Monday, April 14, 2014

Alien Contamination (1980)

... aka: Aliens Arrive on Earth
... aka: Astaron
... aka: Contamination
... aka: Contamination: Alien on Earth
... aka: Toxic Spawn

Directed by:
"Lewis Coates" (Luigi Cozzi)

A crewless ship from South America called the "Caribbean Lady" washes into New York Harbor, so it's immediately quarantined at an isolated area. Because of a strange smell "like something rotting" emanating from the boat, NYPD's lousiest, Lt. Tony Aris (Marino Masé), calls in Dr. Turner (Carlo Monni) from the health department to investigate. The men and a few others suit up and board the ship. They eventually discover a bunch of corpses littered throughout; each a bloody messy as if they exploded from the inside out. After following a trail of "green gunk" down into the storage area, they see a bunch of bizarre objects they liken to overgrown vegetables (including pumpkins... what the f?), a football and "big green eggs" stuffed into a bunch of crates labeled coffee. One resting near some hot pipes is picked up and explodes, sending slime all over most of the men, who then steam up and themselves explode. Aris is the only one who manages to get out of there alive. He contacts the authorities, the government is called in and he goes through a thorough decontamination process before the head of the project - Internal Security Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) - will let him free.

Just what these avocados-on-steroids are doing in New York, where they come from and who sent them there are three of the major topics immediately on hand... and Stella knows just where to begin her investigation. Two years earlier, a pair of astronauts - Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch) and Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch) - went to the polar ice caps of Mars. They ventured into an ice cave, saw similar eggs and then some kind of glowing alien life form. When they returned to Earth, Ian's claims were rebutted by his fellow astronaut and he was court-martialed and stripped of his rank. Since then, Hamilton is believed to have died in a mysterious plane crash, while Hubbard had a nervous breakdown and has turned into a miserable, whiskey-soaked drunk. Stella was on the commission that helped to ruin his life but she's still able to somehow coax him out of retirement and, along with Lt. Aris, the three fly down to Colombia, where they have 72 hours to get to the bottom of things and hope to locate the "egg plantation."

"What is it you want to know? How many times a week I screwwww?!"

"If you're always in this condition, it's quite obvious you couldn't get it up even if you used a crane."

It's pretty obvious why this one exists. Someone watched ALIEN (1979), noted the chest-burster scene was a crowd-pleaser and decided to make an entire film centered around that concept. This has four or five bloody moments where chests explode, but the rest of the film is pretty forgettable, dragged out and much of it is too darkly lit. The English-language dubbing and dialogue are both terrible. Toward the end we get some slightly interesting stuff involving possession and actually get to see the Mars extraterrestrial (a one-eyed "Alien Cyclops" blob with hypnotic abilities that eats people alive) but, again, it's primarily hidden in the shadows and looks at best like a slightly-updated take on one of the monsters from a 50s-era Corman movie. We also never really learn how the alien itself even managed to get on Earth in the first place, nor do we get much of a motivation. When pressed to give a reasoning for trying to blow people up, an alien-possessed just spouts "The strongest creature shall crush the weakest... That is the purpose!" Now that we got that all cleared up, anyone for some giant squash?

Contamination is among a long list of films made in response to Ridley Scott's masterpiece. Others include the British productions Inseminoid (1980 aka Horror Planet) and Xtro (1982), the Italian Alien 2: On Earth (1980), which faced a 10 million dollar lawsuit from 20th Century Fox (later thrown out of court) and a long list of American films that included Scared to Death (1980), Galaxy of Terror (1981), The Intruder Within (1981; made-for-TV), Forbidden World (1982), Parasite (1982), Creature (1985 aka Titan Find) and many more. On the Blue Underground DVD, there's a 17-minute-long interview with the director, who pretty much confirms what we already suspect: he was asked to make an Alien copy and delivered just that. He explains that the "low-key" lighting is intentional to disguise the "defects" in the fx and says the film was originally called Aliens Arrive on Earth, but he was forced to change it to Contamination by the producers. Cozzi also claims he wanted Caroline Munro (star of his previous film Starcrash [1979]) to play the lead role but the producer wanted someone "ugly and older" for the part and "...in the end, he got his way." Lord, what a tactless and shitty thing to say!

Most of the NYC scenes (everything but exterior shots) were actually filmed in Rome. There's a score from Goblin (which I've seen some people praise, though I found it utterly forgettable) and Gisela Hahn (Jess Franco's DEVIL HUNTER [1980]) and Fulci film regular Carlo De Mejo are also in the cast. The "Alien" was added to the title and the cast and credits were Anglicized for the U.S. release by Cannon, who later hired Cozzi to make the fantasy-adventure Hercules (1983) with Lou Ferrigno (which was nominated for five Razzie Awards), and the follow-up The Adventures of Hercules II (1985). The company Lettuce released it on VHS under the title Toxic Spawn. Cozzi retired from filmmaking in the 90s and now manages Dario Argento's "Profondo Rosso;" a horror-themed store / museum in Italy.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Claws (1977)

... aka: Devil Bear
... aka: Fauces (Jaws)
... aka: Grizzly 2
... aka: Grizzly: Ihmissyöjä karhu (Grizzly: Man-Eating Bear)

