It’s great that these companies have the time, effort, and resources to not only freshen older films up with restoration efforts but also they’re producing some very good new extras that can be found on any number of discs. It’s very respectful, and it definitely doesn’t get the level of praise it deserves in the media. Lastly, it gives those of us who do appreciate some of these otherwise forgotten bygone epics a chance to see them once more – perhaps in even greater cinematic glory than we did in their original theatrical runs and undeniably better than previous home video (tape) releases.
Such is the case with Contamination (1980), a film most folks will pleasantly ignore while fans of off-the-beaten-path cinema like myself will happily review.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“A former astronaut helps a government agent and a police detective track the source of mysterious alien pod spores, filled with lethal flesh-dissolving acid, to a South American coffee plantation controlled by alien pod clones.”
It’s really hard to make all that much of a film like Contamination largely because of the increasingly small niche it filled. Its slim story was inspired by other films, so being less of a B-Movie and a maybe bit more of a low-budget knock-off of ideas and characters already explored elsewhere is a target not many storytellers would strive to hit. Still, such was the nature of Italian cinema as one can even discover by watching any of the exceptional extras available in this release’s packaging: filmmakers would rush ‘their’ versions (or ‘interpretations’) of American blockbusters into packed movie houses where audiences (usually also European) would happily scarf them up.
But to Contamination’s credit, even writer/director Luigi Cozzi admits in multiple interviews (also available here) that his film was only inspired by Ridley Scott’s seminal Alien (1979). Borrow an idea here … pilfer a setting from there … and voila! Something completely different! After plucking the ideas he wanted, Cozzi crafted an entirely Earth-based story (with a single Mars-based flashback for clarity) which still mimics much of a traditional thriller’s talking points though stifling much of the potential suspense under entirely wooden and predictable performances from mediocre lead players. Nestled between the opening and closing credit remains a film that never quite achieved the level of logic and intensity perhaps it did in Cozzi’s mind’s eye but still manages to be relevant for its era and watchable even today.
In fact, all that generally ‘dates’ much of Contamination (aside from the obvious hair and clothes styles) is an awful synthesizer soundtrack that clearly tries to draw comparisons to some of what director John Carpenter was doing in his releases. Sadly, it doesn’t work here, largely because the tracks are rendered with far too much flourish, so much so that they draw attention to themselves than they do the scenes they accompany. Anyone familiar with Carpenter’s stuff will tell you that his soundtracks felt much more organic to his work, blending almost seamlessly with the images and action, supporting the visuals and acting as any music should.
What is there to enjoy?
The performances all end up feeling a bit more comical than they were probably intended. I’d venture a guess that if the lovable knuckleheads at MST3K and Rifftrax haven’t lampooned Contamination then this one is ripe for the plucking. Some of the set constructions (the government science labs, mostly) are quite good and do hold up despite a measure of … erm … frivolity? Also, the film boasts some very solid in-camera effects work (the alien eggs and the monstrous creature near the big finish), so much so that I’d imagine many folks previously drawn to this story as well as those discovering it today might be intrigued by it. That’s no small feat, and I still find practical effects work like that refreshing instead of seeing all of the gadgets and gizmos rendered in post CGI these days.
Contamination (1980) is produced by Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, and Lisa-Film. DVD distribution for this release is being handled by Arrow Films. As for the technical specifications? Wow! This 80’s flick actually has cleaned up very nicely in the restoration process, and the sound update is actually a bit better than I expected (but not without the occasional tinnyness). Lastly, if you’re looking for special features, then you’ve plenty in store as Arrow Films has packed this with some dated interviews as well as a few new extras that explore both the film, its era, and its filmmaker for posterity. A grand collection.
Check your brain at the door for fear of Contamination, and you’ll probably have some modest fun with this 80’s stinker that actually boasts some respectable production qualities, practical special effects, and what feels like an unusual five-minute commercial (late in the flick) for South American tourism. It’s a harmless SciFi confection – one that definitely feels derivative of many other superior films – and it even manages to dish out the obligatory promise of a sequel if the first one was revered as much. (FYI: it wasn’t.)
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Films provided me with a DVD copy of Contamination (1980) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.