Banned by the BBFC in 1984 but not prosecuted, Contamination (AKA Alien Contamination AKA Toxic Spawn) is a relatively tame title on the notorious list of 72 censored films. Director Luigi Cozzi, here operating under the name Lewis Coates, is blatantly compacting successful ideas into one Sci-Fi, adventure, horror, mash-up and it just about works.
After investigating a ghost ship tearing towards the harbour, NYPD cop Tony Aris (Marino Mase) discovers a dangerous haul of alien eggs which, when burst, cause violent chemical reactions in humans. Soon, Aris is dragged into an international crisis and forced to join up with Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) and Ian Hubbard (Italian splatter regular Ian McCulloch), an ex-astronaut whose experiences on Mars may prove valuable in saving the world.
The audacity of sheer one-uppery is a thing to behold, as Cozzi has obvious disputes with the gore levels in Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 thriller Alien. The dodgy looking eggs swell, explode, shower goop on anyone nearby, then result in truly explosive “chest-bursting” spectacles which often leave victims in literal pieces. The gore isn’t particularly well-done, and the choice to film those moments in slow-mo is a double edged sword: it lets you bask in the glee of a horrible instant but reveals too much of the film’s limitations.
Argento’s Suspiria made waves in 1977 and Cozzi again cherry picked what he needed: Goblin. The soundtrack is one of the most enjoyable features of the film adding much needed pace to some otherwise stumbling sequences. Drowning out post-fright dialogue with jarring continuation of music is a great trick that could simply be dodgy editing, but works by reminding us of the lingering sensation of a good scare. Unfortunately there just isn’t enough to get you through the long-winded moments of dry tension. A handful of scenes are simply not edited as well as they could have been and the action is dragged out until it is simply grating to behold. When Holmes is trapped in her hotel bathroom with one of the eggs, the sequence of suspense quickly becomes furiously irritating in its active tension destruction.
Production design is wavering and magpie-ish in a way that could be tacky. The sci-fi doors of the government facility are odd in the landscape of a film that so quickly abandons its sci-fi roots in search of country-hopping coffee-hunting. Focus appears to have tailed off after the first half of the film where the name of the game was horror and confusion; the audience waiting to see how Cozzi’s threat differs from Scott’s. The threat was impressively avoided through stunning medieval looking hazmat suits with iron visors and the scientists proved their worth by using freezing sprays to halt incubation, but it all becomes redundant in the end. When Cozzi shifts the film’s locale, he disconnects from his original vibe in a traumatic way, losing the pace and gaining the problem of how to successfully round-off this spiralling adventure.
Whilst the film seems hungry for a real villain, Siegfried Rauch’s charismatic turn as Hamilton keeps things interesting until the reveal of the obnoxiously silly alien Cyclops. If cheese-fest B-movie monsters are your thing, then dig in because it’s a belter. If not, then maybe the expressionist lighting, industrial shade, and creative threat of films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Alien are better options.
A Sci-Fi horror that wants to be the splatter answer to Alien, but age and blu-ray reveal the cracks all too soon. Still, there’s a good amount of fun to be had with Contamination and its dedicated cast.
Dir: Luigi Cozzi
Stars: Ian McCulloch, Marino Mase, Louise Marleau, Siegfried Rauch