Up until a few years back, I’d never considered Luigi Cozzi’s sci-fi and fantasy films anything more than hilariously terrible pastiches of far better films. But getting older and mellower has made me take a fresh look and appreciate them a lot more, warts and all. I’m finding that while somewhat hampered by budgetary constraints and packed with some truly laugh-worthy visual effects, there’s an earnestness and respectable amount of passion in them that makes up for most of the inadequacies.
Yes, Star Crash still makes me cringe and the two Hercules films are more overly colorful comic book reworkings gone haywire of classic mythology. But you can clearly feel the director’s intent on making movies from the heart even as they bust your gut from unintentional and intentional laughter.
Contamination, Cozzi’s 1980 gorier “homage” to Ridley Scott’s classic Alien has gotten an excellent Blu-Ray restoration thanks to Arrow Video. Not only do you get a lovely AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer in 1.85.1 widescreen, there’s a great set of old and new interviews with the director and Maurizio Guarini of Goblin (who did the film’s score) as well as a fun look at other Italian genre flicks that swiped ideas from blockbusters. As for the film itself, as I hadn’t seen it for over 30 years, it was certainly a fun and bloody trip down memory lane as well as something of a love letter to New York City where some of the establishing shots were films.
When a cargo freighter packed with dead crewmen and some strange over-sized extraterrestrial eggs ends up in New York Harbor, things get weird for the unlikely trio who team up to solve the mystery. There’s a hard-boiled NYPD lieutenant (Marino Masé), a not so by-the-books military colonel (Louise Marleau) and a recently out of work astronaut key to the investigation (Ian McCulloch). The film dishes out some of its gore and jump scares early on with the discovery of the dead freighter’s even deader crew. But after a second discovery of more eggs (guarded by alien-controlled humans) things dry up for a bit on the body count front so the plot can spool out a bit as it spreads from NYC to a few other locations.
By the time the film moves to its finale where there’s a big, stiff one-eyed alien boss monster to deal with, you’ll either be scratching your scalp raw in confusion or rolling in the aisles because you’re in all the way on the film’s offbeat elements. The plentiful practical gore effects are more amusing than disgusting at the end of the day, but there are some nice in-camera visuals in a flashback sequence set on another planet. NYC film hounds should at least appreciate the establishing shots here that include some loving looks at the old World Trade Center buildings and a few other locations circa 1979-80. Frankly, the film isn’t “great” by any stretch of the imagination and it probably won’t win over those who’ve seen it and have condemned it along with Cozzi’s other works. But again, it’s the special features that pull off a saving roll and make the film more respect-worthy when all is said and done.
One feature, Luigi Cozzi on Contamination is an older one in (subtitled) Italian from when the film was released that has Cozzi explain where the story idea came from and how he got the film made despite obstacles galore. The newer documentary made for the disc, Luigi Cozzi vs. Lewis Coates is even more of a revelation. Cozzi talks about his huge interest in sci-fi and fantasy, being one of the only prolific writers in the genre from his teens and even how he got the job as Famous Monsters of Filmland‘s foreign correspondent by simply writing Forrest Ackerman and asking for the position. Try that today and you’ll be sitting on a pile of rejection emails and letters with sad emoji in place of your real face.
If you’re into director commentary, it’s not here at all during the film probably because the other Cozzi features pack in all you need to know. Instead, Chris Alexander, editor of Fangoria gets to discuss the film and does an excellent job speaking as a fan of it and Cozzi’s work in general. A new Contamination Q&A is here, featuring Cozzi and actor Ian McMulloch, hosted by Arrow Video’s Ewan Cant. This is a nice bit of the director and one of the film’s stars reminiscing about the film’s making as they share stories about its development and production.
The work of Cozzi and other Italian directors who’ve lifted their films from blockbusters gets a humorous nod in Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery. Films such as the infamous Great White (yanked from theaters by Universal thanks to it being a shameless JAWS rip-off), Tentacles, Star Crash and others get a quick peek from a few genre experts. This subject needs its own longer documentary because many of these flicks are enjoyable on their own merits thanks to being packed with Hollywood stars making that fast paycheck as well as some hammy local actors chewing the scenery before being chewed up themselves. In Sound of the Cyclops, the interview with Goblin’s Maurizio Guarini is interesting because you get to see how the score came together as well as hear Guarini briefly discuss some of the group’s other work.
There’s also a digital graphic novel on the disc with art by Sergio Muratori. Based on the original screenplay, you get to see elements not in the final film such as a love scene and some very different interactions between some of the main characters. The art is well done, clean and uncolored, so it’s also a nice reference for anyone into comic art and learning a bit of storytelling for their own work. A film trailer wraps up the fun on the disc and as usual, my review copy was sans a booklet. Nevertheless, I can recommend snapping up this film for your own Arrow collection if it grabs your interest. I know Star Crash has gotten a not so recent release from another company, but Arrow has done such a fine job with Contamination that it might be nice to see some of Cozzi’s other work get the same lush treatment. As always, we shall see. But if it happens, expect whatever comes down the road to be the definitive version(s).