Contraband (1980, aka Luca the Smuggler, The Smuggler, The Naples Connections) was directed by Italian horror maestro Luci Fulci. Despite being known for his somber gore efforts like City of the Living Dead, Four of the Apocalypse and Don't Torture a Duckling, the 80's saw Fulci delving into the popular genre films of the time, like the equisitely awful and incomprehensible fun sword and sorcery film Conquest, the post apocalyptic action of The New Gladiators, and the mafia/crime of Contraband. The Mafia film was sort of a sub genre of the Italian exploitation crime film. French Connection, Dirty Harry and Serpico spawned movies like High Crime, Citizen Rebels, The Hit Squad, and Cop in Blue Jeans and subsequently The Godfather helped spawn the likes of Mr Scarface, The Family and Contraband.
Contraband is a fair enough Italian crime film. I'd never seen it and always had my suspicions if the sluggish Fulci could pull off a good crime film. Well, unfortunately his pacing is still there. The film moves much slower than the typical action packed efforts of Enzo G Castellari or Umberto Lenzi. But Fulci's main trademark of brutality and gore is present and it fits quite nicely into a vendetta fueled mafia movie. Brains are blown out in Pekinpahish slow motion, a woman's face is burned, people are shot in the head and the throat, Luca twists a knife into a mobster and demands info, turning the knife with every unanswered question. The finale is all out shot in the gut carnage, but even Fulci cannot seem to ratchet things up a notch here and has an anticlimactic confrontation between the Luca and the man who has caused all of his woes.
Fulci was a man of contrasts. His films almost always had this snail pacing that was interrupted by scenes of viscera and general creative bloodshed. In a horror context this could make his films oddly dreamy, paced like a sleepwalker but sparked by shock scenes. The problem with Fulci was that he hinged his films on this, set them up based on sequences, and the story and characters were secondary, often making them dullards. Part of the fun of an Italian crime film was the hard boiled characters. While still cast as stereotypes, actors like Tomas Milan, Maurizio Merli, and Fernando Di Leo got to chew a lot of scenery in their action roles. Fabio Testi does fine here, but since he's stuck with Fulci behind the camera, his character isn't as cool or hard-bitten as he could be in another directors hands.
Contraband delivers in the sleaziness and fun exploitation the Italian crime genre is known for but isn't filled with much character or energy. So, it is entertaining enough sure, but not near the level of the such gritty, manly, funky flicks as Violent Napoli, Italian Connection, The Cynic the Rat and The Fist or Day of the Cobra.
The DVD: Blue Underground
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Aside from he inherent softness and grain of low budget production and some age wear, the transfer looks great. Contrast and definition is good, the colors are a bit murky, but exploitation fans should be very pleased. No technical quibbles like edge enhancement or artifacts. I doubt the film ever looked this good in early 80's drive-ins and b-theaters.
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English dub. As silly as these dubs usually are, but presented well. Maybe I've just seen enough of these that the vocal dubbers don't seem too stereotyped or cheesy compared to other features. Sound is clear and free of any of the annoying distortions and wear and tear that usually plague these releases. Shame theres no Italin dub option.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailer--- Extensive Talent Bios for Luci Fulci and Fabio Testi.
Conclusion: Well, so far in its first year of releases, Blue Underground has proven to be one of the best producers of extras for cult film, but sadly this release has very little, no interviews, no promo art. Still, I guess one cannot expect an SE of every fringe film, and extras and pricing aside aside, the transfer delivers. It certainly looks fantastic for its era, and based on screen caps I've seen of the European release, Blue Underground's is far superior. Although not the greatest example of the genre, if you are a fan of either Fulci or Italian crime, the film is entertaining enough and the transfer pleasing enough to merit adding it to your DVD collection.