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.

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