Contraband (1980)

Fulci was an Italian master who never really quite received the acclaim that here deserved during his life. He himself felt his work was always in the shadow of someone like Dario Argento, a man who Fulci occasionally aimed the odd side-swipe at. As far as I was concerned though he easily matched Argento and I was soon sinking my teeth into classics such as The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981) and The New York Ripper (1981). The more Fulci I got though, the more I delved into his career and discovered that he had the ability to cross genres, for example the excellent Spaghetti Western – Four of the Apocalypse (1975), and Contraband which fell under the Poliziotteschi banner.

The Poliziotteschi genre (crime-thriller) ran almost concurrently with the Giallo genre, emerging in the late 60s and eventually fizzling out during the early 80s with Contraband being one of the last. The feted directors of the genre were undoubtedly Fernando Di Leo who made my favourite Poliziotteschi film – Milano Calibro 9 (1972) which is soon to take its first bow in the UK thanks to Arrow Video, and also people like Damiano Damiani and the great Umberto Lenzi. It’s a superb genre, and one which demands more attention from cult film lovers. With a documentary on the way entitled Eurocrime!: The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s, then hopefully that will soon be rectified.

Contraband follows the well-worn template of many of the Poliziotteschi movies. Luca (Testi) has recently moved to Naples with his wife (Monti) and his son to help his brother Mickey (Farnese) in his Mafia orientated work smuggling cigarettes into the port. However, during one delivery the police intercept the drop off which leads Luca and Mickey to suspect that one of the rival families may have given the police a tip off and Mafioso orientated carnage ensues.

The first third of Fulci’s movie may well lull you into a false sense of security that this is just a pedestrian crime movie – it really isn’t. As Contraband whips along we’re treated to levels of violence and gore that you may well find shocking and lurid. From a woman’s face being slowly burned off with a lighter as the camera fixes upon her, to double-barrelled shotgun blowing stomachs to smithereens – it really descends into carnage of the bloodiest order. Of course if you’re a Fulci fanatic you’ll be well versed in Lucio’s gore filled approach, but what struck me with Contraband is that even 34 years later just how raw some of the brutality is. It’s gorgeous!

Fabio Testi in the lead role is sublime and he’ll be well known to fans of Italian cinema with roles in such films as Enzo G. Castellari’s The Big Racket (1976) and The Heroin Busters (1977), while the supporting cast perform ably across the board – including Fulci himself in a hilarious cameo. The film’s score by Fulci veteran Fabio Frizzi is a real highlight, while Sergio Salvati’s cinematography proves just why Lucio worked with him in so many of his films.

This edition from Shameless can best be described as solid with one notable stand out being the gorgeously lurid artwork by Richard Wells which is in stark contrast to the rather staid original poster which is available on the reverse sleeve. The Shameless release has no major picture quality enhancement since the 2004 Blue Underground edition, and no notable extras other than the option to have the English dub or Italian language with English subtitles. However, this to me is more than satisfactory as I know Shameless operate on a meagre budget and I’m just glad to see this picture by an icon of cult cinema finally appear in the UK market in its original form.

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