“Look at the way his skin and clothes are torn. It’s almost as if—I don’t know, it’s almost as if he exploded. But not because of a bomb: it’s as if he exploded from the inside…”
[aka Alien Arriva Sulla Terra (Alien Arrives On Earth) aka Alien Contamination]
Director: Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi)
Starring: Louise Marleau, Ian McCulloch, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn, Carlo Monni, Carlo De Mejo, Brigitte Wagner, Mike Morris
Screenplay: Lewis Coates (Luigi Cozzi) and Erich Tomek
Synopsis: The Coast Guard is sent to check on a ship making its way without permission into New York Harbour: it has not made radio contact since the previous evening, but is nevertheless entering the harbour at high speed. From a helicopter, one of those sent to find it reports that there is no sign of the crew, but the life-boats are all there. He advises that the ship be put into quarantine. That night, Dr Turner (Carlo Monni) of the Health Department meets Lieutenant Tony Aris (Marino Masé) of the NYPD at the dock. Aris explains that a man was transported on board to stop the ship and pilot it in, and that there was no sign of anyone; although he did notice a strange smell, like something rotting. Turner, Aris and three policemen don protective suits and go on board. They find the log-book, which records nothing unusual; while in the mess they discover half-eaten, abandoned meals. Aris opens another door, and mutilated body of a man falls from behind it. Turner comments that not only has he been torn apart, but that the force that killed him seems to have come from inside him. As the search continues, other, similar bodies are found. Aris’s men report still more, as well as a strange green substance in the hold. There, one of the countless boxes of coffee shipped from Columbia has tipped over, releasing green objects the size and shape of footballs. One of them, which has come to rest against a steam-pipe, is swollen and pulsing, and emitting a green liquid. When Turner says that these specimens must be examined in a laboratory, one of the policemen picks up the larger object. Suddenly, it ruptures, spraying Turner and the three policemen with the green substance. As it touches their exposed skin, they scream in agony. Aris, standing at a distance, stares in horrified disbelief as, one by one, the bodies of the four men swell up and then explode, sending their entrails across the room. Aris turns and runs… Investigation of the incident is given to Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) of Special Division 5, an Internal Security Unit answerable directly to the President. She interrogates Aris, who has undergone decontamination, and he tries to explain about the objects in the hold. Holmes and her people later make their way onto the ship, where the entire contents of the hold are frozen, and the remains of the object that exploded are carefully collected. At the laboratory, the scientists explain that the object is not in fact an egg, but a container for a bacterial culture; although it is egg-like in that it contains a maturation medium on which the organisms can feed, and which, at higher temperatures, mutates into the deadly green substance, a pure acid. Holmes tells Aris that the fewer people who know about the situation, the better, and recruits him into her mission. Aris is immediately helpful, telling Holmes that he has tracked down the import-export business which was due to receive the cargo. Realising that they will still be expecting it, Holmes and her team head to the warehouse to investigate. However, the situation turns violent when instead of opening up in response to their warrant, the man inside shoots and kills one of Holmes’s men. A gun-battle ensues, until Agent Young (Carlo De Mejo) crashes a van through the warehouse doors. Holmes and her men pour inside, staring in horror at piles of the green objects, some of them obviously ready to burst. Nearby are the warehouse staff. Ordered to drop their guns, instead they fire at the objects, which rupture and shower them in the green liquid. As the agents look on in disbelief, their bodies erupt in a shower of blood and entrails…
Comments: There’s a strange contradictory quality about Italian genre films, or at least, about those which are clearly ripped off from other people’s genre films…which is most of them. Occasionally, granted, although its model is obvious enough, an Italian genre film will pick up the creative ball and run with it, producing something with an identity all of its own. Zombie is a good example. Generally, however, these films seem to take a strange pride in copying their inspirations as blatantly as possible; and far from disguising their borrowings, they go out of their way to draw attention to them. This shameless plagiarism ought to be repellent, but perversely, instead it’s rather charming. There’s a naivety about the way it’s done that puts you in mind of nothing so much as little kids re-enacting a favourite film sequence by putting cardboard boxes on their heads, waving sticks at each other and making pew-pew noises.
Which, coincidentally or not, is what the standard of most of these films puts you in mind of, too.
There are few things sadder than watching a film that is clearly the work of someone whose heart is in the right place, but who completely lacks the artistic sensibility and skill required to transfer what’s in his imagination onto the screen. Ed Wood Jr is, obviously, the poster boy for this sort of thing, but another case study is the science fiction output of Lewis Coates, aka Luigi Cozzi. Cozzi loves science fiction; loves it; and yet he’s been responsible for two of the worst science fictions films ever to emanate from Italy (think about that for a moment, people); films whose quality is inversely proportional to the obviousness of their models’ identities. First, Cozzi’s adoration of Star Wars gave rise to Starcrash, a film whose myriad embarrassments are compensated for by the sight of Caroline Munro in a leather space-bikini – or at least, they are according to most of my male friends. A year later, Cozzi poured his passion for Alien into Contamination, a film whose outstanding quality is the fact that it refrains from putting its female lead into a bikini of any description.
