Introducing New Column “Arrow Heads”! Vol. 1: CONTAMINATION

Arrow Heads — Arrow Video, a subsidiary of Arrow Films, humbly describe themselves as merely a “Distributor of classic, world, cult and horror cinema on DVD & Blu-ray”. But we film geeks know them as the Britain-based bastion of the brutal and bizarre, boasting gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging and bursting with extras (often their own productions). Their collector-friendly releases had traditionally not been available in the U.S, but now Arrow has come across the pond and this column is devoted to discussing their weird and wonderful output.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Arrow Heads! It was almost exactly one year ago that Arrow Video wrapped a successful crowdfunding campaign to bring their brand of mind-blowing awesomeness to our shores. I’ve been a fan of Arrow’s output for awhile and longed for their brand to find its way to the US, so the last year has been a bit of wish fulfillment. In this short time, Arrow has already released many fascinating cult films both well-known and obscure, and all notable. Titles like Society and the Stray Cat Rock box set have quickly found their way into my collection, so it’s a pleasure and honor to kick off this column in grand fashion.

And what a pick we have! Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (1980), also known as Alien Contamination. In the US, Cozzi’s films were released under the pseudonym Lewis Coates. Among genre fans he’s best known for directing Starcrash and some fantasy and giallo films, though he was also, impressively, a writing partner of horror master Dario Argento. But Contamination, a fairly blatant rip-off of Ridley Scott’s Alien with a producer-mandated dash of James Bond, is perhaps his most deserving of rediscovery.

That description isn’t just an accusation. Cozzi, who likes dropping references, freely admits that Alien served as his direct inspiration, and along with it a handful of other films that informed particular scenes. However, without the budget to shoot a space saga, he pitched the idea of a terrestrial story which in English might be translated as something like Alien On Earth. Although his title got changed (because, hilariously, another Italian rip-off had already claimed it), the idea was still used, and rather transparently so.

The story kicks off with the discovery of a deserted cargo ship’s hold full of lethal, glowing, acid-filled eggs where there should be coffee instead. When an NYPD hazmat team investigates, an egg explodes, spewing acid over one of their number, who in turn bursts open and sprays his pals, causing a chain reaction that leaves only one man standing. That man, Tony Aris (Marino Masé), escapes and is quarantined while the government swoops in to decide what happens next, under the leadership of Colonel Stella Holmes (Canadian actress Louise Marleau). It’s determined that the eggs are of alien origin, and the discovery corroborates the story of a shamed astronaut (Ian McCulloch as Commander Ian Hubbard), whose tale of a similar encounter on Mars was dismissed as a hallucination.

Already, the film is wearing the Alien influence on its sleeve with its foreboding eggs and caustic acid. And if you like Alien‘s chest-bursting scene, you’re in luck because Cozzi did too. So much so that it happens repeatedly and gruesomely throughout his film, in splattery, detail-soaked slow motion.

With Hubbard collected, the film makes a bit of a producer-mandated globe-trotting James Bond turn. The trio tracks the original shipment to Colombia (where, true story, some funding for the film was provided by wealthy drug lords). After some twists and turns and friendly tension as both men start to crush on their leading lady, Aris and Holmes pose as coffee importers to investigate the company behind the shipment, while Hubbard sneaks around the back way (McCulloch seemingly hired in part for his Scottish accent and resemblance to Roger Moore), leading to a showdown with whatever hides in the basement of the coffee mill.

(It’s an alien.)

Contamination features a memorable score — is there any other kind? — by Goblin, which is quite effective in complementing the film’s storytelling. And while the film is of Italian origin, there’s no specific impetus to view it in that language. Like many such productions with international casts (think spaghetti Westerns, for example), there is no specific “native” version. Two of Contamination‘s three leads were native English speakers, and like Fulci’s Zombie, it features American characters and is partially set in New York, so thematically English makes more sense. I kind of switched back and forth between tracks for awhile but settled on the English as the more enjoyable.

