Film Review: Contamination (1980)

Also known as: Contamination – Alien arriva sulla Terra (Italy), Alien Contamination (US cut version title), Toxic Spawn (US video title)
Release Date: August 2nd, 1980 (Italy)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Luigi Cozzi
Music by: Goblin
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Mase, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn

Alex Cinematografica, Barthonia Film, Lisa-Film, Cannon Films, 95 Minutes, 84 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Help! Let me out! There’s an egg!” – Colonel Stella Holmes

In Italy, at least back in the ’70s and ’80s, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about copyrights. So this was made as a “sequel” to Ridley Scott’s Alien, even though the only similarity it shares with that film is aliens. But these aliens are pretty much just slimy pods that look like inside out kiwis.

Overall, this isn’t a very good movie but for a 1980 horror picture from Italy, it fits that style and is actually better than a lot of the similar riffraff.

Luigi Cozzi wrote and directed this and it is one of his better films. I thought that the story was decent and I was at least engaged by it. There weren’t many dull moments and even if the aliens were bizarre and hokey, the film had an atmosphere that worked and made them haunting.

I think a lot of what makes this film work is the soundtrack by Goblin. I believe the band had a different lineup than when they worked on the Suspiria soundtrack but they still provide surrealist noise that sometimes has a melody but mostly just sets the tone, generating a sort of uneasiness in the viewer.

My favorite thing about this movie is the special effects. They’re practical, they’re cheap but when bodies start bursting from exposure to alien pods, it all comes off really damn good and it has stood the test of time. That opening scene where the scientists in hazmat suits are exploding all over the place is still effective.

Contamination is Italian horror schlock but it’s entertaining Italian horror schlock with a good amount of fun, explosive gore; the type of gore I like most because it’s not there to gross you out, it’s just there to shock you and catch you by surprise.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other Luigi Cozzi horror films, as well as movies by Lucio Fulci and Lamberto Bava.

Film Review: Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Release Date: November, 1980 (Paris Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Terry Marcel
Written by: Terry Marcel, Harry Robertson
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw, Ray Charleson, Peter O’Farrell, W. Morgan Sheppard, Patrick Magee

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Marcel/Robertson Productions Limited, Chips Productions, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Now this must stay a secret between you and me. Not only will I bring back the head of this Hawk, but I’ll have the gold as well. Then Voltan will see who is the lord of the dance.” – Drogo

This movie is equal parts bizarre and funky.

While that may sound like a strange description, it makes this a very unique sword and sorcery tale with a lot of style.

First of all, the movie has an incredibly energetic and cool score. Harry Robertson, who also was one of the picture’s writers, created some interesting music that at first, might not seem like it fits within the genre but once the film really gets going, it transforms it into something otherworldly in the best way possible.

Also, the film’s style is partially defined by the filmmakers’ love of glow-y things. There are a lot of neat lighting effects employed within the weapons throughout the movie, as well as magical items and other majestic things within the picture that apparently needed some sort of neon flourish. This flick looks like a bunch of medieval era people crashing through an ’80s candy store at the mall.

The acting is pretty much at the level one would expect from a film like this but Jack Palance definitely stands out and embraces the madness of his character. He could have looked a wee bit cooler but his performance isn’t too dissimilar to Frank Langella’s Skeletor from the 1987 Masters of the Universe live action film.

Patrick Magee also pops up in this in a minor role but he grabs onto you like he always does. He’s always got a certain kind of intensity and his role here is no different.

This isn’t my favorite sword and sorcery movie but it is still a really cool addition to the genre and certainly stands out on its own.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery movies from the ’80s.

Film Review: Alligator (1980)

Also known as: El cocodrilo mortal (Peru, Columbia), Der Killer-Alligator (Germany)
Release Date: November 13th, 1980 (Argentina)
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: John Sayles, Frank Ray Perilli
Music by: Craig Hundley
Cast: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael V. Gazzo, Dean Jagger, Henry Silva

Group 1 Films, 94 Minutes

Review:

“How about cats? I got plenty of cats. I also got a parrot I’d like to get rid of.” – Gutchel

Alligator is just one of many Jaws ripoffs. However, this one takes the animal horror carnage and puts it on land. In fact, the killer beast in this movie gets urban, as he terrorizes a city: eating a kid in a swimming pool, eating people at a opulent wedding and snacking on idiots that go into the sewers. The scene where the alligator bursts up through the street while kids are playing baseball is fantastic.

This is one of those movies that used to be on cable almost weekly in the ’80s and early ’90s. I’ve probably seen it a dozen times and well, it still amuses me. Also, it was really my introduction to the great Robert Forster. I mean, I’m pretty sure I saw this before I saw him in The Black Hole. I definitely saw this before Forster’s grittier ’70s stuff and then his resurgence in the ’90s with films like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Forster is a man’s man and he’s no different here, as he makes it his mission to snuff out this giant gator.

I think that this film resonated with me the most out of all the killer animal movies because I grew up in South Florida and this seemed plausible to me. But at that time, I also believed that Cobra had bases in the Everglades and were doing experiments to create weapons to rule the world and destroy G.I. Joe.

