A thrilling horror/sci-fi Italian film in the mold of Alien

A cargo ship drifts up the Hudson River into the New York harbor. Its crew is dead, their bodies horribly mutilated and turned inside out by an unknown force. Its unknown freight: boxes upon boxes of glowing, pulsating green eggs. It soon becomes clear that these eggs are not of this planet, and someone intends to cultivate them here on Earth. Italian director Luigi Cozzi (Starcrash, Hercules) gives us Contamination, an entertaining piece of sci-fi pulp that enjoys its bloodfest a little too much.

Contamination takes the premise of Ridley Scott’s Alien and then crosses it with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If that sounds intriguing to you, this bloody genre movie should be given a chance despite some hokey special effects. The 1980 film opens with a surprisingly chilling opening act as the police inspect a seemingly abandoned ship drifting into the harbor. The investigators discover a ghastly scene of mutilated bodies on the ship. Things get worse when they discover a mysterious shipment of coffee supposedly from South America in the ship. The glowing green eggs in the ship’s cargo hold spew flesh-eating acid, killing the investigators except for one lucky detective played by Marino Mase. He’s rescued by a team of government agents, led by the tough-minded Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau). They eventually team up with a disgraced astronaut to combat the growing alien menace, in a role handled by Italian horror veteran Ian McCulloch (Fulci’s Zombie).

Featuring a score by Italian prog-rockers Goblin, no stranger to the horror genre, Contamination turns out far better than it has any right. Cozzi wrote and directed the film, taking inspiration from Alien and running with it. The film does suffer from some mildly dated special effects – the final alien reveal will disappoint almost everyone. What’s interesting is the plot being driven by the female government agent, though a few weird bits of gender politics slip into the script. The police detective from Brooklyn is more interested in romancing Stella than saving the day. The characters play off each other well despite some questionable English dubbing.

Contamination’s script would work fairly well even without the bloody death scenes.

The Italians love blood and guts in their horror movies and Contamination doesn’t disappoint in that regard. What was once considered overly gruesome in 1980 with exploding stomach cavities looks fairly quaint to today’s jaded audiences which is good for the movie: Contamination’s script would work fairly well even without the bloody death scenes. The film does lose steam in a somewhat sketchy final act as the action shifts to South America. Will our three heroes stop the cabal that intends to spread the alien spores across the globe? I wish Contamination had kept its final battle in New York City. That environment provided more thrills and intrigue than the South American locale.

Contamination is an entertaining Italian genre movie that is a little more evolved in terms of story than a lot of similar fare. There is a lot to like about the film, both horror and sci-fi fans should check it out.

Movie ★★★★☆

Contamination BLu-ray screen shot 6

Arrow Video delivers a strong film transfer for the 1980 Italian movie. Supervised by Arrow’s own James White, it’s a high-grade new scan from the original camera negative. This is the best the film could possibly look in 1080P resolution on Blu-ray. It is detailed, film-like and with excellent color saturation for the gushing crimson blood. This information has been included in the booklet:

Contamination has been exclusively restored in 2K resolution for this release by Arrow Films. The original camera negative was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin-registered Arriscan at Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna. The film was graded on the Baselight grading system at Deluxe Restoration, London.

Some dirt, debris and scratches have been manually cleaned up using digital tools. The film elements look in very nice condition given that Contamination was a low-budget Italian knock-off. It’s a stable image with crisp definition and fairly sharp video. The new color grading has definitely improved flesh-tones and overall color saturation, leaving a balanced color palette with firm contrast.

The transfer has been left unfiltered, leaving high-frequency content intact. This is a film-like transfer with fantastic grain reproduction, aided by a stellar AVC video encode at very high parameters. Black levels have turned out reasonably well. They don’t crush and shadow delineation remains fairly solid except in the darkest shots.

Arrow Video spent their own money and have given Contamination the proper treatment it deserves on Blu-ray. Videophiles should be very happy with this authentic 1080P presentation of the 1980 film.

Video ★★★★☆

Like many Italian films of the era, there was no native soundtrack for Contamination. Arrow Video includes both the English and Italian dubs in monaural audio. Don’t feel guilty about listening to the English dub either. Contamination’s soundtracks were mostly recorded in post-production like other Italian films. Arrow has restored both from the original optical negative in splendid fashion. Each one is a fine-sounding 1.0 PCM presentation with excellent fidelity, preserving the original mono mixes. Some minor hiss still remains but the audio performs quite well, including the synth and keyboard-heavy score from Goblin. I was happy with its punchy low end and clean dialogue.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font. This is a new English translation done by Arrow Video.

Audio ★★★☆☆

Collector take note, Arrow Video has now entered the slipcover game! Contamination is one of their first releases with a slipcover. It’s a nice, shiny slipcover with a glossy, hand drawn image of the alien menace. The 18-page booklet is a little on the skimpy side in terms of content, focusing more on production stills than in-depth essays. Chris Alexander’s commentary is a different experience. He’s an obvious fan of the movie but goes all over the map. If you are looking for a technical breakdown of the craft of filmmaking in Contamination, look elsewhere than this commentary. The archival featurette probably has more behind-the-scenes footage than everything else combined, it’s worth a look.

Arrow Video has coded the Blu-ray for both Regions A and B since they distribute the film in both America and the UK. A DVD version of the film is included in this combo set. A slick postcard advertising their other releases is included alongside the booklet.

  • Audio Commentary by Fangoria editor and Contamination super-fan Chris Alexander – A loose, sprawling commentary. It’s entertaining in its own way since we get a glimpse of Alexander’s fandom but a moderator may have kept things better on track.
  • Luigi Cozzi Vs Lewis Coates (42:53 in HD) – An in-depth interview and career retrospective with director Luigi Cozzi. This is easily the most informative of the special features, covering his early career in some detail and explanations of his movies. In Italian with English subtitles.
  • Notes on Science-Fiction Cinema and Luigi Cozzi on the Creation of Contamination (22:55 in SD) – An archival documentary hosted by the director and including behind-the-scenes footage. This has a lot of interesting breakdowns by the director. In Italian with English subtitles.
  • 2014 Q&A with Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch (44:05 in HD) – A lengthy piece in English that has Cozzi explaining a lot in terms of his approach and his goals.
  • Sound of the Cyclops: Goblin’s Maurizio Guarini on the music of Contamination (11:31 in HD) – the Goblin keyboardist discusses Contamination’s dark, progressive rock score and a lifetime of making music for Italian terror.
  • Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery (17:26 in HD) – A critical analysis of the Italian “Mockbusters” trend of filmmaking which sought to capitalize on the success of Hollywood blockbusters. Several critics describe the stream of Italian movies and its history.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (03:44 in HD)
  • Graphic Novel – A 54-page digital graphic novel based on the film is included. This is a neat special feature, though tough to read even on a bigger screen due to size.
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Alexander, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

Extras ★★★★★

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.