by Jack Sommersby
I know we've seen our share of "Alien" knockoffs, but this one, while flawed, is actually worth taking a look at -- but just barely.In Ridley Scott's extraordinary Alien, a group of intergalactic space jockeys stumbled across thousands of two-foot-high eggs inside a derelict alien spacecraft marooned on a distant planet, and when one of their overeager crew got too close to one, a crab-like, acid-for-blood parasite sprung out of it, fastened upon his face, immobilized and put him into a coma, and impregnated him with a baby alien, which thereafter burst out of his chest and grew into a seven-foot-tall, indestructible monstrosity that proceeded to knock off most of the remaining crew one by one. In Luigi Cozzi's Contamination, an unmanned, straying cargo ship is intercepted as it approaches a New York harbor, it's boarded by the police and health-department officials, who stumble across some green, football-shaped, pulsating objects that resemble eggs; when these objects are touched, they explode and spew an extremely toxic liquid onto the humans, who subsequently explode from the inside just a few seconds later. In an interview, Cozzi freely acknowledged his film as an "illegitimate son of Alien", even going so far as to incorporate a most disagreeable space monster that has to be sparred with in the final fifteen minutes. Cozzi, an avid lover of Alien and sci-fi/horror in general, clearly set out to make a knockoff of Scott's classic, unrivaled 1979 masterpiece, and yet it doesn't go down nearly as bad as it should, because, flaws and all, it succeeds at fascinating us with details of the unknown and serving up just enough in the way of inventive gross-out effects and outlandish story facets to sate those who've come away from several of these knockoffs (like Norman J. Warren's Inseminoid and William Malone's Creature, the two worst of this particular sub-genre) far from enamored of their mediocre-to-asinine end results.
"A Space Monster With Your Coffee, Sir?"
Onboard the ship, the eggs (which emit a sound like a whale's mating call over and over again) have been packed into several hundred boxes with the label "UniverX Coffee" (ha, ha), which leads one of the officers to brilliantly surmise from seeing the corpses of the crew, "What killed those men certainly wasn't coffee." Colonel Stella Holmes (a wooden Louise Marleau) from the federal government's Internal Security Department takes over and proceeds to freeze half the eggs and incinerate the other half. From there, top-tier scientists attempt to learn more about the eggs' makeup (as opposed to humans' carbon cells, they're made up of silicone ones -- as the ones in Alien were), while Holmes enlists the help of the one surviving officer from the ship, Lieutenant Tony Aris (a certifiably awful Marino Mase) and Commander Ian Hubbard (an occasionally stolid Ian McCulloch), who was deemed a nutball a few years back upon returning home from a Mars mission with a tale of the discovery of green eggs inside an ice-mountain cave -- a story his co-astronaut, Hamilton (Siegfried Rauch, in Oliver Reed-overacting mode), refuted at the time. These three travel down to South America to find out who or what is behind the creation and distribution of these eggs, and they've only seventy-two hours to do it until Hubbard's bosses cause massive pandemonium by announcing to the American people the threat they're faced with (yeah, right). What they discover is a creature called The Cyclops, which looks like an oversized, green-skinned, multi-appendaged, long-snouted version of The Elephant Man, with a glowing yellow eye that hypnotizes its victims and makes them carry out its direct orders, like distributing its eggs or obediently serving themselves up to it as extraterrestrial tasty treats. Would I make any of this up?
Contamination isn't suspenseful enough to heartily recommend yet not atrocious enough to throw stones at. Yes, those willing to take the tour will have to endure lame sexual quips by the likes of "You couldn't get it up even if you had a crane" and some appallingly fake special effects where the characters seem to have miraculously gained a hundred pounds right before they explode -- the quite-obvious padding from the fake stomachs make them look like they're wearing parachutes in front. And Cozzi's direction, unlike Scott's in Alien, is neither swift nor active enough for the material. Too many scenes go on way too long, with Cozzi's eye for interesting composition going punk-dead during the 'character' scenes, which solely exist to spell out information to the viewer and play host to a dismal array of unpleasant, uninteresting characters you wouldn't open your door to. Scott was attune to how his material should play -- like gangbusters, mainly, with jackhammer ferocity and streamlined pacing -- while Cozzi treats his with occasional bouts of indifference, as if he were directing a dishwasher commercial -- there's nothing even resembling pace or sustained tension here. And he hasn't a valid film sense to save his life. Why else wouldn't he have deep-sixed an atrocious attempt at a visual gag involving the lieutenant griping and wildly gesturing in front of a two-way mirror while the agents on the other side have the volume muted? And can't he see there's way too much talkin' going on? It's not enough that the dialogue is, of course, pure gibberish (another: "This wasn't caused by a virus, that's for damn sure."), but the English-language dubbing in this Italian/German production is off-sync and turned up way too loud, so you get amplified-sounding gibberish on top of it.
Ultimately, the film is just worth recommending for the curious-minded. The happenstances may not adhere even to the wackiest of inner logic -- I couldn't figure out how The Cyclops intended to multiply its species if all its eggs do is destroy people's bodies -- but they're aligned into a reasonably decent story structure. There's an element of surprise in Contamination in that you don't exactly know where it's headed, and when the who-cares characters can shut their yaps for two seconds there are some shots (like the officers and later the villain's henchmen clad in white decontamination suits walking toward a ship and through a coffee plantation) and sequences (like the laboratory experimentation of the green liquid injected into a rat; a raid on a Bronx warehouse storing some of the eggs) that have some atmosphere and visual vivacity. Cozzi may not be teeming with a whole lot in the way of common sense, but there's a playfulness to his work that manages to shine through when it's not bogged down in those dreadful, play-it-straight moments that put a hammerlock on the tone and flatten it out. Actually, if you skip the dour middle section, you're apt to have a fairly good time. Especially during the grand finale, where The Cyclops is revealed in all its slimy, drooling, repulsive glory. It's nothing more than a papier-mache afforded by a low budget; however, Cozzi wisely alternates the shots of it with some not-bad gunplay action occurring elsewhere in the compound, so the frequent cutting back and forth helps hide some of its dubiousness as a truly frightening monster. Contamination lacks the visceralness of Alien and the masterful mix of humor and scares of Allan Holzman's Forbidden World (the best of the Alien knockoffs), but it's agreeably silly and oddly endearing, regardless of its can't-be-denied faults.The maestros at Blue Underground have given this a wonderful DVD packaging: a nice widescreen transfer, rich audio, and two behind-the-scenes featurettes that are quite informative and fun.
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originally posted: 11/11/04 09:33:24