Anyway, this film feels very early ’80s but it’s aged well for what it is. The special effects still look good and they are still quite effective. I’d rather watch this any day over some CGI killer gator movie. The practical effects just work so well in this low budget affair and I have to give props to the effects artists that brought the gator to life.

The wedding scene is superb, especially for 1980, and even though a few shots and angles may look a bit hokey, it doesn’t diminish the impact of the scene. I mean, that wedding sequence is batshit crazy but it is better than any big carnage scene from any of the other killer animal movies of the time.

Alligator is just a killer movie, pun intended. You don’t watch these sort of things for acting and stellar directing, you watch them to see people get chomped to bits. This accomplishes that and actually does it better than one would think.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal movies from the late ’70s/early ’80s: Jaws, Piranha, Orca, Grizzly and Alligator II: The Mutation from 1991.

Film Review: The Changeling (1980)

Release Date: March 26th, 1980 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: Peter Medak
Written by: Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Music by: Rick Wilkins
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood

Associated Film Distribution, 107 Minutes

Review:

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.” – Minnie Huxley

I saw this movie as a kid and it was one of the few that legitimately creeped me out. Although, I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid, so it was cool to check it out now, courtesy of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In.

George C. Scott is a tremendous actor so seeing him in a very serious attempt at a horror film is very interesting. It adds a level of legitimacy to this film, which came out as slasher flicks were becoming the norm in the horror genre. This, like The Shining from the same year, were two solid classic horror movies that wouldn’t go quietly into the night despite the efforts of Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and the soon to debut Freddy Krueger.

This is a classic haunted house/ghost story. But it has a lot of mystery thrown in and Scott’s John Russell must solve this mystery and assist the angry spirit if he doesn’t want to be driven mad or be murdered by the ghost. There are a lot of layers to the story and it’s not as predictable as similar ghost stories.

The movie also starts off really dark, as Russell sees his family killed right before him. Depressed and defeated by life, Russell moves into this haunted mansion in an effort to distance himself from the pain and to get back to his musical work in seclusion.

Scott’s stellar performance makes this entire film work in ways that a lesser actor wouldn’t be able to. Scott had to carry the ball and he is in nearly every scene in the movie. But he commits to the bit and really sells the horror with gusto and passion.

The score by Rick Wilkins was enchanting and set the mood. However, the direction of Peter Medak was impressive and the man let Scott be himself while employing impressive camera work and shot framing.

The Changeling is truly a classic in every sense of the word. However, it seems to be forgotten and not appreciated as much as some lesser horror films.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other “serious” horror films from the late ’60s through the early ’80s: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The OmenThe Shining, etc.

Film Review: Hangar 18 (1980)

Also known as: Space Connection (France), Columbia 3 (Greece), Invasion Force (Germany)
Release Date: July, 1980 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Written by: Ken Pettus, Thomas C. Chapman, James L. Conway
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughn, Gary Collins, James Hampton, Pamela Bellwood

Sunn Classic Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“This is a Department of Defense operation. You guys couldn’t get outta here with a coffee cup.” – George Turner

This film probably has a worse wrap than it deserves because it was featured in a very early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before it was even on national television. But if I’m being honest, this is a better movie than what one is accustomed to seeing on MST3K.

I’m not saying this is a good picture, it really isn’t. But it did have some actual ambition driving it.

My biggest gripe about it is that it’s pretty boring overall. Also, the quality isn’t great, as it feels more like a late ’70s television movie than a motion picture that got released in actual theaters.

The story is about a just launched satellite colliding with a UFO. The government tries to cover this up due to a presidential election being on the horizon. An astronaut is killed by the collision and the blame for the accident is put on the two surviving astronauts. So this is basically a political thriller with a UFO cover up at its center.

The film just doesn’t play out as cool as it sounds. It’s drab and slow and the action you do see, isn’t that great.

Some of the little tidbits about this film are actually more interesting than the film itself.

It was one of the few American films released during the Cold War in the Soviet Union. Due to Soviet films lacking action and science fiction, it was hugely popular there, at the time. There was also a version of this with an alternate ending. It was released as Invasion Force but according to super film critic Leonard Maltin, the new ending undermined the whole film.

This could have probably been a better picture in more capable hands or with a better budget but it’s really just kind of an uneventful dud.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s to early ’80s low budget sci-fi films.

Film Review: Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

Release Date: August 10th, 1980 (Venice, CA premiere)
Directed by: Jimmy T. Murakami, Roger Corman (uncredited)
Written by: John Sayles, Anne Dyer
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Richard Thomas, Robert Vaughn, George Peppard, John Saxon, Sybil Danning, Darlanne Fluegel

New World Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Nanelia, the Akira believe that no form ends until all the lives that it has touched are ended, until all the good that it has done is gone.” – Shad

For a very low budget film that is obviously one of many ripoffs of Star WarsBattle Beyond the Stars is actually… kind of good.

