Sunday, May 20, 2018

Contamination (Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film, 1980)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Over the past two nights I’ve been attending both the Mars movie nights ( and the Vintage Sci-Fi screenings ( in Golden Hill and, in addition to one pretty decent movie (Five Million Years to Earth) which I reviewed in a previous moviemagg blog post, I saw three of the God-awfullest films I’ve ever seen in my life — and the proprietor is promising two equally awful movies at a special screening this afternoon, Star Crash and Galaxina (which sounds like the Ford Motor Company decided to market a muscle car to women). The Friday night Mars movie screening included Five Million Years to Earth (a film I think is a bit overrated — at least until the final reel it’s Hammer Studios being unexpectedly Val Lewtonesque in keeping the menace off screen and suggesting its presence with sound effects and things like plates falling off shelves and walls shaking, but at the end they bring out a visible monster that looks like a piece of cotton candy floating in space — and it suffers from the self-imposed challenge for writer Nigel Kneale of making an interesting movie when virtually all of it takes place in confined spaces, either an office or a hole in the ground) and a 1980 Italian-German co-production called Contamination, whose producer, co-writer and director, billed as “Lewis Coates” but really Luigi Cozzi, frankly intended the movie to be seen as an unaIuthorized sequel to the 1979 film Alien and even originally called it Alien Arrives on Earth

This one begins in New York City, with the twin towers of the World Trade Center (you remember) vividly visible in the background, with the arrival of a derelict ship called the Caribbean Lady. The ship steams into New York harbor with no visible living crew members on board, and its only cargo is boxes of something called “Café UniverX” which is supposed to be coffee (the script makes a big deal about the “X” not only being capitalized but in a different font from the rest of the name). Only four guys in haz-mat suits (which at least meant the people who prepared the English-language edition could dub them easily without worrying about synchronizing lip movements, a task that eluded them when the film featured dialogue by people whose faces were visible) go into the ship’s hold and find its captain and three other crew members afflicted by a strange, hitherto unknown disease that literally blows up its victims’ organs from inside, Cozzi a.k.a. “Coates” having decided that if the famous scene in Alien in which the alien bursts out of the victim’s chest scared the living daylights out of millions of moviegoers around the world, he could go Ridley Scott one better and have a human’s entire guts blow up inside him and splatter blood and gore across the screen. Alas, even the first time this shot is too disgusting and gross to be genuinely scary, and it pales by repetition. 

The authorities eventually find out the reason this is happening is that those mysterious boxes contain, not coffee, but giant green pulsating things that look like enormous avocados (a comparison actually made in the dialogue) and, when they get warm, explode and release a silicon-based bacterium that causes humans to spill their guts — literally — and then croak. Three of the haz-mat guys die of the bacterium when one of the “eggs” (the term used for them through most of the movie even though one of the pickier scientist characters protests that it’s inaccurate) rolls under a radiator, which explodes it and starts the disease. The one who survives is a New York City police detective named Tony Aris (Marino Masé), and he teams up with the leader of the homeland security (or whatever they called it in 1980) team, Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau, who actually turns in the film’s most interesting performance), to investigate the mysterious deaths and find out what’s up with that derelict ship and that oddball cargo. Col. Holmes ultimately traces it to a previous expedition in which two astronauts, Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch) and Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch), went to Mars — only Hubbard came back a drunken wreck and Hamilton disappeared and was presumed dead when his private plane crashed six months after he returned. Holmes and Aris find Hubbard and sober him up enough to accompany them on a trip to Colombia, where the “coffee” shipments originated, and they trace the UniverX plantation and find, predictably, it’s been turned into a giant operation to pack more eggs and send them out all over the world to annihilate the human population so the silicon-based beings who plotted all this out can take over Earth. 

What’s more, it turns out that Hamilton and his girlfriend and co-conspirator Perla de la Cruz (Gisela Hahn) are running the operation, and just when you begin to wonder why a human like Hamilton would be administering an operation that will render the human race extinct, his vocal register changes and it’s revealed he’s really one of the aliens who’s taken Hamilton’s form in order to lead the operation. Eventually the good guys are able to destroy the eggs either by freezing them or burning them up with a flame-thrower (a major plot hole; if the eggs are hatched by heating them, isn’t applying a flame thrower to them the last thing you’d want to do?), until at the very end it seems like earth is saved — until one of those horrible open-ended non-endings intervenes and we see, in sight of the World Trade Center, an egg on the streets of New York City exploding and spewing forth its bacteria. (This made me wonder why Luigi Cozzi didn’t return to this material after 9/11 and concoct a sequel in which the World Trade Center towers are brought down by alien bacteria and the aliens only fake it to look like a terror attack.) Contamination might have been a better movie if “Coates” and co-writer Erich Tomek hadn’t inserted all the gory scenes, if they hadn’t put in all the sexual (and sexist) by-play between Hubbard and Aris as to who would get to go to bed with Col. Holmes (neither, as it turned out — good for her! — though it was a bit disappointing to see Aris get eaten by one of the monsters in the closing scenes since I was hoping he would pair up with Holmes and Hubbard would fall back into his gutter), and if the whole thing hadn’t been beset by a typical bad-movie air of tackiness. It’s the sort of film that it’s hard to put your finger on just what went wrong, but nothing really goes right either.