If one pattern has emerged throughout an investigation of the video nasty scandal of the 1980s it is that a large portion of these ‘obscene’ films were of Italian origin. These often focused on either sexual violence, cannibalism or Nazi war crimes, but one of the lesser offensive was was Contamination, a science fiction horror released in the wake of the success of Alien. Shot by cult filmmaker Luigi Cozzi, working under the pseudonym Lewis Coates, the movie also blended elements of adventure films and ‘50s b-movies, but it would be scenes of exploding stomachs that would cause the film to fall foul of the British censors.
Cozzi had already worked on adaptations of Godzilla and Hercules when he was hired to capitalise on the success of Star Wars with his own space saga Starcrash. But it would be Contamination, released two years later, that would become Cozzi’s most infamous picture, in which he documented the discovery of alien eggs in an abandoned ship and the subsequent reaction from the military. Featuring Ian McCulloch, fresh from his role in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi (Zombie Flesh Eaters), another film to find its way onto the list of video nasties, Contamination would later be released on DVD by Anchor Bay with a less restrictive 15 certificate.
Luigi Cozzi looks back on the controversy that Contamination caused in the UK.
Were you surprised to discover that Contamination had been banned and labelled as a video nasty in the United Kingdom? When did you first hear about the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification)’s decision and were you surprised that your movie could offend or frighten so many people?
A few years ago I just happened to read in a movie magazine a short note saying that in the past some Italian exploitation movies, including my own movie Contamination, had been banned in Germany and in England according to their new censorship rules: this is the only thing I ever knew about this whole matter.
Another important point. When we Italian directors made movies like Contamination or others all so violent and bloody, we were not working for the Italian market: in Italy most of these movies did not even get released in the teathers because usually, with just one or two lucky exceptions, they didn’t earn a cent at the box office.
Movies like Contamination or the zombies and the cannibals movies were made just to be sold on the foreign markets and usually there were very different cuts of the same movie: for instance, the Japanese (and Asian) market paid best but wanted an enormous quantity of blood and violence but no sex at all, while other countries (like the European ones) wanted less blood but much more sex and nude women and on. So these movies were shot and edited in different versions in order to make foreign buyers happy, so that every foreign buyer could decide which cut he liked best for his own market.
For my own Contamination, some Asian buyers asked us me to shoot a lot of blood for the Japan version, and actually that version was really a strong one, much bloodier than the European version that they later censored in Germany and in GB. But there was also a much milder version of the same movie, but both the GB and German buyers decided to buy instead the middle version with some more blood. You should ask them why.
All my best