Contamination is, however, notable for three other reasons. First, it forms, along with Zombie and Zombi Holocaust, the Ian McCulloch Triptych. Second, it features a score by Goblin – or, as the credits put it, “THE GOBLIN” – that is infinitely better than the film deserves. And third, it has the distinction of being perhaps the most innocuous film ever to end up falling foul of the British Director of Public Prosecutions’ infamous “Video Nasty” campaign. I mean, for crying out loud, it doesn’t even have any nudity!
Contamination was indeed banned for a time in Britain. It was finally released on video with an 18 certificate after just over two and a half minutes were cut from it – which means it was released sans the only reason that most people would bother to watch it. In his second science fiction film, Luigi Cozzi demonstrated his love for Alien by reproducing its most famous set-piece, the chest-burster scene. He couldn’t quite command the same technical expertise as Ridley Scott, however, and so made up for what he lacked in quality in sheer quantity. Whereas Alien makes the most of a single, expertly staged, unforgettable effects scene, in Contamination Cozzi gives us character after character (or at least, extra after extra) literally exploding, their bodies tearing open from within and spewing entrails in some of the most obviously staged prosthetic effects since Kill Squad. It’s gross, granted, and on a first viewing is pretty much guaranteed to elicit an Ewwwwww!!!!! – but the repetition finally makes it ludicrous rather than upsetting or disgusting.
Where do they get their ideas?
Now— The curious thing about Contamination’s time on the DPP list is that Alien itself never got into any trouble with the DPP, despite the fact that its own chest-burster scene is immeasurably more disturbing than Luigi Cozzi’s copycat moments. Granted, by the time the Video Nasty panic reached its peak, anything with Italian names in its credits was likely to be treated with grave suspicion – but my guess is that in this case, the body-buster scenes were merely the DPP’s excuse, an easy way to punish the film for what was found really offensive about it. I called Contamination innocuous, and for the most part so it is, but there’s one moment in the film when the planets align and the DPP and I find ourselves in sympathy. But we’ll deal with that later on.
Contamination would hardly be a proper Italian genre film if it didn’t pretend to be happening in America – and not just in America, but in New York. It opens with a montage of shots of the city (yes, the Towers, lingeringly) and the harbour, and then zooms in upon a mysterious and apparently abandoned ship that has caught the attention of the police and the Coast Guard; and if you’re having flashbacks to Zombie right about now, well, you’re not the only one. This time, the authorities manage (offscreen) to get someone on board, who pilots the ship into harbour and reports that while he has seen nothing of the crew, there is a strange smell, like something rotting…
The ship is placed under quarantine, and the situation put under the control of Lt Aris of the NYPD. A car rolls up to the dock bearing an emissary from the Department of Health, and I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that it wasn’t Dr Peter Chandler. Oh, well, Perhaps he was off investigating an outbreak of cannibalism. Instead, the rumpled and not all that hygienic-looking individual in question introduces himself as Dr Turner. Turner proves himself an amateur by inquiring where the ship came from? “The tropics,” replies Aris, as the audience choruses, “Duh.”
The dubbing in Contamination isn’t one of its strong points, although to be fair the lines given to the dubbers by the screenplay don’t exactly make their job easy. This opening sequence is so intent on convincing us that it is indeed set in New York that it gives everyone a hardcore “Dese and Does” accent, which in the case of Lt Aris will stay with us throughout the film. The best part of it, though, is that in the interests of graphic realism, once the search party dons its protective clothing, the dialogue becomes muffled to such an extent, you have to crank the volume and go over it several times to figure out who’s talking and what the heck they’re saying anyway.
————————————————————————–“Dss fmm zxs.”
————————————————————————–“Rrr zdd, DSS FMM ZXS.”
Now, it was morning when the ship was docked, but because this is an Italian genre film, it’s night before any action is taken. And also because this is an Italian genre film (and an Alien rip-off), the search is conducted by torchlight, instead of the ship’s generator being booted up – or at least, any attempt made to convince us that there’s something wrong with the generator. And also also because this is an Italian genre film, the “protective suits” that the search party put on leave most of their faces exposed.
On board, Aris, Turner and one cop go one way, and the other two cops another. In the mess, half-eaten meals lie on the table, but there is no sign of either people or a struggle – at least until Aris opens the far door, and the mutilated body of the ship’s captain drops into view.
”Yuchh,” says the hardened NY cop. He and Turner determine that the man has not been dead long, and that whatever killed him blew him open from inside. “Yuchh,” mutters Aris again, and they move on. More exploded bodies are found at intervals – including one halfway up a spiral metal staircase, which is rather interesting once we find out how they all died – until the two search parties meet up, with the other cops reporting “green gunk”.
