TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ALIEN CONTAMINATION (1980)

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ALIEN CONTAMINATION aka CONTAMINATION (1980)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi is most known for his cheesy but colorful Star Wars rip-off Starcrash, and his Hercules films with Lou Ferrigno, but he also entered Alien territory with this 1980 sci-fi gorefest. Alien Contamination, or simply, Contamination finds an abandoned cargo ship drifting into New York harbor. When the ship is boarded, authorities find a dead crew and coffee cases filled with large avocado looking eggs. Worse still, when the eggs are ruptured, they spew a green fluid which causes the human body to literally explode into bloody pieces. New York Police Lieutenant Tony Aris (Marino Masé) investigates with military scientist Colonel Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) and finds a conspiracy to destroy all life on earth involving Martians, allegedly dead astronauts and a Columbian coffee plantation.

Flick is written and directed by Cozzi and can be quite gruesome, but also unintentionally funny at times. It’s a silly flick that takes itself very seriously. The dialog is laughably bad, especially Lt. Aris’s hilarious “New York Cop”  dialog, making him sound like he’s from a grade Z 1940s detective movie. Another rib-tickling example of the Shakespearian prose is Stella and alcoholic ex-astronaut Hubbard’s (Ian McCulloch) exchange about his male proficiency. Let’s stay professional, folks! The pace is quite pedestrian and there are only spurts of bloody action before the climax. Even with the Earth’s entire population at stake, the characters never display any sense of urgency. The gore effects are plentiful and one of the best things about the flick. The eggs are quite rubbery looking, although they do make a creepy moaning sound as they pulsate so, they are effective. When our alien beastie is finally revealed at the climax it is a delightfully 1950s-ish tentacled cyclops that would be at home in any Roger Corman production. At least we have a cool electronic score by Goblin and the flick is mercifully short at only 82 minutes. Despite it’s shortcomings, if watched in the right mindset, it can be fun.

The cast won’t win any awards. Marleau is quite wooden as Stella and despite being a pretty actress, she generates no sex appeal even with a last act romantic interlude with Aris. As Aris, Masé is amusing with his heavy New York accent and ridiculous cop dialog. Zombie and Zombie Holocaust veteran Ian McCulloch plays drunken and disgraced astronaut, Commander Hubbard, who was laughed out of a job for claiming to have seen the eggs on Mars. Ironically, he was right all along. Rounding out the main cast is Siegfried Rauch as the alien-controlled villain, former astronaut Hamilton. He’s a bland bad guy and would be far better at home in a low level James Bond rip-off.

Overall, this a bad flick that can be fun when it’s badness is appreciated in the right way. It’s a shameless rip-off of parts of Alien with a hint of bad James Bond movie mixed in. There is awful dialog, wooden acting, terrible dubbing and lots of rubbery SPFX to keep one amused. It also has a lot of gore and an electronic score by legendary band Goblin (Romero’s Dawn of the Dead). With a few brews and watched in the right way, it can be a fun 80+ minutes of Italian gore nonsense.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) cheesy alien eggs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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DAWN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIE: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Dawn Of The Dead or Zombie, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Previously, I’ve compared David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows and John Carpenter’s Halloween (link here), the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Predator with the B-movie sci-fi/horror Without Warning (link here)and finally the classic Evil Dead and it’s 2013 remake (link here). Now I’d like to compare two classics that are related in an interesting way. In 1978, George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was unleashed upon the world and was called Zombi in Italy. It was a hit and in 1979, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci made his own zombie epic, one that was sold as a sequel entitled Zombi 2. But Zombie, as it was titled here in the U.S. when released in 1980, is it’s own movie and a classic horror in it’s own right. Now decades later, let’s take a look at Romero’s horror classic and Fulci’s unofficial Italian “sequel” and see just how different…or alike…they actually are…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

Romero’s film focuses on four characters (Ken Foree, David Emge, Gaylen Ross and Scott Reiniger) and their efforts to survive during a zombie outbreak in progress. Dawn is never clear whether this is a new outbreak, or if the outbreak started in the original Night Of The Living Dead has been ongoing for the last ten years and is starting to spiral out of control. Actually, we’re never sure the two films are even related as Dawn never references Night. Ken Foree’s Peter at one point announces that his voodoo practicing grandfather once said “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead with walk the Earth!”, but the cause of the zombie outbreak in the original film was radiation from a fallen satellite. Dawn never clarifies the actual cause as our characters barricade themselves inside a giant shopping mall. Romero’s tone is a bit satirical in this installment and there are moments of humor and satire throughout the film.

