CONTAMINATION (1980) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Luigi Cozzi (as Lewis Coates)
Arrow Films USA

1979 was a very important year for the Italian film industry. Why? Because two American genre films – DAWN OF THE DEAD and ALIEN – spurred a slew of imitators from the land of Folcelli pasta. Although DAWN's rip-offs were countless and have gained immortality among horror fans (some of them have become minor classics), most Italian ALIEN clones have been discarded like yesterday's trash (ever see Ciro Ippolito’s ALIEN 2: ON EARTH? Yikes!). Directed by Luigi Cozzi, a sort of poor man's Lucio Fulci, CONTAMINATION was made immediately after the success of the Ridley Scott classic and now sees its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films USA.

Like many Italian exploitation films from the early 1980s, CONTAMINATION begins on location in New York City. A ship enters a harbor with seemingly everyone dead onboard. A group of scientists and police garbed in protective gear discover a bloody mess, as well as a bunch of mysterious eggs that look like lime jello footballs. Getting too close to these eggs could prove deadly, as they spew some goo at you and make your body combust from the chest outwards. Later, more of these eggs are discovered in a warehouse in the Bronx, and the hostile workers protecting them late at night are actually bodies taken over by alien forces.

Stereotypical Italian NYC cop Tony Aris (Marino Masé, the “handsome” monster in LADY FRANKENSTEIN) survives the ordeal and teams up with female military scientist Colonel Stella Holmes (Canadian actress Louise Marleau, SATAN’S SABBATH). She calls on a now reclusive, alcoholic former astronaut Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch, THE GHOUL) who returned from Mars several years ago without his companion (Siegfried Rauch, THE BIG RED ONE) and with unbelievable stories about deadly alien eggs. Proof has now given his tall tales some clout, so the three trace the strange cargo back to a coffee company in South America! A conspiracy at the coffee plant is uncovered and more victims explode like overheated sauce-drenched meatballs in a microwave oven. A 1950s-style Cyclops alien makes its grand appearance and is basically the force behind this mad plot to take over the earth.

CONTAMINATION was released in the U.S. as "Alien Contamination" and when it came out on video, it was pretty much ignored in favor of rentals of DR. BUTCHER M.D. and ZOMBIE (both also with Scottish thesp McCulloch). It's basically low-grade cheap thrills with some nice gore effects (nobody did it better than the Italians, Tom Savini included) and homages to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE and other sci-films from a bygone era. It starts with a bang, ends with a semi-bang, but there's lots of rubbish in the middle. McCulloch is always a hoot to watch and lifts the film above its otherwise mediocre level. Cozzi, who here directs and co-writes under his pen name “Lewis Coates”, also blessed us with the silly STAR WARS-inspired STARCRASH in 1979, which featured Caroline Munro modeling an array of sexy space outfits. Reportedly, Cozzi wanted to use Munro for the role of Colonel Holmes, but he was overruled by the producer. She might have been too glamorous for the role but at least her presence might have given the film more of an appeal in its cult status. Carlo De Mejo, the curly-haired star of Fulci’s CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, appears as Agent Young, and the loud, pounding soundtrack is by none other than Italian prog-rockers and cinematic gore scorers Goblin.

Previously available on DVD in the U.S. from Blue Underground, Arrow Films’ domestic Blu-ray release is a solid improvement. CONTAMINATION is presented here in 1080p HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks quite spectacular. Bold colors and sharp detail are on display, blacks are solid and some scenes look a bit diffused, likely due to the original cinematography, and the picture retains a slight layer of grain. Fleshtones also look really good and the source element is in excellent shape, so there’s very little in the way of blemishes to be found. The English PCM mono track is equally impressive, with dialogue and sound effects coming through clear and Goblin's loud score never sounding better. English SDH subtitles are included. A standard DVD is also included using the same HD transfer from the Blu-ray.

A few nice extras are included here. “Luigi Cozzi on the Creation of Contamination” (22:55) is an original production short film from 1980 (probably shot in 16mm) that takes us from Cozzi's fantasy-art filled office to the set of the film. Cozzi narrates most of the piece (in Italian with English subtitles), talking about his sci-fi influences, and the behind-the-scenes on-the-set stuff is most fascinating. A 2014 Q&A (41:05) has Cozzi and McCulloch speaking in front of an audience during a screening of the film at the Abertoir Film Festival. Cozzi relays how the film came together and how the original title was changed, and McCulloch tells how he got involved with the project and both share numerous stories about shooting on location in Columbia: this is a solid piece that works just as well as an audio commentary (and both men address the film’s former “Video Nasty” status in England). “Sound of the Cyclops” (11:31) is an interview with keyboardist Maurizio Guarini, talking about being a member of Goblin, and the scoring of CONTAMINATION (and he does a neat piano demonstration). “Luigi Cozzi vs. Lewis Coates” (42:53) is a great new interview (or rather lecture to the camera) with the director (in Italian with English subtitles) where he talks about his literary science fiction influences, being a foreign correspondent for Famous Monsters, his early days as a fiction writer and music journalist, and eventually entering the movie business and later opening his shop, Profondo Rosso, in Rome. “Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery” (17:26) features discussions with writers Maitland McDonagh and Chris Poggiali on the interesting subject of how Italian filmmakers cashed in on a number of different genres in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and how the Italians even ended up imitating each other with the western genre. Films like GREAT WHITE, CONTAMINATION and STARCRASH are touched upon, as are all those ROAD WARRIOR and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK rip-offs. The original theatrical trailer is included, as is a black and white graphic novel based on the original CONTAMINATION screenplay, with art by Sergio Muratori, which can be accessed from the extras gallery. Fangoria editor Chris Alexander is on hand for an audio commentary where he calls it the “ugly duckling” of late 1970s/early 1980s Italian gore cinema, and does a good talk on the movie from a diehard Canadian-born fan’s point of view, with a lot of information on hand. The insert cover features a reversible sleeve featuring original, newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin, and inside the packaging is a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters. (George R. Reis)