Directed by:
Richard Bansbach
Robert E. Pearson

It's impossible to discuss animal attack films of the mid-to-late 70s without at least giving a customary nod to the movie that started the whole craze: Jaws (1975). The Steven Spielberg-directed phenomenon not only created the hit summer blockbuster (adjusted for inflation it is currently the 7th highest grossing film of all time), but also spawned loads of other imitations in the nature strikes back mold. One of the most successful of all these was William Girdler's killer bear flick GRIZZLY (1976), which cloned the plot and characters of Spielberg's film so closely I'm shocked they were never sued for plagiarism. Grizzly ended up grossing an impressive 39 million dollars in theaters worldwide, which was enough to make it the most profitable independent genre film of all time up to that point; a record that would be shattered just two years later by John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN (1978). Following hot on the paws of Grizzly was Claws, yet another independently-financed killer bear movie. That puts it in the unfortunate position of not only being a rip-off, but a rip-off of a rip-off. Expectations? Set 'em low. Cause even though I'm no fan of Grizzly, even I have to admit it was made far more skill than this one.

In Admiralty, Alaska, a licensed guide and two poachers encounter a couple of grizzlies fighting and shoot at them a bunch of times. One dies. The other doesn't. The still-living one then goes buck wild and starts attacking and killing anyone it can sink its claws into. Jason Monroe (Jason Evers), who has the misfortune of his truck breaking down on a back road at the same time of the grizzly shooting, is the first to encounter the bear but manages to survive the attack. Others aren't so lucky. According to the teletype-over-a-black-screen that follows, we learn that a state surveying party was attacked soon after; leaving two dead and one seriously injured. A few months after that, a couple of hikers were killed. Five long years pass without incident (that's one long - and unexplained - hibernation!), but the bear for some reason decides to return to the small town for round two. It's befitting this very low budget production that we don't actually get to see any of that stuff, but instead get to read exciting wordings like "Wounded giant grizzly turns rogue killer!" and "Satan bear has returned to the community!"

We then return to Jason, who is still haunted by the bear attack all these years later. Consumed with bitterness and hate over losing function in one of his arms (which has caused him issues with his logging business), Jason's obsession with finding and killing the bear has wrecked his family life. His wife Chris (Carla Layton) has moved out and is now fucking their son's boy scout leader. Jason's grizzly rage is only intensified further when his boy Bucky (Buck Monroe) is attacked and seriously injured while out on a camping trip. Reporters show up to hassle put-upon forest commissioner Ben Chase (Leon Ames), a bunch of redneck yahoos organize a posse to try to hunt down the bear and the beast kills the sheriff (Myron Healey), the guide who originally shot at it and a couple of big city scientists who attempt to lure it into a cage with high tech infrared gadgets. There are lots of extremely hokey flashbacks from multiple characters thrown in, which are used primarily to show us the couple when they were still in love and the whole family when they were happier and are pretty pointless.

After a really bad and slow first half, the film finally settles into a muddled groove of sorts once Jason, his wise old Indian buddy Henry (Anthony Cardona), Ben and the aforementioned scout leader Howard (Glenn Sipes) head out on a long trip - from the forest to a snowy mountaintop - to hunt down the bear. A pilot friend (Buck Young) keeps tabs on their activities and drops them off some food and supplies from time to time. It is later revealed the beastly Boo Boo is not just your average bear, but an evil shape-shifting spirit called a Kustaka. The Kustaka (also spelled Kooshdakhaa) is actually part of native Alaskan Tlingit and Tsimshian mythology. To them, it's a cross between a man and an otter ("Kustaka" = "land otter man") that is either helpful or preys on the lost; tricking them to their death. The makers of this movie stick to the latter depiction of a malicious spirit and do actually stay faithful to the mythology for the most part (though it never actually changes its form). Henry is more in tune with the spirit and has hallucinations of "wailing women" and freaky stuffed animals, but all of that is really just a formality. The mythical aspects aren't given enough relevance in the plot to save this from being utterly routine. In fact, I had to research the topic myself to even learn about these myths since the movie doesn't adequately explain them. But hey, at least I learned something new today so I can at least thank Claws for that much.

The performances are a real mixed bag. Lots of inexperienced amateurs were used to fill most of the supporting roles and it shows. Evers' character is extremely unlikable, but thankfully a couple of other actors (namely Ames) provide good moments. Caruso is good too, even though he's stuck with cliché bad Native American speak like "I think I go drink whiskey" and "I think I go do me some work now." The whole film is heavily padded with nature footage. Often times a character will say a line and then the next shot is of something random and hilarious like a chipmunk eating a nut or beavers building a dam. These shots are sometimes even wedged in mid-conversation for no apparent reason, possibly because the makers weren't worried about continuity when they were filming and this was the easiest way out. We also get to see rams, deer, moose, a cat, salmon, birds and probably some other ones I'm forgetting. The locations are great to look at least, and there's some nice aerial photography in the second half.

"Killed 10 people... Oh, it was nothing!"

Claws hit theaters in 1977 under its original title. Some sources claim it was later reissued in Canada and Mexico as Grizzly 2 to cash in on Girdler's film, though I have yet to see a poster or ad to prove that. From what I can tell, the Finnish title (Grizzly: Ihmissyöjä karhu = "Grizzly: Man-Eating Bear") comes closest to making the direct connection. In Spain it was called Fauces ("Jaws"). After its theatrical release, it made its television debut on CBS in 1981 and then made its VHS debut on the Video Gems label before disappearing from view. There is no official DVD as of this writing.

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