Contamination (1980)

Don't be fooled when seeing a director name like Lewis Coates.  Italian directors, and to a lesser degree Spanish ones, often adopted American-sounding names to slap on the versions of their films that would be released in theaters and drive-ins in the United States.  A major reason is that, toward the end of the 1970s, Italian cinema more and more was known for making virtual copies and unsanctioned sequels to hit Hollywood films.  One big example was Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2, supposedly a sequel to George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, which itself was renamed Zombi when recut for the Italian market by Dario Argento.

Luigi Cozzi is the real name of Lewis Coates, and before making Contamination he had made the weird, almost incomprehensible sci-fi film Starcrash with Caroline Munro in the lead, Christopher Plummer as the Emperor of the Galaxy and David Hasselhoff in an early role.  Nominally it played as a cheap rip-off of Star Wars, although Cozzi has maintained that he didn't know of Star Wars at the time that Starcrash went into production.  For this movie, though, he had no hesitation in admitting to what it was supposed to be: a sequel to Alien, with the events taking place on Earth instead of in space.

An abandoned ship comes into New York harbor and, upon examination, it appears the entire crew was killed by strange alien eggs that, once their "yolk" comes in contact with a human, their chest cavities explode.  Lt. Tony Eris (Marino Masé) is the only survivor of the team that discovers the eggs and, after decontamination, is asked by Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) to join her in the investigation.  Holmes herself is the head of a secret government organization established to neutralize threats to national security.

The eggs appear to resemble those described by Cmdr. Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch), part of a two-man mission to Mars.  He claims to have seen the eggs in a cave at the polar ice cap where they landed, something that was contradicted by his fellow astronaut Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch).  Hubbard was drummed out of the service in disgrace, and Holmes convinces him to come back.  Tracing the ship to a coffee plantation in Colombia, the trio fly down to investigate.  Unfortunately, those behind the cultivation of the eggs are aware they are coming, and they hope to rid themselves of the intruders.

The only real connection Contamination has with Alien are the eggs and "chest bursting".  I put that in quotes because, in one of the most famous scenes from Ridley Scott's movie, we are introduced to the Xenomorph's reproductive cycle in rather graphic detail.  Nothing except internal organs bursts out in this case, although I will give this movie credit for the practical effects looking halfway decent.  The eggs are weirdly threatening, and the big bad alien at the end could have been much worse than it is - and, no, it doesn't resemble a Xenomorph at all. 

Despite Cozzi's intentions this movie heavily resembles Quatermass 2, the second British film (itself an adaptation from the BBC program) of the famous English scientist tasked with keeping the Earth safe.  I personally thought from the description that this was going to be a rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which itself had just had a remake in 1979.  I kind of wish it had been since that would have been a lot more fun.  Cozzi wanted Caroline Munro to play Stella Holmes in this film, but I don't even think her presence would have livened this up.  After a decent opening - despite barely being able to hear any of the actors because of masks, which means they purposely muffled their voices while doing the English dub - the movie just stalls shortly after we meet Cmdr. Hubbard.  The whole trip to Colombia almost feels like a different movie.

The reason for Colombia, by the way, is because the movie itself was partially funded by a Colombian drug cartel.  Otherwise, filming there wouldn't have been the best idea at the time, even though Deodato Ruggiero managed to get away with filming in the more isolated areas for Cannibal Holocaust.  Cozzi was lucky this movie, boring as it is, still managed to turn a profit, or else he would probably have found himself somewhere else than managing Dario Argento's bookstore in Rome.  It is hilarious in parts, but is often a chore to watch, especially since Cozzi has no idea how to drum up tension.  A key scene,where Stella is locked in a bathroom with one of the eggs, takes at least 10 minutes of runtime to play out. 

Contamination is pretty much forgotten now, especially since Alien got its own perfectly good sequel before settling into a series that, in some cases, makes this movie look like genius.  The difference is Cozzi didn't blow what would be pretty much the entire film budget of Italy on his terrible film.  Perhaps the one thing that came out of this, in the 1990s, b-movie director David Twohy made a much better movie using similar concepts from this one called The Arrival.  

Contamination (1980)
Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch
Director: Luigi Cozzi



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