In the hold, the men find stacks of boxes apparently containing coffee – except that one has tipped over, spilling green objects that look like oversized seeds, but which for reasons that should be obvious, the film will expend considerable effort on insisting are eggs. One of the objects has rolled against a steam-pipe. It is larger than the others, glowing from inside, somewhat translucent, and oozing a green liquid. It is also rocking back and forth and crooning to itself.
A teeny-weeny after-dinner mint…?
Turner theorises that the heat has caused the object to ripen – you know, as eggs do. Idiot Cop #1 then offers to collect one for Turner, and in spite of a token protest, Turner allows him to pick up, not one of the unripened objects, but the one that is self-evidently on the verge of rupturing. You know, as eggs do. Idiot Cop #1 has almost straightened up when, sure enough, the thing bursts, spraying green liquid over everyone but Aris, who has magically teleported out of range. The men scream in agony and then, under Aris’s disbelieving gaze, burst – spraying blood and offal around in slow motion.
Aris sensibly beats feet, leaving the camera to pan over the three dead bodies and highlighting one of my favourite plot-holes. Much is subsequently made of Aris being the only witness / survivor – except four people besides him boarded the ship, and only three of them die here. What happened to Not-Such-An-Idiot Cop #3?
And let’s stop for a moment, shall we? – and contemplate the logistics of what we’ve just seen. How exactly did those seeds, or eggs, or whatever, manage to kill everyone on board? They’re not what you might call mobile. Did one burst and spray the captain, and then he hid in the closet, or did one of them somehow corner him in there (and close the door after itself)? And what about the guy on the staircase? And what about the fact that although there were victims all over the ship, there were no ruptured objects?
(These guys must have been taking lessons from the bees in The Swarm.)
The only explanation I can think of is that there was a human quisling on board. Perhaps Not-Such-An-Idiot Cop #3 was another. But truthfully, I suspect I’m putting much more thought into this than Luigi Cozzi ever did.
Next thing we know, a car is disgorging a woman before an official-looking building. She strides inside in a way I’m sure is supposed to suggest her extreme professionalism. We all know how good Italian genre films are at creating strong, credible heroines – but with Colonel Stella Holmes, Contamination may have sunk to a new low.
Eggs! No, no, seeds! No, pumpkins! No, footballs…!
Holmes is brought up to speed by someone we will later know as Agent Young, so apparently the Colonel’s authority extends to ordering the feds around. In response to Young’s report, she commands, “Put Emergency Plan 7 into effect.” Rats. I was hoping for Plan 9.
We learn that Aris is in the middle of being decontaminated, a process that somehow involves a man in a white coat twiddling knobs on what just has to be a leftover prop from Starcrash. A naked Aris is sealed in a soundproof room, draped in a blanket, and clearly being very Italian for an American cop. Switching on the sound, Holmes makes the mistake of ordering him to control himself, which provokes another outburst that concludes, “You dare to tell me to keep my self-control, baby!?”
Holmes: “Don’t call me ‘baby’, young man!”
Aris: “And you don’t call me a young man – babe! It might not show right now, but I’m a police lieutenant, got it?”
Holmes: “And I’m a colonel. Internal security, responsible directly to the President – Special Division 5!”
For some reason, this revelation provokes Aris into saluting, which makes him almost drop his blanket – giving Holmes, in turn, an excuse to lower her gaze, raise an eyebrow, and smile.
Yup – she’s a professional all the way.
It speaks volumes for the lackadaisical way this scene is executed that on my first viewing of Contamination, I didn’t even recognise it as the traditional “Cute-Meet”. Of course, the fact that these two are surely the least likely romantic leads in the history of film might also have something to do with it.
Aris then gives Holmes a run for her money in the professionalism stakes, with a rambling account of his experiences on the Caribbean Lady and a description of those things that, “Looked like eggs – about the size of pumpkins – no, like footballs!” Holmes concludes that they’ll have to collect one of the things, and orders Young, “Call in the Special Section – Squad 2!”
It’s night again by the time Holmes and her people board the ship. After paying out on their predecessors for their distinctly non-protective protective clothing, I suppose I can’t criticise these guys for taking greater precautions…but did they really have to dress in cast-off costumes from The Holy Grail!?
“Squad 2” turns out to be from the Department of Making Stuff Cold: as Holmes looks on through her helmet, they let fly at the ship’s cargo with barely disguised fire extinguishers. Mysteriously, the three bodies and their associated offal have disappeared – I guess Squad 2 started by bringing out their dead. Holmes and Young approach the remains of the ruptured object, and someone called Macmillan joins them carrying a lock-box and a pair of tongs. He offers the tongs to Holmes. “Young, you do it,” she commands.
I’ll say this for Stella: she’s very good at delegation.
