Review first published by Movie Gazette
As sure as flies follow shit, cheap Italian rip-offs followed the American blockbusters of the seventies and eighties. The undisputed master of the spaghetti retread was Dario Argento’s long-time collaborator Luigi Cozzi, who reimagined Star Wars (1977) as Starcrash (1978), Conan the Barbarian (1982) as Hercules (1983), Jaws (1975) as Devil Fish (which Cozzi wrote in 1984 for Lamberto Bava) – and the heavenly Alien (1979) as the more earthbound Contamination. All the key elements from Ridley Scott’s film can be found here: large green cocoons (prompting the repeated scream “Get me out of here! There’s an egg!”); exploding stomachs (plus an exploding rat); a strong female character (married, as one of the film’s males puts it, “to a test-tube and a whip”); and the big killer alien (although instead of Giger’s efficient killer, this extraterrestrial looks like leftover tat from the set of a 1950s B-flick or an old Doctor Who).
Alien is not the only influence to have infected Contamination. Its opening sequence, in which an unmanned boat enters New York City’s waters, is, like the film’s star Ian McCulloch, straight out of Zombie Flesh Eaters, Lucio Fulci’s box office success from the previous year which in turn was an Italian response to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). The paranoia about a killer epidemic and the obsession with men in white protection suits is inspired both by the Quatermass franchise and another Romero horror, The Crazies (1973). And the film’s second half, in which the three main characters travel undercover to South America to investigate the suspicious activities of a coffee-producing factory, and end up being shown around the operation by the film’s gloating villain, is pure James Bond – not that Blofeld ever conspired with a one-eyed psychic sidekick from outer space resembling a giant slimy mushroom with big penile tentacles.
Contamination is, like the alien it portrays, a hilarious hybrid which sucks you in by turning your brain to jelly. Delightfully dated now, and probably even in its own time, it combines explosive gore, an alien terrorist plot, a tragic love triangle, a mission to Mars, a Columbian operation to flood the US with a crop far deadlier than cocaine, and an alcoholic ex-astronaut’s struggle to get back his mojo (“If you’re always in this condition it’s quite obvious you couldn’t get it up, even if you used a crane”, as ice maiden Colonel Stella Holmes, played by Loise Marleau, so eloquently puts it). Ian McCulloch plays the strong-minded (if limp-dicked) Commander Ian Hubbard with a knowing smile, while Siegfried Rauch overacts with wide-eyed glee as the alien-controlled antagonist – and the mixture of these hams with so much cheese and all those pulsating eggs makes for a strange but satisfyingly silly sci-fi omelette (even if it might make your belly want to burst).