See those green things in the picture above? You’re probably looking at them and you’re thinking to yourself, “Those are the biggest avocados that I’ve ever seen!”
Well, they’re not avocados.
No, instead they are green eggs from Mars. They may look harmless but if they start glowing, pulsating, and making an eerie womping noise, you might want to get away from them. When those eggs explodes, they spray out a green goo. Any living creatures that is so much as even splashed by this goo will then explode in a mass of blood and guts. It’s messy. I would not want to clean up after anyone is sprayed with green goo.
Those eggs are at the center of this week’s daily sci-fi grindhouse, the 1980 Italian film, Contamination. How much you enjoy Contamination will largely depend on how much you like old school Italian exploitation films in general. If you’re the type who rolls your eyes at bad dubbing and who demands that a film follow some sort of narrative logic, you are not the ideal audience for this movie. However, if you’re like me and you enjoy the pure shamelessness of Italian exploitation, you’ll probably have an easier time enjoying Contamination.
It won’t come as a surprise to any student of Italian or grindhouse cinema to learn that Contamination was ripped off from several films that were popular in the late 70s. The eggs are largely lifted from Alien and, whenever the goo-sprayed bodies explode, it’s reminiscent of that ugly little thing bursting out of John Hurt’s chest. The second half of the film feels like a secondhand James Bond film, complete with a sinister conspiracy, a mysterious mastermind who earlier faked his own death, and a femme fatale. The conspiracy is headquartered on a coffee plantation in South America. It’s not difficult to imagine Baron Samedi or some other villain from Live and Let Die showing up and laughing before throwing an exploding egg at someone.
Contamination opens with a seemingly deserted ship floating into New York harbor. Fans of Italian cinema will immediately think about the opening of Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. Just as Zombi 2 opened with the New York City police investigating an abandoned boat and getting attacked by a zombie, Contamination features the New York City police investigating an abandoned boat and getting sprayed with green goo. The only cop who doesn’t explode, a tough New Yawker named Tony (Marino Mase), works with Col. Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) to figure out why those eggs were on that boat.
Helping them out is an alcoholic former astronaut named Commander Ian Hubbard (Ian McCulloch). Somewhat appropriately, McCulloch was also in Zombi 2. (And let’s not forget about his role in Zomie Holocaust…) I once read an interview with McCulloch (in Jay Slater’s overview of Italian zombie cinema, Eaten Alive) in which he said that he didn’t feel he did a very good job in Contamination but I think he’s being too hard on himself. Is the very British and slightly uptight Ian McCulloch miscast as a cynical, alcoholic, American astronaut who can’t even walk to his front door without stumbling over discarded beer cans? Sure, he is. But he’s so miscast that it actually becomes rather fascinating to watch him in the role. He may be miscast but you can tell he’s really trying and he’s just so damn likable that you almost feel like it would be a disservice to him not to watch the film.
Anyway, Stella, Tony, and Hubbard have to discover out why the green eggs are on Earth and they eventually do figure out what’s going on. I’ve watched the film multiple times and I have to admit that I’m still not sure what they figured out. It’s a confusing movie and I doubt that there’s really any way that it could have ever made any sort of coherent sense but then again, that’s part of the film’s charm.
So, here’s what does work about Contamination. The exploding green eggs are both scary and wonderfully ludicrous. Ian McCulloch is a lot of fun as drunk Commander Hubbard. Goblin provides an excellent and propulsive score. And finally, there’s an alien monster who simply has to be seen to be believed. To his credit, director Luigi Cozzi realized that the monster looked cheap and he uses all sorts of creative editing and employed an arsenal of jump cuts to try to keep you from noticing. Much as with McCulloch’s performance, you can’t help but appreciate Cozzi’s effort.
As I said before, you’re enjoyment of Contamination will probably be determined by how much you enjoy Italian exploitation films in general. If you’re not familiar with the Italian grindhouse, Contamination is not the film to use for an introduction. However, if you are already a fan, you might appreciate Contamination.
Contamination is in the public domain and, as such, very easy to track down.