An obviously reluctant Young succeeds in scooping most of the thing into the lock-box. Then it’s time for SCIENCE!!, as a blonde who I was most disappointed wasn’t Dr Lori Ridgeway getting her third doctorate announces, “This is not an egg!”
I’m sorry, could you say that again?
“This is not an egg,” says Dr Blondie, “but an intensive culture of unknown bacteria.” She goes on to explain just how egg-like this not-egg is. “What we might define as the egg’s yolk is a pre-set maturisation culture. When the temperature is raised, it undergoes cellular mutation and becomes deadly.”
And then Dr Blondie gives a practical demonstration of her theory by collecting some of the liquid from the now-thawed object and injecting it into a rat.
And here, I imagine, we have the thing about Contamination that actually upset the censors…which puts me in a bit of a moral dilemma. Much as I’m against censorship, I can’t help being in sympathy with the long-term, hard-line British stance against scenes of animal cruelty – which this certainly is. They didn’t really blow up a rat, but what they did do is bad enough. Like the squib scenes in Food Of The Gods, this is a mechanical effect executed with complete disregard for the animal’s welfare.
And you have to ask, why? In the middle of what is otherwise just a bit of stupid fun, why a scene so genuinely, so unnecessarily cruel? It’s not like this is the revelation of the liquid’s power, after all. We’ve already watched three human beings explode. You’d think that would be quite enough by way of demonstration.
Evidently, too, Luigi Cozzi was so hypnotised by the chest-burster scene in Alien that he didn’t pay attention to anything else – for example, That Darn Cat. Now, heaven knows, I have my issues with That Darn Cat – but the fact that it makes it out alive and unharmed certainly isn’t one of them.
Anyway, and larger issues aside for the moment— I’m pretty sure that, all things considered, Lt Aris didn’t really need to see that.
Holmes then recruits Aris to her team, in the interests of keeping the situation as secret as possible. He immediately makes himself useful by revealing what he already knows about the people listed as receiving the cargo – who presumably are still expecting it – at their warehouse in the Bronx. This piece of information provokes an astonishing reaction:
Holmes: “Oh, my God! Call it intuition – ! I think they plan to put them in the sewers!”
I suppose you give them points for leaving out the obvious word in that sentence. Or maybe the actress dubbing Stella refused to speak it.
“So…if it weighs the same as a duck…then, logically…”
Holmes and her team leap into action, surrounding the warehouse armed with high-powered weapons and wearing the film’s third variant of protective clothing. (I should say, it’s night, of course.) Holmes then demonstrates her delegation skills again by jerking her head at one of her underlings and ordering, “De Silva! You go first!”
She hates De Silva.
The unfortunate warrant-bearer pounds on the door of the warehouse, and gets a bullet between the eyes for his trouble. The rest of the team opens fire, and then the usually introverted Young shows some unexpected initiative, as he leaps into one of the vans and crashes the gate doing ninety-eight. The rest of the team pours into the warehouse, where they find still more boxes of coffee…and a mound of green not-eggs, some of them glowing and pulsing.
At the far end of the warehouse stand three men. Aris shouts at them to drop their guns. After a thoughtful moment, instead they fire at the not-eggs, deliberately splashing themselves with goop. And, well, you know.
And after that, Our Heroes think it would be a good idea to move closer to the not-eggs. Sadly, this doesn’t get the reward it deserves. Instead, Holmes calls for backup from the Department of Making Stuff Hot, who set to work with flamethrowers. This conveniently cooks the not-eggs, rather than causing them to, en masse, ripen and rupture and send a tidal wave of goop sweeping across the Bronx.
Back at the lab, Dr Blondie and her colleague, who gets a name (Hilton), have analysed the yolk of the egg of the not-egg. “There!” announces Blondie smugly. “These are segmented dodecadric cells!” Well, obviously. Hilton confirms that they’re like nothing in nature – our nature – and explains that, “The cells of the eggs in question” – which, as we know, are not eggs – “have structures based on silicon.”
Blondie: “I don’t believe these belong to our planet.”
Holmes: “Do you mean…they come from outer space?”
“I could murder some ham right about now…”
Hilton (who’s a dead ringer for Udo Keir from some angles, by the way) is pretty matter-of-fact about all this, proposing that the absolute cold of space keeps the not-eggs in suspension until they enter the atmosphere of a host planet. Holmes is calculating the odds of them reaching Earth when she gets the look of someone for whom several large pieces of a puzzle have just fallen into place. She mutters that it isn’t a matter of them coming to us, but of us going to them.
We get one of those weird movie breakthrough moments here, as the characters “suddenly” remember major events that didn’t happen that long ago and which besides have an obvious direct bearing on the present situation – in this case, a mission to Mars in which one of the astronauts came home talking of “the strange things that happened” and claimed to have seen a cave full of green, football-sized eggs.