Zombie opens with the harbor police in NYC boarding a seemingly deserted craft. One of them is savaged by a zombie onboard who is subsequently shot and falls off the boat. The daughter (Tisa Farrow) of the boat’s owner, teams up with a reporter (Ian McCulloch) to find out what happened to her father. This leads the duo and another couple (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) to the small Caribbean island of Matul, where they soon find, to their horror, that the dead are rising to eat the living. In Zombie, or Zombi 2, the cause of the outbreak is clearly voodoo as the drums beat continuously and characters warn that the local witch doctor has something to do with it. Aside from the dead rising, the villagers are all taking ill and dying, too…only to rise again with a hunger for flesh. Fulci makes no social commentary here and his tone is bleak and nightmarish with an absence of any humor to speak of.

Except for both films being about flesh eating zombies whose bite spreads the infection, the stories are vastly different.

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THE ZOMBIES

Dawn Of The Dead‘s zombies give the impression that we are dealing with the recent dead. Possibly due to budget limitations or artistic choices, the walking dead here are simply bluish with sunken eyes and a few show signs of being partially eaten or scarred themselves. They eat the living and there are hundreds of them wandering through the mall and it’s parking lot and they can only be stopped by decapitation or simply shooting them in the head. They seem to be mostly acting on instinct, showing only the most basic thinking, if it can be called that at all.

Fulci’s zombies are far more frightening looking, resembling decomposing corpses far more than Romero’s, with rotting flesh, hollow eye sockets and some covered in maggots. A stop at an ancient graveyard during the film proves even those long dead are rising and they too are ravenously hungry. There are somewhat fewer than in Dawn, but their appearances in fog shrouded deserted villages and their ghoulish make-up, makes them even more intimidating. They too can only be killed by decapitation, bullets to the brain and being burned completely.

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MAIN CHARACTERS

Both film’s focus on four main characters, though Zombie has some supporting characters as well, such as Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson), and his wife (Olga Karlatos).

Dawn‘s four main characters are newswoman Fran (Gaylen Ross), and her boyfriend and helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge), who are traveling with two S.W.A.T. team members, Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree). They are taking the helicopter and running, which brings them to find safe haven in a massive shopping mall deserted all but for the dead. While Fran and Stephen have little or no training with firearms, Peter and Roger are well armed and expertly trained, which gives the four an edge.

Zombie‘s four have no such edge. Peter (Ian McCulloch) is a newsman given the story of the deserted boat and dead cop. Anne (Tisa Farrow) is the daughter of the boat’s owner, a doctor last seen on a small tropical island called Matul. They hitch a ride to the island with vacationing couple Brian (Al Cliver) and his pretty wife Susan (Auretta Gay). Neither couple has any idea what they are getting into, as opposed to Dawn‘s four, who are fully aware and prepared for what they may face.

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THE SETTINGS

The settings for these two film’s couldn’t be more different…

Dawn Of The Dead takes place in rural Pennsylvania, mostly at it’s massive Monroeville shopping mall which is near Pittsburg, where Romero went to college and made many of his earlier films. Here Romero uses his setting to make social commentary about class and consumerism.

Zombie‘s setting is the total opposite. While it opens and closes in New York City, the film takes place mostly in the Caribbean, on a small tropical island called Matul. Here, the only place our four have to hide is in an old church turned infirmary and that doesn’t provide them sanctuary for very long when the dead follow them there.

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THE OPENING SCENES

The opening scenes for both movies are effective in their own way but vastly different.

Dawn starts the tension by showing us Fran’s news station slowly coming apart as the situation outside spirals out of control. Rescue stations are closing and people are running from their desks scared. Panic is setting in as news to report becomes scarce and what news they are getting is too horrible to believe. The dead are returning to life to eat the living! This creates an atmosphere of dread long before we see the first zombies.

Zombie‘s opening sequence goes for the jugular…literally. It opens with a gun being fired at someone, or something, rising from under a sheet, drums beating in the distance. We then cut to an apparently deserted sailboat entering New York harbor. Once boarded by the harbor patrol, one officer is savagely bitten on the throat by what appears to be a walking corpse. Fulci gets us tense and grossed out right away with a graphic and savage attack in the first few minutes. We also get some early glimpses of what’s happening on Matul at Dr. Menard’s infirmary, so we know what is waiting for the two ill-fated couples before they arrive.

Both openings work in setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. One film does it by showing it’s blood and gore right away, while the other, by showing us the mounting chaos before we are thrust into the S.W.A.T. team assault scene where we see our first zombies in action.

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with down or ominous endings…

After a pitched battle with a motorcycle gang that invades their mall sanctuary and lets the zombies back in, a surviving Fran and Peter fly off in the chopper knowing they have very little gas and nowhere really to go. There fate is left uncertain, but things aren’t looking good for the pregnant Fran and the demoralized Peter. Dawn Of The Dead leaves their fate to our imaginations, but with the dead slowly gaining the upper hand, we don’t imagine much of a happily ever after for our two survivors. The film closes on a shot of the mall parking lot filled with the undead implying all may soon be lost.

