The 1980s must have been an interesting time to be an actor in New York City. It was a mythic age, before Law & Order began filling multiple lines in the CVs of innumerable performers in the five boroughs. Instead, the city seemed to be crawling with itinerant Italian filmmakers, drunk on dreams of ripping off the latest American sci-fi hit and making some dollars on the cheap. Fabrizio De Angelis, Enzo G. Castellari, Sergio Martino, Luigi Cozzi, and more, made The Big Apple their home away from home in the ’80s. If it wasn’t possible to make it on Broadway or on TV, there was always bottom-feeding cinema.
Contamination, from 1980, was written and directed by Luigi Cozzi. He had done some writing and second unit directing for Dario Argento, but his most well-known effort as a filmmaker was for the execrable Star Wars ripoff Starcrash. That flick is legend among shitty movie fans. Contamination will partly satisfy the same urges.
It’s the near future, I think. A derelict ship drifts into New York Harbor. Upon examination, it turns out the ship is carrying a cargo of alien eggs. The eggs burst on contact and bathe anyone nearby in a chemical cocktail that causes their abdomens to explode. It’s quite impressive. This being a low-budget flick, the effects aren’t realistic, but they do look good. There are sprays of fake blood and what looks like sausage links masquerading as internal organs. And it’s not like this only happens once or twice during the flick. Cast members regularly blow up. These death scenes are filmed in slow motion, as well, adding to the spectacle.
The military gets involved in the plot, as they are wont to do in films like this. Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) has been tasked with finding out from where the eggs originate. She enlists help from NYPD Lieutenant Tony Aris (Marino Masé), who was the only first responder to survive the discovery of the eggs aboard the ship. The investigation turns up evidence that the eggs could have something to do with a recent failed manned mission to Mars. The only apparent survivor from that expedition, Commander Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch), is reticent and uncooperative at first, but decides to lend his aide to the investigation.
The action then switches from New York City to a coffee plantation in Colombia. Could the plantation be the beachhead for an alien invasion of Earth? Of course it could.
Contamination lacks the frenetic pacing that a Castellari flick has. In his films, a viewer could count on action set pieces appearing out of thin air whenever things got a little slow or when the plot was too sparse to stretch out the runtime. Cozzi, on the other hand, seemed to feel no obligation to make sure the audience was entertained after enduring long stretches of exposition. There are spots here and there where Cozzi showed promise as a filmmaker, but then the somnambulistic plot would get in the way again. The two most consequential sequences in this film are the beginning and the grand finale. Just about everything that happens in between is a featureless goo of poor storytelling.
So, as a film, Contamination is very poor. But, how is it as a shitty movie? It shows a lot of promise early on. The effects, the slow motion shots, the dubbing…it has the right ingredients for being a shitty adventure, but those slow spots are hard to overcome. There’s only so much that exploding torsos can do to save a bad movie. Those effects alone are worth a look for shitty movie fans, but sticking around for the entire movie is too much of a demand. Contamination is a worse film than Alien: Resurrection.