(So evidently this is THE FUTURE!!…although you sure wouldn’t know it from the haircuts and fashions.)
It turns out that Holmes was on the committee that subsequently declared the astronaut in question nuts, and had him drummed out of the space program. Still, you can understand how it all slipped her mind. It was a full two years ago, after all.
“Now we have to find Hubbard as quickly as possible!” she declares.
Fortunately, it turns out that when English astronauts get kicked out of the space program, they retire to New Jersey.
English astronauts!? I hear you cry. Yes, indeed. Enter Ian McCulloch.
WELL, IT’S ABOUT TIME!
Holmes makes her way up to a dingy apartment in a dingy building, where Ian Hubbard is living a distinctly dingy lifestyle. There are many signs of the man’s tragic degeneration in the wake of his public disgrace, chief amongst them the fact that he appears to be mixing Heineken with Bud.
Lava-lamps of…THE FUTURE!!
Hubbard isn’t exactly thrilled to see his old pal Holmesy, but he lets her in. He is understandably bitter, and throws angry accusations at her, until the two of them treat us to the film’s signature exchange of dialogue:
Hubbard: “Well, come on, Colonel, what is it you want to know? How many times a week I screw?”
Holmes: “If you’re always in this condition, it’s quite obvious you couldn’t get it up – even if you used a crane.”
This not unnaturally serves to silence Hubbard for a moment, allowing Holmes to get to the point. She produces a set of drawings of the not-eggs, Hubbard’s own, we learn, done after his return from Mars. Admitting to the truth of Hubbard’s accusations against her, Holmes then shows him not more drawings, but photographs. Hubbard is befuddled, of course, and it takes a few moments for the significance of these to sink in. Holmes tries to get him to describe his experiences on Mars, but between the booze and the two years of enforced recanting, it takes considerable effort on his part to revive the memories. “It was all…so long ago,” he mutters, and – cue flashback.
You do rather have to admire the fiscal ingenuity of the Mars sequence. The two astronauts, Hubbard and Hamilton, are at the “polar ice cap” – so we get Ian McCulloch and Siegfried Rauch in front of a white backdrop. From this we move to “the cave” (the opening of which looks like the Abominable Snowman yawning), where the astronauts found numberless not-eggs lying around…a shot contrived by scattering olives in a diorama.
Then, recalls Hubbard in mounting panic, there was a light, and the noise of something approaching. Glancing at Hamilton, he found that he was staring into the light as if hypnotised by it, and that his eyes were—were—
“Hamilton!!” cries Hubbard then and now.
Life in Italian exploitation was finally too much for Ian McCulloch.
From this we get a rather clever cut to Hamilton’s own version of events, a filmed interview in which he denies that anything untoward happened on Mars, and explains that Hubbard had a breakdown. We’re seeing a recording rather than a live interview because Hamilton is dead, killed in a plane crash six months before. Evidently the tragic death of the first man to walk on Mars wasn’t considered newsworthy, because General Hayden, Holmes’s superior, is surprised by this revelation.
“I was just luckier than my poor friend, that’s all,” concludes the recording.
“Son of a bitch!” responds Holmes.
Her plan now is to track the not-eggs to their point of origin, Columbia. She has Young book three plane tickets, and orders him to have fake passports made up. Holmes then explains to Aris and Hubbard – well, Aris; Hubbard is pretty out of it – that she’s been given only seventy-two hours to “solve the case”, before the Security Council takes over and goes public. She recruits Aris for the mission easily enough, then gets rid of him and sets about humiliating Hubbard into agreeing to join the party. She’s disturbingly good at it. Hubbard is finally provoked into slapping her hard across the face – upon which, she smiles…
I can’t actually think of any particular reason why I should give this film the benefit of the doubt…but, oh well, here goes: I think she’s smiling because she’s glad Hubbard can be stirred out of his state of boozy self-absorption, not because she— Except that her smile is a little too genuine. And then he smiles back. And—eww, ick. Just ick.
Anyway, next thing we know the three amigos are on their way to Columbia. Like the opening sequence, this part of the film was shot on location; and as Cozzi’s cameras soak up a little local colour, it is evident that Ian McCulloch and Marino Masé, at least, were enjoying themselves. (This kind of experience is, after all, why you do exploitation films, right?) As our heroes make their way to their hotel, various people are obviously watching them, and soon after we discover why: another blonde who is also not Alexandra Delli Colli climbs on board a boat, where she meets with – gaspshockhorror!! – Hamilton, who’s not as dead as we were led to believe.
The Abominable Snowman of Mars!? (Wasn’t John Carradine in that?)
Blondie-2 reports that, “They’ve arrived”, and that they’re at the Grand Hotel, where people come, people go, nothing ever happens… I’d be rather more impressed with the spy-work of Hamilton’s people if it didn’t subsequently turn out that, after going to the trouble of getting fake passports, our heroes checked into their hotel under their own names.