Now you can’t go into this expecting Star Wars quality, this is, in fact, produced by Roger Corman “The King of B-Movies”. But this still works for what it is and doesn’t have a bad look for the time, it just feels more like Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century than A New Hope.

However, it is better than those two iconic shows, as it has the special effects of James Cameron and a score by James Horner. Corman was able to attract these two men and squeezed some magic out of them just before they would go on to have bigger and better careers, a few years later. Cameron would make The Terminator and Aliens not too long after this and Horner did the iconic score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

It’s that early James Cameron magic that actually turns chicken salad into chicken shit here. Reason being, his ship designs were great and each has its own unique and cool look. Plus, the visual effects, primarily the outer space stuff, is better than what was the standard for the time. We were still a few years away from good 3D animation, as would be seen in 1984’s The Last Starfighter.

Corman also pulled together a decent cast with veterans Robert Vaughn, George Peppard and John Saxon. We also got Sybil Danning, who surprisingly, kept her shirt on the whole movie. Well, she was showing off her tantalizing bits, as much as she could without making this an R-rated film.

The only real downside was seeing Richard Thomas as the film’s young hero. Not to knock Thomas but it’s just hard seeing John Boy from The Waltons being some sort of space faring badass. But I guess Luke Skywalker was a rural farm kid so why not try to use John Boy in the same sort of role?

This is still an enjoyable movie but you really have to be into ’80s sci-fi cheese of the highest caliber.

I’ve always sort of cherished this picture because I saw it at such a young age and it was on television a lot back in the day. It has not aged well but if I’m being honest, it already felt behind the times by the time 1985 rolled around, just half a decade later.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other low budget Star Wars “homages” of the late ’70s/early ’80s: StarcrashThe Black HoleThe Ice PiratesSpace Raiders, Star Odyssey, etc.

Film Review: Superman II (1980)

Release Date: December 4th, 1980 (Australia)
Directed by: Richard Lester, Richard Donner (uncredited)
Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman
Based on: Superman by Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster
Music by: Ken Thorne
Cast: Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Terence Stamp, Susannah York, Jack O’Halloran, Marc McClure, Sarah Douglas, Clifton James, Marlon Brando (appears only in the Richard Donner Cut)

Film Export A.G., Dovemead Limited, International Film Productions, Warner Bros., 127 Minutes (original cut), 116 Minutes (Richard Donner Cut)

Review:

“Come to me, son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!” – General Zod

In all honesty, I like Superman and Superman II just about the same. II gets a bit of an edge though just because I like the story better and the threat in the film is a credible threat, as it pits Superman against an adversary that matches his power level.

While I love Lex Luthor, the character, and I also love the mind versus might rivalry, the Gene Hackman version of the character just doesn’t hit the right mark. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Hackman and his character in these movies but he doesn’t feel like the Lex of the comics I grew up with. He is to Luthor what Cesar Romero was to the Joker. He’s damn entertaining and enjoyable but he’s lacking the darkness that’s needed to truly be villainous.

General Zod, however, is an incredible opponent. He was created for this film series but he was so damn good that he would go on to be in the comics. Terence Stamp really brought some much needed testosterone to the table and his minions, played by Sarah Douglas and Jack O’Halloran, were pretty cool villains as well. Man, I was crushing hard on Sarah Douglas when I was a kid.

I also really liked the romance in this movie and usually I don’t care about that crap in these sort of films. I just like how Clark and Lois’ relationship blossomed and how it was really tested and pushed Superman into having to make an incredibly hard decision, which he then had to try and fix because saving the world is his destiny, even if that means he can’t love a human. Yeah, the story around this was actually weird and nonsensical but the point of it and the challenge made me accept it.

Getting back to Lex Luthor though, his role in this film seemed pretty pointless. Once again, he was the top billed star but it’s like they had nothing for him to do. He breaks out of prison, leaves poor Otis behind, breaks into Superman’s house and then aligns himself with Zod, who didn’t need Luthor’s help at all, let’s be honest. Luthor is just sort of wedged into the film just because they had to have a name as big as Gene Hackman’s, after Marlon Brando’s Jor-El was killed off in the first picture. I should note that Brando did film footage for the film but he wanted more money than the producers were willing to pay, so it was edited out of the final cut. He does appear in the Richard Donner cut of the film though.

This chapter in the Superman movie saga is a great extension of what the first movie was. Really, they just feel like two halves of a whole. The movies did a lot of their filming simultaneously because the producers knew there would be a sequel. Some of the filming on II got put on hold though, as it was holding up the production of I and the studio wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to miss its Christmas time release. There was a lot of conflict, behind the scenes, and Richard Donner was fired after directing most of II. He wasn’t given credit for his work and Richard Lester took over. Lester would also go on to direct the terrible Superman III, showing that he wasn’t as skilled as Donner. On a side note, the Richard Donner Cut was released years later, which most people seem to enjoy more.

Despite the backstage politics, this still ended up being my favorite film in the franchise.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Superman: The Movie, the 1980 Flash Gordon.