[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 20 – Contamination (1980)

Director: Luigi Cozzi
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn
Screenplay: Luigi Cozzi, Erich Tomek
95 mins. Rated R.

I just saw my first Luigi Cozzi (Hercules, La battaglia di Roma 1849) film today. It’s always interesting to see a movie by a director you have not yet watched. I actually wasn’t even aware that I owned any movies from Cozzi, as my copy of today’s movie is listed as Alien Contamination, one of the many titles that this film got upon release. Today, let’s take a stroll down schlock lane with Luigi Cozzi’s famous ripoff of Alien…with Contamination.

When a mysterious ship arrives at the New York Harbor with no souls on board, the police discover that the ship is packed with unusual green eggs larger than footballs. As a research team attempts to discover the origin of the eggs, they learn that these dangerous biohazards are linked to an expedition to Mars.

It’s clear from early on that Contamination is a blatant ripoff of Alien in a number of different ways. After completing Starcrash, Cozzi wanted to stay in the science fiction realm, and he was tasked with making a film similar to Ridley Scott’s recent success in America. Sadly, studio interference happens around the world, and Cozzi was forced to sacrifice a number of elements pertaining to his vision for the film, including adding a bunch of secret agent elements to give the film a “James Bond” feeling. He also had to use animatronic effects instead of his planned stop motion effects. Producer Claudio Mancini had a hand in forcing Cozzi’s hand on a number of these issues, and unfortunately, these are the areas where the film suffers most.

The opening of this film is incredible and shocking and (apart from being unable to hear what the characters are saying in their hazmat suits) total exploitation carnage. When the film sticks to its alien story, it’s phenomenally entertaining, albeit quite silly and cheesy. When the film enters into its obvious 007 secret mission subplots, it loses a lot of its forward momentum.

Along with that, in classic low-budget Italian horror fashion, the acting isn’t all that good, and the writing is pretty cheesy, and the plot is sheer lunacy (seriously, does an NYPD Lieutenant have jurisdiction in South America?), but no one can discount the score from Goblin. This isn’t part of the upper-tier Goblin work, but even their worst is still better than most other scores. Goblin are the composers of a lost time period, and we need that time back. Their rock score keeps the excitement level higher during even its worst sequences.

Outside of the score, there isn’t much anything of actual value in the movie, but this is also the type of film you go into knowing what you are getting. Cozzi was never going to be the type to have an Oscar-winning Best Picture, but he schlocks with the best of them. Cozzi’s films are most seen through the lens of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax, and you just have to figure out if they work for you.

The acting is poor, the writing is silly, and the direction is uninspired, but I enjoyed Contamination. Among all of its problems (and it has a lot of problems), Cozzi infuses a lot of heart into his movie, and you can see it all over the finished product. This is a bad movie, but it is oh-so-much fun to watch, for a certain sect of viewers, at least. I had fun with this Video Nasty, and I think there’s a chance you could to.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 8 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

Screenplay: George A. Romero

127 mins. Not Rated.

 

I still remember watching Dawn of the Dead for the first time. I had come across a copy at a Best Buy and spent a lot more than I should for it. I barely got it home and immediately popped it in. It was very different than my mind had expected. I hadn’t expected horror to be so artful.

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The world is ending. The dead are rising up and attacking the living. As the news station WGON is running out of steam, Stephen (David Emge, Hellmaster, Basket Case 2) and Francine (Gaylen Ross, Creepshow, Madman) escape in the station’s helicopter alongside SWAT officers Roger (Scott H. Reiniger, Knightriders, The Other Victim) and Peter (Ken Foree, The Devil’s Rejects, The Lords of Salem). When the four arrive at an abandoned mall, they set up shop and create a life for themselves as the dead lurk outside, constantly trying to break in.

Fun fact: Filming at Monroeville Mall took place overnight when the mall closed and ran from 10:00pm to 6:00am. It would have been longer but at 6:00am the Muzak would come on and nobody knew how to turn it off.

The story of Dawn of the Dead‘s production is actually almost as good as the movie itself. But the movie. This movie is amazing. It took several viewings for me to see Romero’s comic-book influences, which becomes evident with the director’s stylish flourishes, dry comedy, and vibrant blood.

The performances of the four leads need to be good enough to maintain this film’s through-line and they do. Each character is developed through their decisions, and George A. Romero (Bruiser, The Dark Half) offers up some social commentary among the gore.

Unintentionally, Dawn of the Dead also features a tremendously strange and memorable score due to Goblin and Dario Argento (see yesterday’s Suspiria). It was through the partnership of Romero and Argento that both careers at the top of the genre for so long.

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Dawn of the Dead is horror at its best. Each part of his Living Dead series has its own unique style and characters and Dawn of the Dead is one of the best (even if I prefer the far more depressing Day of the Dead). A great follow-up to Night of the Living Dead, there are parts of this sequel in just about every zombie story to come after, but rarely is it done this well.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 7 – Suspiria (1977)

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Director: Dario Argento

Cast: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bose, Alida Valli, Joan Bennett, Barbara Magnolfi, Dario Argento

Screenplay: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi

92 mins. Rated R.

 

As you go through life, you always hear about the different films you need to see. For me, Suspiria is definitely one of those films. Everyone who knows me knows about my love of horror, and yet, famed director Dario Argento (Phenomena, Dracula 3D) always slipped by me. Until Now. This year, I decided it was time to discover Argento. So I picked his most famous film.

 

Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper, TV’s It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Minority Report) a ballet student from America, has arrived in Germany to develop her talents at the famous Tanz Dance Academy. But just as Suzy shows, another student, Pat, is fleeing for her life. Pat escapes to a friend’s home, explaining that something horrible is going on at Tanz before a mystical force preys on her. Suzy too begins to discover that there is indeed something very strange going on, and as she succumbs to fainting spells and horrific visions, it is clear that something evil is after her.

The most powerful element of Suspiria is its beauty, and I’m not just referring to its lead. This is an elegant film with stunning use of primary colors, giving the movie a unreal and nightmarish feel, like a child’s bad dream. The dreamlike quality is furthered by the childish dialogue of its main characters.

I can’t say that the visuals are the only great element at play here. There is a terrific score from progressive rock band Goblin. This is music that is often imitated but rarely equaled in a horror film.

Jessica Harper leads the cast fine, though the practice of dubbing in Italian horror back in the 70s causes a bit of difficulty in really conveying emotion throughout. She is matched by Joan Bennett (TV’s Dark Shadows, Father’s Little Dividend) and Alida Valli (The Third Man, Eyes Without a Face) as Madame Blanc and her instructor Miss Tanner, respectively.

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Suspiria is well-acted, beautifully shot, and viscerally audible. The film, based on a lie by Dario’s lady-friend and co-screenwriter Daria Nicolodi, has aged very well. The first film in what Argento refers to as his “Three Mothers” Trilogy, it was followed by Inferno and The Mother of Tears, and I can’t wait to get to more from this legendary filmmaker.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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