When Alien hit big in the inter­na­tion­al movie mar­ket­place, the Italian gen­re brigade quick­ly picked up the gauntlet of Alien-inspired cheap thrills. Contamination was one of the first to emerge but don’t expect a typ­i­cal beat-for-beat knock­off flick. Instead, this scrap­py lit­tle quick­ie offers an off­beat mix­ture of Italian-style splat­ter, vin­tage sci-fi plot hooks and even a bit of spy movie-inspired glo­be­trot­ting. It’s not what you’d call a good film but it is one of the more mem­o­rably eccen­tric films to pass for a cash-in.

Contam-posIn an open­ing reel that echoes the first scene of Zombie, the police bring an aban­doned freighter drift­ing into New York’s har­bor. They find a dead crew inside and odd, pul­sat­ing “eggs” in its car­go hold — and when one of them bursts, it spurts green goo that makes any­one it touch­es explode! NYPD cop Tony Aris (Marino Mase) sur­vives this inci­dent and teams up with army hon­cho Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) to fig­ure out what this strange hor­ror. The answer lies in the expe­ri­ences of burnt-out astro­naut Ian Hubbard (Ian MacCulloch), who claimed to see sim­i­lar eggs on Mars, and the trio ulti­mate­ly find their answers on a mys­te­ri­ous cof­fee plan­ta­tion in South America.

Contamination has always been lumped in with the wave of Alien ripoffs that churned through the­aters in the ear­ly ‘80s but that’s only part­ly true. It bor­rows a key ele­ment from Alien in its extrater­res­tri­al egg but it goes in a lot of unex­pect­ed direc­tions. It only vis­its out­er space for a few min­utes via a flash­back, holds back its big alien mon­ster until the final reel and uti­lizes the plot struc­ture of a Bond movie, com­plete with a mys­tery vil­lain who lives in exile in a for­eign land.

This odd state of affairs is pri­mar­i­ly due to the pres­ence of Italian film­mak­er and life­long sci-fi obses­sive Luigi Cozzi in the writer/director chair, who can’t help but stray from the straight rip-off path and weave in ref­er­ences to and ele­ments from his beloved old-school sci-fi. As a result, Contamination affec­tion­ate­ly pur­loins plot hooks from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the Quatermass movies and even has a mon­ster that looks more like some­thing from Invaders From Mars rather than Alien.

The film’s hasti­ly thrown-togeth­er nature results in some vis­i­ble rough edges. The char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and plot­ting exist at a kind of basic comic-book lev­el and Cozzi’s direc­tion, though enthu­si­as­tic, can be errat­ic: for exam­ple, he gets bogged down in a would-be sus­pense scene involv­ing Stella trapped in a bath­room with an alien egg that spends sev­er­al min­utes strug­gling to build sus­pense.

That said, Contamination’s mélange of ele­ments is so damned eccen­tric that it will amuse fans of vin­tage Italo-exploita­tion fare. It’s got a pul­sat­ing, new-wav­ish Goblin score, a charm­ing­ly dead-pan sense of the ridicu­lous and a series of show-stop­ping moments where alien goo-infect­ed char­ac­ters expe­ri­ence spec­tac­u­lar slo-mo tor­so explo­sions. If that com­bi­na­tion of ele­ments sounds appeal­ing, you’re like­ly to enjoy the odd­ball mélange of cash-in impuls­es and glee­ful sci-fi nerdism that dri­ves Contamination.