Blondie-2 (they’re not real good at introductions in this film) hands Hamilton a snapshot. He doesn’t recognise Aris, but comments that, “He looks like a cop.” Of Stella, he adds approvingly, “A first-class mind!” – if anyone ever asks you for a definition of Informed Attribute©, you can direct them to this moment – before sneering, “And what do you know, my old friend, Hubbard! – the last survivor of the Mars expedition! He’s the only one we haven’t gotten up till now – but his turn will come!”
And I think what we have here is a dangling plot-thread. It sounds like there were more men on the Mars trip who knew that “something strange” happened on Mars, and who have since been systematically killed off, but this line of dialogue is the only hint of it. Conversely, it’s also the first proper hint that Hubbard was somehow immune to the force that managed to take over Hamilton and turn him into its puppet.
Blondie-2 wants to know what Hamilton plans to do. He doesn’t answer directly, but assures her that, “We’re running this game!” I suppose we’re supposed to assume that Blondie-2 and Hamilton’s numerous goons are all under control of the alien force as well, but we don’t know it for certain. I suppose Blondie-2 might just be a really, really, really, really supportive girlfriend.
Hamilton also mentions, “Sending a little welcoming gift”, which sets up what just might be the worst paced and least suspenseful suspense scene ever filmed. In fact, it may have negative suspense. Honestly, Luigi Cozzi comes across here like the Bizarro World version of Alfred Hitchcock. You wouldn’t think such an experienced director could put together something this poorly constructed…but then again, given that we’re about to see a shower scene in an Italian exploitation film that contains no nudity, I guess anything’s possible.
I could murder a martini right about now…
Back at the Grand Hotel, Holmes is issuing instructions. She’s marked off on a map the area in which the eggs should be found: Hubbard is to fly over the region and see what he can see. Meanwhile, she and Aris will infiltrate the “coffee” factory.
The three mull gravely over how short the time at their disposal is, and then Hubbard demands dinner, while Holmes asks for half an hour so she can shower first. Aris, who voiced no objection to the thought of taking time to eat, now protests, “Jesus Christ, the whole world is going to be wiped out, and all this broad’s worried about is getting changed!”
“Listen, Aris,” retorts Holmes, “if I have to die with the rest of the world, then I want to have a proper dress on, and clean underwear!”
Now there’s a girl who always listened to her mother.
Anyway, Holmes succeeds in shooing the men out of her room. As they walk down the corridor, they shake their heads over that mysterious creature, Woman. The conversation concludes with Aris assuring Hubbard that he’s got no intention of trying anything – “I don’t like the cold!” – and naturally, leads to one of those sequences where Aris keeps trying to sneak back to Stella’s room, and then finds Hubbard watching him, and hyuck-hyuck-hyuck.
Meanwhile, the World’s Least Likely Shower Scene has begun, as the camera perches itself at the height of Louise Marleau’s shoulders, and stays there. Honestly, if this is all they were going to do with it, why make it about Louise Marleau at all? Instead, they could have given us a shower scene featuring, oh, I don’t know, Ian McCulloch?
I’m just saying.
This woman, a colonel in the US military, has just been slapped across the face. Obviously.
While Stella enjoys her chaste shower, somebody manages to slip unnoticed into the bathroom. A ripe not-egg is placed on the floor, the door is locked from the outside, and a do-not-disturb sign hung out the front.
Holmes hears the door lock and climbs out of the shower to investigate – slipping her robe back on first, of course. Hilariously, she doesn’t even notice the not-egg until it starts to croon. Then she goes into a panic attack that involves, sequentially, banging on the door, failed attempts to pick the lock, more banging on the door, and screaming bloody murder. And banging, failing, banging, screaming…
And it goes on like this, and on, and on… Me, I think I might eventually have tried something else – like throwing a towel over the not-egg, or even the shower curtain, or maybe pouring cold water on it to retard the ripening process. But then, I’m not an MIT graduate, or a colonel with a first-class mind.
And where are Mutt and Jeff while this is going on? Jeff is listening to the radio and making flight plans, which is supposed to excuse his failure to hear the ruckus two doors down. What Mutt’s excuse is, I have no idea. He does phone Holmes’s room, but doesn’t seem surprised when he gets no answer.
At length – at length – the two of them wander back down the corridor, and take offence when they see the DND sign on Holmes’s door. They’re just about to go and have dinner together (and frankly, given the way they’ve been eyeing each other all the way down the corridor, I’m not sure they’re so very sorry about that) when—hey, what’s that weird sound, like a woman screaming hysterically one room away?
Hubbard breaks both doors open and hauls Holmes out of there, moments before the not-egg goes off. Meanwhile, over at Casa de Hamilton, everyone’s favourite traitor to humanity gasps and clutches his head. “The egg! The egg!” Oh, so it is an egg? Anyway, it turns out Hamilton is in psychic contact with the things and feels their pain. That must have been a barrel-load of laughs when that warehouse was being toasted. It also means he knows the egg-not-egg failed to kill Holmes.
