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.