Color, 1980, 97m. / Directed by Lucio Fulci / Starring Fabio Testi, Marcel Bozzuffi, Ivana Monti / Blue Underground (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Meet Luca Di Angelo (Euro-fave Fabio Testi) - loving husband and father by day, Naples' premier cigarette smuggler by night. Having worked his way up from the ghettos of Milan, his life is one of peace and prosperity until the police unexpectedly raid his trafficking operation and cause the loss of several million bucks worth of merchandise. Convinced he was ratted out by a jealous rival, things violently escalate when his brother Mickey is shot to death in a roadside ambush and his wife is abducted by an unknown assailant. It soon becomes apparent there's a new heavy in town and he's knockin' off bosses left and right in an effort to enter the narcotics trade, but this time he picked the wrong family to mess with. In a vendetta-fueled rage Luca launches an all-out assault to eradicate his enemies, and he definitely isn't taking any prisoners.

Fulci's sole crime actioner eschews the traditional cops vs. criminals set-up and instead spins a gruesome mobsters vs. mobsters scenario. Fabio Testi may be our hero, but he's also a ruthless killer who lays waste to several folks throughout the flick. Relying on the old "honor among thieves" credo, followers of spaghetti westerns, samurai epics and Hong Kong "heroic bloodshed" gun fu slaughterthons will find a comfortable familiarity with the general tone. Testi's good looks and cool demeanor add credence to his performance, and it's easy to believe someone with his charm could effortlessly climb the underworld ladder. The role occasionally harks back to the skills he honed as a stuntman, forcing Fabio to really earn his paycheck by ably jumping out windows and swingin' from ropes, among other things. The supporting cast also presents a few surprises, with Euro-sex superstar Ajita Wilson popping up as a slutty gangster groupie and all-around badass Romano Puppo portraying a particularly mean-spirited hitman who wipes out half the cast. Lucio Fulci's workmanlike direction lacks the energetic staging someone like Enzo Castellari or Umberto Lenzi would have brought to the table and he instead opts to spoon out his usual specialty: wholesale carnage. That's right, gang, Contraband ranks right up there alongside Tulio Demicheli's Ricco as the goriest, most ruthless poliziotteschi Italy has to offer. Bellies are blown open, heads are demolished by gunfire and, in one of the more excruciating scenes in Fulci's oeuvre, a woman's face is blistered off with a Bunsen burner. Weak stomachs beware.

Shot from the end of November through December 1979 on location in Naples with some interior work done at De Paolis Studios in Rome, Fulci's effort started life under the title Vicious and was filmed as Mean Blood before eventually settling on Luca il Contrabbandiere (Luca the Smuggler). Distributed overseas as The Smuggler and The Naples Connection (presumably to capitalize on Marcel Bozzuffi's similar role in The French Connection), the outing was skipped over for domestic theatrical dates and didn't see U.S. shores until Mogul Communication's 1987 VHS release as Contraband. A nice rarity for collectors, the tape itself left a lot to be desired with its cropped and fuzzy transfer. Additionally, the entire opening sequence was blacked out to showcase cheesy, computer-generated credits! The determined could acquire better-looking, widescreen editions from both Japan and Holland, but Contra-fans really rejoiced in 2000 when Holland's Shock Distribution announced their intentions to debut the film on DVD. Accolades soured quickly, though, when it was noticed that many of the film's blood-splatterin' bullet hits were mysteriously missing from the decent, but non-anamorphic, release. Blue Underground's U.S. disc thankfully rectifies this situation with a complete, uncut print that easily eclipses the import's presentation. Letterboxed at 1.85:1, their transfer represents Sergio Salvati's unusually subdued and slightly soft-focus photography as accurately as can ever be expected. By no means a vibrant movie, there are still several colorful interludes (like the discotheque sequence) that reinforce what a nice makeover the film received here. A few instances of brief print damage still pop up, but they float right by and aren't worth fussing over. The mono soundtrack, while obviously limited, is also free of any problems and the noticeable hum that plagued other issues is mercifully absent.

There's nothing out of the ordinary as far as extras go, but that shouldn't deter anyone from giving Contraband a chance. Included is a theatrical trailer which, amazingly for a Fulci effort, doesn't give away all the goriest moments. Still, enough characters' demises are shown to warrant skipping until viewing the film proper. We also have a pair of well-written and informative talent bios for Fabio Testi and Lucio Fulci by Mark Wickum and Tracy Taylor, respectively; although most of this DVD's target audience will have already read them on other releases.

- Bruce Holecheck

If you're interested in the making of Contraband, check out this interview with star Fabio Testi.

Want to know more about the director? Here's the Official U.S. Lucio Fulci Website.

Get the real-life scoop about contraband smuggling in Europe, thanks to the WCO IPR Strategic Group.

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