The VRAs: Contamination (1980)

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

MV5BNDgyMzA2MjkyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMTI0Mzg5._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_

If ever there was a film which showed how stupid the whole video nasty thing was, it’s “Contamination”. After being caught by the Video Recordings Act and banned, it was later re-released, uncut, with a 15 certificate. Maybe it was one generation of film censors mocking the previous one? Anyway, I’d have been happy if this stayed banned everywhere in the world, forever.

After seeing a helicopter fly round New York (it’s always a little sad seeing the World Trade Centre on film) we then cut to whatever Italian city they filmed this in. A deserted boat drifting into New York was used in “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, released around the same time, one of those weird bits of cinematic synchronicity. Or one of them ripped the other off, I’m not checking either way. Anyway, the boat is full of boxes from some South American coffee place, but inside them all are weird green eggs- after killing most of the people who do the initial investigating, the ship is secured by some people who are like a special part of the Army, or the Government, or something. Anyway, they’re mainly represented by Colonel Stella Holmes, who has a bit of a flirtatious thing going with the sole survivor of the initial investigation, plucky New York cop Tony.

I wish that gory horror films like this would realise that their plot and acting aren’t really enough to keep people interested in the damned thing. While Tony and Stella meet and befriend Ian, an astronaut who came back from Mars…a changed man…the film steadfastly refuses to get much above a snail’s pace, and the mostly dubbed acting is pretty rubbish, with the honourable exception of Ian McCulloch as Ian. The eggs aren’t in it enough, but when they are they explode and anyone who gets any goo on them will explode a few minutes later – and it’s these explosions, with the really bad special effects that go with them (people who explode have hugely bulky blood/guts packs clearly visible under their clothes) that presumably caused the film to be banned. Or perhaps it’s the brain-buggering stupidity of this exchange:
IDIOT 1: “Don’t touch that, it could be dangerous” (referring to pulsating alien egg)
IDIOT 2: “Don’t worry, it’s fine” (EXPLODES)

Those of you with an eagle eye will have noticed “space”, and “weird exploding eggs” and will have thought of “Alien”. Well, give yourself a pat on the back, as this film was initially conceived as a cheap rip-off of “Alien”. When writer / director Luigi Cozzi realised the budget would be nowhere near enough, he decided to set it on Earth, so that’s what we have. Yay?

eggs

It turns out that Ian and Hamilton, the other astronaut, saw something alien during their mission to Mars, but the top brass is hushing it up – oh, and Hamilton brought a seed back which grew into an alien “queen” which is producing eggs at a rather alarming rate. The South American coffee plantation from before comes into it, which means we get a seemingly endless scene of them getting on a plane, going there, messing about in their hotel, etc. It’s so slow!

This film really feels like it’s from the 1950s. The ludicrous cheap rubber alien (SPOILERS!), the way that Tony literally slaps some sense into Stella, or how she goes from Army colonel to simpering love interest as soon as there’s men around to do the actual heavy lifting of the film. Considering how much time is spent on them finding the right hotel room, a bit of information on how they got to Mars and back would have been nice? Ah, who cares.

“Contamination” is another film that really ought to have been forgotten by history, and were it not for its inclusion in the video nasty list, it would have been. “Stupid and boring” is being kind to this one.

Considering it was once banned, that it’s now available to watch on Youtube for free makes that initial decision seem even stupider. Anyway, should you be a glutton for punishment you can fill your boots here:

Rating: thumbs down

contamination

Advertisements

The “Cabin Fever” films (2002 & 2009)

cf1

 

The Cabin Fever films sat there on my shelf for a few years, daring me to watch them almost, and some time off work has given me the excuse I need. Two of the biggest names in modern horror direct (Eli Roth for the original, Ti West for part 2) and my knowledge of their work is pretty much non-existent. So let’s see if they’re any good!

It’s a sign of how good the first one is, I think, that my brain stopped going to the “Cabin In The Woods” comparisons after the first twenty minutes. Five college kids, for some reason, hire a cabin in the woods. Do horror films not exist in their universe? The archetypes are all there, but this lot don’t get into any trouble thanks to something in their basement, they get into trouble thanks to the Fool of the group ignoring the pleas for help of a man with a mysterious skin condition. Rather than a demon, ghost, merman or whatever, the villain in this film is a disease (and humanity, of course, but that goes without saying).

Mercifully, the kids understand what’s going on fairly quickly and try to take measures to protect themselves, while odd characters wander into and out of their lives – Eli Roth himself, playing just some guy out camping; a very odd Sheriff’s Deputy who is much more bothered about drinking and hitting on women than he is in doing his job; the unfortunate patient zero; and the residents of the local store, straight out of every redneck horror film you’ve ever seen (but with a few pleasant twists). The question of whether the kids will stop the outbreak or not is sort of answered by the existence of its sequel, but it’s still an absolute blast to watch.

This was Eli Roth’s first directorial effort, after a lifetime of making super-8 films with his friends, and it’s pretty amazing. He’s one of those people who went through the things you’re supposed to go through, almost – love of film from a very early age, film school, short films, feature debut. As well as being a decent actor (particularly in “Inglourious Basterds”)…he’s an annoyingly talented fella. The cast are all strong, too, especially as they’re all people who you’ll have seen in sitcoms, not so much in features. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will be checking out the “Hostel” films next, although I’m pretty sure I won’t have quite so good a time with them.

The sequel was directed by Ti West, who’s gone on to make a lot of fascinating films – this wasn’t his first, but it was the early part of his career. His opinion of “Cabin Fever 2” can perhaps be measured by the fact he wanted his name taken off it (which he was unable to do, not being a member of the Director’s Guild), but it’s really not that bad. The linking thread is the Deputy, as well as a very brief cameo by Rider Strong who starred in part 1 too, and this film is set in a local high school. At the end of part 1 we see “Down Home Water” taking their supply from a creek which has been poisoned by the corpse of a disease victim, and the beginning of part 2 sees them delivering the water to a local high school.

Part 2 is, in a lot of ways, a more straightforward film than part 1. The people you expect to die, die, in fairly gruesome ways, and the ending is the same old “whoops, let’s leave the door wide open for a sequel” that has ruined more film franchises than I care to count. John loves Cassie, but she’s going out with the biggest douchebag in the school; John’s friends are a loveable group of nerds who’d much rather sit around and watch horror movies than go to prom. Thanks to the water, prom night is a mass of blood and death, especially when a group of government agents start killing everyone to contain the spread of the disease.

The things that made the first film so good are present, but in a garbled form. Because you know how it’s going to end (at least half the main couple will survive, as will the comic relief, at least until the end, and the final shot will show they didn’t manage to contain the disease after all) it lends the last half hour of the film a sense of slightly boring inevitability. It’s not quite as funny as the first one, even though some of the ways the disease is transferred are pretty cool.

cf2

Ultimately, it’s a committee trying to recapture what made Roth’s original so good, and kind-of failing. Apparently, Roth wrote a draft of a potential sequel screenplay which was abandoned in favour of the thing we ended up with, and West was hampered at every turn – I mean, that draft may have sucked and West’s ideas may have been impractical, but it still would have been fun to see what they came up with. I also presume Rider Strong had a weird clause in his contract from the first film, as he’s first billed in the sequel despite being killed very early on in the film and playing no further part.

Ultimately, I’d recommend both these films, with more qualifications on the sequel than the original, but still. It’s interesting to see a horror film where the only real villain is a disease, and to have a horror film which can have laughs which come naturally from the characters and not just lame gags. A cut above the average, for sure.