Contraband (1980)
By: M. Walsh on September 23, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Stomp Visual (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono. 97 minutes
The Movie
Director: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Fabio Testi, Ivana Monti, Marcel Bozzuffi, Guido Alberti
Screenplay: Gianni De Chiara, Giorgio Mariuzzo, Ettore Sanzò, Lucio Fulci
Country: Italy
AKA:Luca Il Ccontrabbandiere
When reviewing a film directed by Lucio Fulci, it is often advisable to forget about many of the rules that apply to film critique. Reviewers searching for coherent narratives and strong, believable performances should probably abandon those notions before even removing the DVD from its case. However, those familiar with any of the works from the Fulci cannon would be very much aware of this from the outset. It seems rather strange, then, that so many reviewers reference the aforementioned filmic elements as a cause for outrage when, unsurprisingly, whichever Fulci film arrived in the mail that week made very little sense, was poorly dubbed and existed almost solely as a springboard for outrageous gore effects, nudity and hyperactive zoom lenses.

Like so many of his contemporaries, Fulci is able to sidestep the criticisms that would otherwise apply to his films for two reasons: 1) he was able to carve out a particular niche wherein his viewers would expect the very things that most reviewers hate and Fulci would, consistently, deliver them, and, 2) his movies are a lot of fun to watch. It could be argued, convincingly, that the man was a hack and that, without the abundance of slow motion carnage in his films, there would be very little, if anything, to recommend about them. It could also be argued, however, that the violence and bloodshed in Fulci's films are the raison d'etre absolute and, therefore, their very existence justifies the film as a whole. In this way, Fulci's films operate in a similar manner to that of pornography, albeit pornography with a little more plot and a little less stigma. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and if critics can rouse a call to arms over films such as 9 Songs, and extrapolate on its virtues or lack thereof, then certainly there is nothing to suggest that Lucio Fulci should have to meet with unbridled vitriol rather than intelligent debate. After all, in essence 9 Songs is simply a collection of graphic sex scenes interspersed with terrible music, banal dialogue and poor acting. Replace 'graphic sex' with 'graphic violence' and the interchange is complete. I am in no way suggesting that 9 Songs is pornography, mind you, I am simply trying to draw a parrel between many reviewers' acceptance of the content in one film based entirely on its art house credentials, while the same reviewers disregard another film due to its sordid reputation and the fact that it didn't win the Grand Prix at Cannes.

So what we have here, then, is Lucio Fulci's foray into the mob picture. Yes, there are a number of choice set pieces and, yes, the dubbing is painfully bad but that is almost where the comparisons between Contraband and something like The Beyond end. You see, against all expectations and, I'll be honest, belief, the plot of Contraband is coherent and, even more surprisingly, linear. I am in no way suggesting that the plotting is tight, or inventive or anything other than sensible and workmanlike. The narrative simply hangs together without the help of a Fulci aficionado providing a detailed, and desperate, interpretation and, well, I couldn't really ask for much more than that.

Luca Di Angelo (Fabio Testi) is an idealistic smuggler of cigarettes. When his brother, a fellow smuggler, is killed by members of a rival gang, Luca embarks on an increasingly violent odyssey of deception and revenge. His wife (Ivana Monti) and young son (an irritating and maddeningly dubbed child actor, you'll be glad to know) are eventually embroiled in Luca's quest for vengeance. The film culminates in a shoot-out, one that contains probably the greatest Fulci deus ex machina of all time in the guise of a particular Don who has a penchant for watching bad television Westerns. In the interim we are treated to assorted stabbings, gun shots to the face and neck, prolonged torture with a Bunsen burner and an anal rape scene shot and edited in a similar way to Fucli's now infamous wooden splinter gag.

Misogynistic? Sure. High art? Of course not. Fabulously entertaining? You bet. Special mention should also go to Fabio Frizzi's wonderful score, a combination of mid-70's porno funk and thinly veiled musical "homages" to The Godfather. Also deserving of mention is Fulci's really rather accomplished grasp of editing, particularly evident in an extended night club scene (the epileptic need not apply).
The box claims that this uncut release of Contraband has been "fully restored from the original negative". After watching the film, I believe that this is a slight fabrication. The print itself is easily the best the film has looked outside of its initial release. Budgetary constrictions account for the drab and muted color pallete that the film possess. The same goes for the inherent "darkness" in many of the interior scenes. I can't imagine that the film stock used was of the highest quality either. This is still a revelatory transfer, though, considering the source material. However, there are some really obtrusive moments of print damage (particularly in the reel change just prior to the rape scene) that seem to suggest that a complete restoration hasn't actually taken place. It is more than likely that "fully restored" actually equates to "uncut".
The English language mono track is clean and clear and free of distortion. It doesn't offer much in the way of dynamic range, but what were you expecting?
Extra Features
A theatrical trailer for Contraband and a handful of talent biographies.
The Verdict
Another guilty pleasure from the House of Fulci. Indefensible as art, and loaded with the expected, abuse and objectification of women, Contraband is an immensely enjoyable slice of trash cinema. Whatever my thoughts on the validity of the restoration work here, the availability of an uncut print more than makes up for any of my petty nit picking. Fulci fans really have no excuse when it comes to purchasing this disc, and even those who doubt his merits as a filmmaker could do a lot worse than having a copy of this film on their shelves. Great fun.
Movie Score
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