Confession time — I had never seen Lucio Fulci’s 1980 Italian “Eurocrime” thriller Contraband (or, as it’s known in its country of origin, Luca Il Contrabbandiere — it also went out to the English-speaking world under the titles The Smuggler and The Naples Connection) until it finally made it to the top of my Netflix DVD queue the other night. I know, I know — there are those who probably think that the fact that there’s so much as a single Fulci flick that I haven’t seen is grounds for immediate suspension of my “B-Movie Critic’s License,” and they might even have a point. I can offer nothing in my defense other than the fact that there are only so many hours in a day and I can’t spend all of them watching every movie I’d like to see.
Although there are times that does sound better than clocking in at the day job. Just kidding, Mr. Boss-Man, I swear —
In any case, Contraband has a reputation for being an absolutely brutal bastard of a film, and it’s certainly well-deserved. There’s a graphic and extremely unsettling rape scene in here, a woman gets her face burned off with a blowtorch, and we’ve got plenty of intestines being blown out of shotgun holes, blasted-open papier-mache heads, oozing and festering bullet wounds in the neck — shit, it’s gorier than most horror flicks. Or at least most horror flicks other than those directed by Fulci himself, of course.
Not that there isn’t a reasonably involving story tying this whole atrocity exhibition together, mind you. In fact, as far as “Eurocrime” plots go, this one isn’t half bad : Cigarette smuggler Luca Di Angelo (Fabio Testi) finds his operation getting squeezed out on all sides by a French drug kingpin known as The Marsegliese (Marcel Bozzuffi of The French Connection at his dripping-with-evil best), who’s gone so far as to have Luca’s brother murdered, tip the cops off to his runs, and find various and sundry other ways to fuck with our erstwhile “hero.” That all turns out to be minor league shenanigans, though, once The Marsegliese kidnaps Luca’s wife, Adele (Ivana Monti), and one after another of the other local Mafiosos start turning up dead in increasingly violent, depraved ways. It’s also becoming crystal clear that Luca may have a traitor in his midst that he needs to ferret out while somehow managing to hold his small-time criminal empire together at the same time —
If you’re a fan of Italian cop -n’-gangster movies (or poliziotteschi, as they’re known by their fans), you’re sure to find plenty to like here, for certain, as there are some well-staged action sequences and the intrigue is often thick enough to cut with a knife. Yeah, there are unintentionally hilarious moments here and there, as well — mostly thanks to a veritable parade of questionable-at-best dubbing choices — but that just goes with the territory with these sorts of things, right? All in all, if you’re a “Eurocrime” aficionado and you haven’t seen Contraband, then it should go tot he top of your “must-watch” list immediately.
For newcomers to the genre, though, I would have to say that more-celebrated fare like Revolver or Grand Slam would probably serve as a better entry point. Contraband is simply too loaded down with Fulci’s trademark amorality, ultra-graphic violence, misogyny, and occasional senselessness for me to recommend it in good conscience to anyone other hardened genre fans, and Blue Underground’s DVD package pretty much ensures that casual viewers will stay away — on the whole the widescreen anamorphic transfer looks fairly crisp and clean, but there is some persistent grain throughout and a few moments where the print damage is frankly pretty severe (I’m assuming they did the best the best they could with what they had). The mono soundtrack is in considerably worse shape — effects are near- muted in several instances and the disco-ish musical score is often completely buried. As far as extras go, all you get is the trailer and text biographies for Fulci and Testi. All in all I would say the movie deserves a better treatment than this, and knowing BU’s penchant for “double-dipping,” odds are that one will come along sooner rather than later.