The shower scene from an Italian exploitation film. Honestly.
The next day, Hubbard sets off from the airport in a light plane, scanning the area around the coffee production company from which the Caribbean Lady’s cargo issued. Suddenly, however, the engine splutters, and the plane begins to drop to earth…
At the same time, Holmes and Aris are putting into effect a plan that seems to be a favourite of Holmes’s, namely walking up to their antagonists’ front door and knocking. They did that at the warehouse in Brooklyn, remember? – and we all know how well that worked out. Especially for De Silva.
But here their pose as “coffee buyers” seems to work. They are shown around by a man called Gomez, who winds up by leading them to the office of the owner of the plant, one Perla de la Cruz, who is – *cough, cough* – blonde. She plays along with the cover-story about “a very, very special kind” of coffee, walking her visitors back through the factory and straight into a couple of high-powered rifles. “Now we know who cultivates the eggs!” says Holmes accusingly. Perla admits it, but adds that she is not alone. “I’m the head of the operation!” says another voice.
“Hamilton! Alive!” gasps Holmes, who apparently doesn’t watch many crappy movies, as Hamilton, gun in hand, closes in…
But never despair! Out somewhere in the coffee plantation, a groggy—sorry, I’ll rephrase that—a dazed Hubbard climbs painfully out of his plane, which he managed to set down, albeit in a Ted Stryker-esque kind of way. Equipping himself with what the plane offers – a map, and a flare-gun – Hubbard staggers off.
Meanwhile, Holmes and Aris are tied up and sitting back to back. And it is now, with death looming – if we’re lucky – that Holmes admits that she has [*tee, hee*] “feelings” for Aris…heaven only knows why.
Hey, you know how it is. You’re on holiday, you’re a long way from home, you get lonely, and…
(This ridiculous situation isn’t helped by the fact that Louise Marleau has so much more chemistry with Ian McCulloch. Of course, as far as that goes, Marino Masé also has more chemistry with Ian McCulloch…)
Anyway, the two of them agree to be “Stella” and “Tony” until they are gruesomely killed. And with the admission of her “feelings” comes inevitably Stella’s expression of regret at wasting her life by becoming an MIT graduate and a colonel in the US military, and therefore by definition being of no use to anyone.
Tony then bares his soul, confessing that Stella makes him “feel like a caveman” (yeah, I think nature did that), and that, “You’re the first woman I ever went after that I couldn’t get past first base with.” Past first base!? Try to first base, schmuck! Stella, being classier than I, simply apologises – presumably for not being distracted from her mission to save the world by his hovering miasma of pheromones. And then they share a brief kiss, which Tony classifies as, “The most fantastic thing that ever happened to me in my whole life.” Sadly, we believe him.
Then we cut back to Hubbard – thank You, merciful God! – who has stumbled across a local man, shot and dying, who mutters something. “White zombies!?” repeats Hubbard blankly. He finds out what this cryptic comment means soon enough, as he comes across a squad of white contamination-suited workers – their faces properly covered, I’m happy to say – who are armed to the teeth and harvesting eggs-not-eggs, in a sequence that makes me quite sure that Luigi Cozzi saw The Crazies as well as Alien. Hubbard, a sucker for the classics, manages to knock out a white-suited straggler and don his outfit.
Back at the factory, Hamilton breaks up the nauseating tête-à-tête, telling Stella and Tony that it’s time to go. “Where?” demands Stella. “To the Cyclops,” replies Hamilton.
Ask a silly question.
Out in the depths of the plantation, a now white-suited Hubbard tags along with the other “white zombies” as they head in with their harvest. As he starts to climb into the back of the truck, however, a voice barks at him, “Hey, you! What do you think you’re doing?” it continues after a moment. “You were assigned to ride up front!”
A very, very, very special kind of coffee.
Phew! That was…too close.
Okay – it’s a given in these films that no-one, having donned the enemy’s clothing, is ever recognisable as an intruder; but in this case, if the guy in charge can’t see enough of Hubbard to realise he’s a ring-in, how could he possibly tell that he was the one who was “assigned to ride up front”?
Hamilton and one of his goons force Holmes and Aris through an incubator-room for the eggs-not-eggs, where Hamilton gloats, “Hundreds more are being picked right now! Everything will be ready in a few days.” Holmes finally bothers ask what the purpose of all this is, and gets a stock speech about the survival of the fittest.
Aris comments that Hamilton doesn’t even sound human, which allows Holmes to sneer that he isn’t. Hamilton gets in a snit here, sniffing, “You can’t understand me! A superior being speaks through me! It can wipe you out with the mere power of its mind!”