As with it’s opening, Zombie‘s climax leaves nothing to our imaginations. After a bloody battle with the living dead in the old church, survivors Anne and Peter find their way back to the boat with a bitten Brian in tow. Once back in New York harbor, they are treated to a radio broadcast proclaiming the zombies are everywhere, just as the newly risen Brian starts banging on the cabin door. The film closes with a haunting scene of zombies crossing the Brooklyn Bridge into the Big Apple while things are left fairly grim for Peter and Anne. Apocalyptic and still chills decades later.

Here the films have stark similarities as both endings are bleak and present little chance or hope of our survivors finding an escape!

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IN CONCLUSION

Interesting as how one of these films was made as an unofficial sequel to the other, yet both are vastly different and both are considered classics. Dawn Of The Dead‘s success in Italy under the title Zombi gave Lucio Fulci the opportunity to direct Dardano Sacchetti’s script and have it be a sequel in name only, released as Zombi 2. He made his own movie, his way and it is considered one of the greatest zombie films of all time right next to Dawn. Despite Italian audiences, at the time, being led to believe they are related, they are completely different films with different stories and different tones. There are similarities, too. Both are famous for their abundant gore set pieces, such as Zombie‘s splinter in eyeball and Dawn‘s exploding head…not to mention both films’ zombie dining scenes. They are also both known for their haunting soundtracks, Dawn‘s by Italian rock band Goblin and Zombie‘s creepy score by Fabio Frizzi. And who could forget Zombie‘s shark vs zombie sequence or Dawn‘s zombies vs biker gang finale. Regardless of how Romero’s zombie classic may have given birth to Fulci’s in a way, horror fans got two unique masterpieces from two legendary filmmakers.

-MonsterZero NJ

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: SUSPIRIA (1977)

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SUSPIRIA (1977)

I’m going to be completely honest here and I know many will disagree with me, but I am not a big fan of Dario Argento. I find his flicks to be more silly than scary and he hasn’t made a movie worth watching since the 80s. His earlier works, however, are spooky and stylish and the guy sure knew how to frame a shot in those days. His early works, such as his most famous, Suspiria, are dripping with atmosphere and the soundtrack from this 1977 Italian classic is one of horror’s best, courtesy of Goblin. So, while Argento is not a favorite of mine and neither are his films, Suspiria is spooky, gory and atmospheric enough to be a perfect fit for the Holloween season and thus does find it’s way onto the playlist, especially on a cloudy, gloomy day like today. So…it finds itself played every year at this time and thus earns a spot on the Halloween Favorites list despite not truly being a personal favorite of mine. Ah… the magic of Halloween.

Suspiria is really very simple in terms of plot. It’s somewhat eccentric story finds a young American women, Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) traveling to attend a dance academy in Germany, but finding herself surrounded by some strange events and occurrences almost at the moment of her arrival. As Suzy begins to look into the strange goings on, the bodies keep bloodily piling up. The pretty young woman comes to believe the school is run by a coven of witches and she may be their next victim. The film is the first in Argento’s 3 Mothers trilogy followed by Inferno in 1980 and then almost 30 years later with The Mother Of Tears in 2007… which was pretty awful, in my opinion.

Again, I find this flick more silly than scary, but even I can’t deny it’s loaded with spooky atmosphere and the cinematography by Luciano Tovoli is absolutely sumptuous and adds lots and lots of spooky atmosphere. Film is written by Argento and Daria Nicolidi and is based on a series of essays by Thomas De Quincey called Suspiria de Profundis. Argento certainly creates a beautiful canvas and he also has a disturbing talent for setting up some inventive and gruesome kills. But otherwise, the film itself is rather silly with weak dialog and no real suspense or scares until the admit-tingly spooky last act when Suzy finally meets the witches in question in their lair hidden within the school. Obviously, the score by Goblin adds a lot, too, as it is one of the best scores in horror film history and is certainly quite effective in administering goosebumps all on it’s own. So, overall the film works far better than it should due to it’s creepy packaging far exceeding the power of it’s somewhat weak story and screenplay…but something tells me the actual scripted page was not Argento’s top priority anyway here. He always seemed to be more about style than substance.

As for the acting, the cast…star Jessica Harper included…seem to wander through the film looking lost and confused. They recite the weak dialogue very woodenly and the unnatural effect a lot of the stiff acting gives the proceedings actually works in the film’s favor, somewhat, as it is a supernatural tale after all. The dubbing doesn’t help either, but the film appears to have been filmed in english with everything dubbed in later as were a lot of Italian films back then.

So, this film is considered a classic by many and I recognize that and respect it’s place in horror history despite my not being all that endeared to it. I do agree that when you combine Argento’s visual eye with his skill for creating disturbing and bloody kills along with it’s classic score by goblin, the film certainly makes for a fun Halloween season watch even if it is not a favorite. Personally I have always preferred Fulci, but understand why Argento has his fans…at least when it comes to his earlier films.

3 horrified Harpers!

Suspiria rating

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