lieutenant Arras has found himself wrapped up in a considerable amount of trouble.

“Call headquarters and tell them we may have an epidemic on our hands.” Responding to this bizarre outbreak of they-don't-know-what, Special Division 5 – with their high tech facility full of flashing lights, twiddled dials, and hexagonal shapes – step in under the command of Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau). They dive in quick, bringing hot lead and hotter flame to a small Import/Export warehouse in the Bronx where they discover yet more of these eggs – these strange things capable of killing in seconds – but what are they and where do they come from?

“I saw it happen to human beings … it was horrible.” Step forward Commander Hubbard (Ian McCulloch, Zombi 2), a former astronaut driven to drink after his seemingly wild tales of eggs hidden within a cave system at the polar ice cap of Mars saw him dismissed as a wacko. But there's no time for bad blood – there's an entire world out there waiting to be saved and only they can do it!

“You've always made me feel like a caveman.” For the most part this is Louise Marleau's film as she takes centre stage for the majority – until McCulloch gets to play the gun toting hero come the third act, that is – doling out sardonic comebacks and besting her male counterparts from the get-go. She's smart, she's quick-to-act, and she's certainly no brainless bikini bimbo. She gets to run circles around Lieutenant Arras, who takes the role of the somewhat buffoonish chauvinist – a flashy sod who fancies himself as a ladies' man – while Hubbard, who starts out as a seething drunkard, is quickly brought into the fold by her humility and strength of character. Indeed, as the dick-swinging military men bumble about looking for something to shoot at, she's coming up with answers, and while she does get kind of side-lined in Act III, she makes for an impressive lead.

“What's the purpose behind any living being? Grow, multiply, survive!” Stylishly shot by Giuseppe Pinori (Murder Rock) with some atmospheric synth grooves from Goblin (at the time riding high on their score to George A. Romero's iconic Dawn of the Dead), Cozzi's film looks and sounds the part – indeed, it outstrips much of it's competition. However, it's not all grand, as a sluggish second half of Act II testifies, in which there's a twenty-five minute slump – including a ten minute sequence involving dinner plans and a quick shower that utterly fails to cook up even a mere whiff of suspense. It's strange, especially as the film starts – and finishes – strong, very strong in fact. The opening search of the cargo ship is filled with tension, and Act III crams in plenty of action – and exploding guts – to make up for a plodding dose of filler once the trio head off to Colombia.

“Let's go see what this mystery is all about.” Speaking of Colombia, there's some excellent location work throughout the film with numerous scenes taking place in New York City (even the apartment with a view of the NYC skyline is a real find). Likewise, the lighting and set design are both strong – and inventive – while 'The Cyclops' straddles the line between cheesy and creepy quite well. If only that twenty-five minute segment had been tighter (the guided tour of the coffee factory feels like nothing else but playing for time) then Contamination would have been a clean run. As it is though, the vast majority of the movie has all the things any exploitation film fan would want – and, for the most part, it's done with considerable talent. Existing fans of Cozzi's gore-flinging sci-fi/horror/action fest will be left with a smile on their face by Arrow Video's Blu-Ray/DVD release, while new converts will find plenty of gleefully gruesome delights to indulge in.

“You can feel them in your blood!” Presentation wise it's another home run from Arrow Video who, like with their recent HD release of Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace, give this flick a generous helping of love. The original mono audio (in English and Italian options, with subtitles) is clean and clear, while the visuals are pleasingly crisp. The print shows occasional signs of damage – but these are negligible – so the film looks fantastic in HD and illustrates Arrow's dedication to giving these kind of films superior releases. On occasion they have stumbled – such as failing to notice numerous cuts to 2014's HD release of David Cronenberg's Shivers – but with their expansion into simultaneous, region-free releases in the UK and North America, it seems like an impressive new era is coming to the world of re-released classics of European genre cinema. This, the full 95 minute version of the film, is accompanied by a handsome roster of extra features – including commentary, documentaries, Director and Star Q&A, Interviews, an on-disc graphic novel based on the original screenplay, and the now standard booklet that impressively details various aspects of the film. This release is 'Dual Format' so there is a Blu-Ray copy and a DVD copy of the film with the accompanying extras.

N.B. Screen shots were captured from the DVD copy of the film included in the package because I don't have a Blu-Ray drive from which to capture HD images. You can see HD screens over at HERE.

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