Didn’t Lee Van Cleef say something like that once?
Holmes throws back at Hamilton that he’s the one who’s been wiped out; that Hubbard successfully resisted being taken over on Mars, and will again. After a thoughtful moment, Hamilton concedes that, yes, he might have…that’s why they sabotaged his plane and made it crash…
And now, at long last, we get a good look at the Cyclops.
Ah, the Cyclops! No, I’m not sneering. This little beastie is the highlight of the film – and for once I get to say something nice about Luigi Cozzi, and mean it. When it came time during the filming of Contamination to shoot this sequence, the supposedly animatronic critter just wouldn’t work. Cozzi’s crew ended up manipulating the various parts of it by hand, while Cozzi redesigned the action and overhauled the lighting so that when the disparate bits of film were cut together, they formed a seamless whole.
Roger Smith’s long-lost cousin.
With its single, glowing eye, its yawning maw, its extendable, mouth-ended tentacle, through which it can – ulp! – eat people, and its constant emission of slime, the Cyclops is a genuinely disgusting and quite threatening presence – if a mostly immobile one.
But of course, it doesn’t really matter that it’s immobile. The whole point of the Cyclops being a Cyclops is that it uses the light from its one eye to hypnotise and control people – even up to the point of drawing them in until they come within reach of its tentacle-mouth…
This sequence also gives us as much as we’re ever going to get about the Cyclops’s life-cycle and intentions – although I’m sad to say that we never are going to settle the egg vs seed debate.
“It is my master who creates the eggs!” announces Hamilton. (Shouldn’t that be “my mistress”?) “He grew out of a tiny seed that I brought back from Mars. He creates the eggs, and the heat develops them to maturity.”
Which of course leaves it bewilderingly uncertain if the eggs, which he creates, are also the seeds, from which he grew. And what of the bacteria identified by Dr Blondie? Are they the “seeds”, or just along for the ride?
I’M SO CONFUUUUUUUUSED!!!!!!
Anyway, the Cyclops then shines its love-light in the direction of our heroes, settling on Aris. He stares back, his gaze locked by the Cyclops’s own; and as Holmes struggles in Hamilton’s grip and cries out, “Tony!”, he begins to stumble helplessly towards the creature…
So Aris has less brain-power than Hubbard? I can’t say I’m surprised.
Special Guest Appearance by Jon Voight!
While all this has been going on, our not-so-dead friend has followed the white platoon into the factory. Once inside, he swiftly realises that Perla is, if not in fact, then close enough to being in charge of the whole shebang to suit his purposes. Fortunately, she wanders off to an isolated spot where he can jump her.
Hubbard then learns that “your old friend, Hamilton” is to blame for everything, including the capture of Holmes and Aris. Although stunned by these revelations, he keeps his mind on the job and forces Perla to show him where the eggs-not-eggs are incubated.
Once there, however, she denounces him, tears herself free, and ducks. A gun-fight breaks out between Hubbard and a handful of white-suited goons, during which we discover that, fortunately, alien possession makes someone a lousy shot. Over the course of the ensuing battle, incubators, eggs and people all shatter in a spectacular way. We also learn that the goop doesn’t have to touch your skin to make you explode. Hmm…
Perla is soon the only one of the baddies left standing. She tries to creep away, but Hubbard orders her to stop. She hesitates for a moment, clearly calculating the probability that Hubbard will actually shoot her in cold blood.
(She may be basing her calculations on the fact that, when “Hubbard” was supposedly choking “Perla” into submission, Ian McCulloch had the gentlest possible grip on Gisela Hahn’s throat. Sometimes being a gentleman just isn’t compatible with being an action hero.)
Perla finally makes a break for it. Hubbard does fire, but – his gun’s empty. Perla bolts into a solid revolving door, but Hubbard manages to catch up with her before it finishes turning. In the struggle, the door swings around – propelling them both into the lair of the Cyclops…
Why people with hernias shouldn’t attempt Al Jolson impressions.
The final section of Contamination contains – along with a completely predictable kicker ending, and at least one more exploding person – a genuinely unexpected plot-twist, which deserves not to be spoiled; so I don’t think I’ll say any more. Yes, that right: for once I’m going to leave you hanging.
Will our heroes make it out alive? Will the Cyclops be defeated?? Will humanity be saved??? Let’s put it this way: it’s just as well THEY SAVED IAN McCULLOCH’S BRAIN!
Footnote: Contamination’s current status in Britain? Released uncut on DVD, with a 15 rating. Yeah.
Want a second opinion of Contamination? Visit Braineater.
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Still love this one. I bought the blu-ray strictly on a “Wouldn’t it be hilarious if I had this on blu-ray?” basis.
Makes perfect sense to me!
I love it too. Pity about the rat scene, tho’…
Yeah, I guess that’s just par for the course with late 70’s/early 80’s Italian genre flicks. Damn shame.
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