The film isn’t perfect by a long shot. It’s pretty cheesy and has some cheap-looking sets (in addition to some pretty nice ones). Some of the effects rigging is painfully obvious, and the alien creature is awfully clunky, saved only through judicious editing (Cozzi has no problem lambasting it, saying it was insisted upon by the producer even though he wanted to do it in stop motion instead). Overall there are some huge leaps in logic and dumb choices made, and McCulloch is passed off as an American astronaut despite his obvious accent. Will any of this matter? Perhaps. But if you enter this film wanting to enjoy it, you absolutely will. It’s gruesome, silly, and fun, and the on-the-nose plagiarism actually adds a fair bit of charm by way of familiarity.

For an interesting double feature, casting aside the the obvious choice of Alien, I suggest pairing Contamination with the aforementioned Zombie (Zombi 2), which bears several similarities. Besides the locale, it also stars Ian McCulloch, moves from New York to the Caribbean, has gore effects by some of the same folks, and features a very memorable synth-tinged score by Fabio Frizzi that’s right at home alongside the best of Goblin.

The Package

Contamination was released on Blu-ray on July 7. As is usual for Arrow’s releases, the disc is packed in a transparent case and comes with a reversible cover featuring both new and classic artwork. It also includes a metallic foil slipcover and booklet. (Note: This review was conducted with a disc-only screener so these details were not observed firsthand; this is also why I haven’t included my usual packaging photos.)

Special Features and Extras

Luigi Cozzi on Contamination (22:55)

An archival feature from the time of the film’s release, and featuring lots of BTS footage. Cozzi discusses the difficulties encountered making the film, including clashes with producers and trying to interest Italian audiences in science fiction. He freely admits that the film was inspired by Alien, as well as Enemy From Space, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, and Them!. Some of this documentary is over-explained, which is probably simply because such behind-the-scenes documentaries were uncommon in that era.

Contamination Q&A (41:05)
 Arrow’s Ewan Cant interviews Luigi Cozzi and Ian McCulloch at the Abertoir Horror Festival in 2014, revealing some fun stories about the film’s Colombian drug connection and McCulloch’s tussle with a “knife-wielding midget”.

Sound Of The Cyclops (11:31)
 Goblin keyboardist Maurisio Guarini dishes on Contamination‘s score, some history of the band, and their approach to film soundtracks.

Luigi Cozzi vs Lewis Coates (42:53)
 For my money, the best extra on the disc. Luigi Cozzi takes viewers on a tour of his career, from publishing the first Italian fanzine to acting as a liaison for American science fiction authors and eventually Famous Monsters Of Filmland, a gig which granted him access to some of the great Italian filmmakers. He learned everything he could about film, and eventually his friendship with Dario Argento yielded a writing partnership that launched his filmmaking career. Great stuff; his enthusiasm as a fan first is reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form Of Flattery (3:14)
 With author Maitland McDonagh and Chris Poggiali of Temple Of Schlock. An academic discussion of how Italian genre films often aped popular hits like Jaws, Mad Max, and of course Alien.

Original Theatrical Trailer (3:14)

Graphic Novel
 A representation of the graphic novel based on the film and illustrated by Sergio Muratori. Navigate page-by-page by hitting the arrow buttons. It’s difficult to read without a massive TV and honestly just a poor format for this kind of thing. Plus it’s completely in Comic Sans, so…

Commentary by Chris Alexander
 An expert fan commentary from the Editor of Fangoria and other magazines. He was not part of the making of the film, but his knowledge is extensive and impressive, and he shares a few stories along the way. Not bad at all for a secondary commentary.


Contamination is a very entertaining and blood-soaked derivative work that shamelessly rips off Alien but does so in a fun and even complementary fashion. I absolutely enjoyed it and would recommend that our readers lay eyes on this impressive and feature-packed Arrow edition.

Get it at Amazon:
 Contamination [Blu-ray]

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