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Old 08-15-2004, 12:18 AM
Scored: 7
Views: 13,751
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Default Contraband

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: August 14, 2004

Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 7/27/2004
MSRP: $19.95
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes

Although known mostly for his blood splattered horror films, Lucio Fulci enjoyed a career in many genres. Beginning with comedic films in the ‘50s, Fulci would go on to tackle genres as diverse as the spaghetti western, the sword bearing fantasy, apocalyptic action, science fiction and the crime thriller. Demonstrating his adversity, Fulci followed up his first international smash, Zombie, with the mob movie, Contraband in 1980. Chopped to pieces on video, Contraband has been a harsh victim of censorship over the years, clocking in on some prints at 10 minutes less than the theatrical cut. Determined to pay the late Fulci his due, Blue Underground has repackaged the film uncut in order to coincide with their releases of Fulci’s Zombie and Conquest. Is this a package worth smuggling?

The Story

inline Image The film begins with Luca Di Angelo (Fabio Testi) and his cigarette smuggling outfit as they setup a transaction on the Naples sea. Equipped with power boats, the gang smuggle millions of dollars worth of cancer sticks. The coast is clear, Luca promises, but eventually their tranquility is overcome by the howl of the coast guard’s sirens. They’ve been spotted, and that is only the beginning for Luca’s run-in with bad luck.

inline Image Luca’s little slip up has the Capo angered, as millions of dollars were wasted. With resentment still in the air, a mob member has Luca’s brother savagely shot down before his Luca’s eyes. Complications ensue as a rival smuggler, The Margliese (Marcel Bozzuffi), offers Luca and his gang an in with the up-and-coming cocaine industry. Determined to say no to drugs, Luca declines the offer, only to see the rest of his gang viciously murdered one by one. Not only does The Margliese have Luca on his hit list, but there is also an informer ratting out Luca’s outfit from within.

inline Image Luca is pushed to the limit when his wife and son are kidnapped and he hears her shrieks over the phone as she is beaten and raped. Determined to avenge his brother’s death, his wife’s suffering and his own anguish, Luca calls upon several retired Don’s to help him take out the rival smugglers. It all amounts to a wild shoot out on the grimy docs of Napel.

inline Image Contraband is a standard genre exercise, filled with all the clichés that have made the gangster film so enduring over the years. Equally a rip-off of Jean-Pierre Melville’s classic French gangster films and The Godfather, the film’s story has little to offer in terms of originality. The murdered brother, the symbolic death of a horse, the desire to stay out of the drug business, the clockwork mob hits and the rival families are all right out of Coppola’s film as clichés run abound in Contraband. What differentiates the film from the rest of the gangster film’s is Fulci’s trademark nastiness. Gore is splattered everywhere, as necks explode, stomachs blow up, faces are burned off and brains eviscerated. There is little left to the imagination, as the gore gives the tired genre a new assaulting life.

inline Image What makes all the violence and gore resonate more than the standard Fulci fare is the pathos he generates for many of his characters. Testi’s Luca is one of Fulci’s most endearing leading men, as he is given a developed family life, strong morals and a cool charisma. Testi brings a nice believability to his role, and as a result the moments of suffering are emotionally charged. More than just stock zombie attacks on unknown victims, the death of Luca’s brother and his wife’s rape resonate because they happen to the goodhearted protagonist. Fulci does a good job at directing the death and torture scenes, assuring that there is compassion layered behind all the grisly shock.

inline Image When the gore settles and the credits role however, the movie remains not much more than a standard genre outing for Fulci. Like Cronenberg with Fast Company, Contraband is a competent exercise in genre filmmaking that is without the creativity that usually encompasses the director’s horror films. Fulci’s next film would be City of the Living Dead, and although it isn’t without its share of flaws, it would be a much more ambitious and creative outing for Fulci. With City and The Beyond, Fulci would push the genre to new limits; with Contraband, he is merely content with working inside the genre. It is the difference between a great film and an enjoyable one.

Image Quality

Blue Underground gives Contraband a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic glaze, resulting in another good-but-not-quite-great transfer for the company. Saturation is good as per usual with the Blue, but there resides a fair bit of grain on the transfer. It isn’t nearly as pronounced as Conquest, but it is still noticeable nonetheless. Their Zombie transfer, by comparison, was much sharper. The print throughout is mostly clean, although there are a few bouts of extreme print damage that run not longer than a few seconds. The bonus is just seeing a film like this released uncut and in its original aspect ratio, so it is understandable that Blue Underground didn’t give the film the deluxe five star restoration treatment.


The only track on the disc is an English 2.0 mono track, and while the dubbing is quite bad in spots, the mix itself is just fine. Fabio Frizzi’s groovin’ score comes through good, as do Fulci’s trademark abrasive sound effects. Its all you’d expect for a release like this.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Extras are understandably sparse, as a comprehensive trailer (that pretty much outlines the entire film) and a couple solid bios for Testi and Fulci are all that grace the disc.

Final Thoughts

Contraband is a genre film through and through, but Fulci adds a surprising amount of emotion to complement his rousing blood letting. It never reaches the heights of Fulci’s great horror films, but it remains entertaining throughout. The disc is one of Blue Underground’s smaller scale releases, but the audio, video and few supplements more than get the job done. Fans of Fulci or gangster films should enjoy Contraband, but Fulci and the genre have both done much better.


Movie – B-
Image Quality – B
Sound – B-
Supplements – C

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 37 minutes
  • Color
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Mono 2.0
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Talent bios


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