Written by: Michael Den Boer on November 5th, 2014
BluRay released: October 27th, 2014
Approximate running times: 95 minutes 51 seconds (Rabid Dogs), 95 minutes 29 seconds (Kidnapped)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Both Versions)
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono Italian (Both Versions)
Subtitles: English (Both Versions)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £13.99 (UK)
Synopsis: Four criminals pull off a daring daylight bank robber and in the process of getting away from the police the driver of the getaway car is killed which leads to the other three men finding other transportation. The police corner the men in parking garage and when they kill one of two women they are holding hostage they police stand down which allows them to get away once again. To further elude the police the trio decides to switch cars at the next traffic light which places them in a car with Riccardo who is taking his sick son who lays in the backseat to the hospital. What unfolds next is a hellish road trip that will claim a few of the passengers’ lives before all is said and done.
Far too often throughout the history of cinema genre filmmakers are not held in the same high regard for those who make Art House or big budget films for the masses. And this especially the case in regards to foreign filmmakers who work outside of the art house realm. With that being said, Mario Bava one of the most underrated filmmaker in the history of cinema. He was a gifted filmmaker who worked in just about every genre. With his most notable contributions coming from the horror genre, Black Sunday, Black Sabbath and Lisa and the Devil. He is also known for being one of the forerunners of the giallo genre (Italian thrillers) with films like The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace.
He would spend the first two decades of his career honing his craft as a cinematographer before finally being given his chance to shine as director with Black Sunday and from there he would work steadily throughout the rest of the 1960’s. This now brings us to the 1970’s a decade that would see two of his most remarkable films mired in production related woes. In 1973 he would make what is reportedly his most personal film of his career Lisa and The Devil, a film that would be held back another two years from the public and it would be finally released under the moniker The House of Exorcism. That other troubled film Rabid Dogs would suffer a much worse fate as it would be snatched from it creators hands in its final stages and locked away for over two decades before it would resurface again, albeit under a new titled Kidnapped, with new scenes and a new soundtrack. For this review we will only be focusing on the merits of the version known as Rabid Dogs, since it is the version that most represents what Mario Bava was trying to achieve.
Bava would make his first and only foray into the poliziotteschi genre with Rabid Dogs. And though the film does feature many of staples that have become synonymous with said genre, most notable the film’s opening sequence which consists of the robbery, a car chase and abducting hostages. It is ultimately where this film goes from there that truly sets this film apart from its contemporaries.
Always the innovator Bava shifts that focus away from the criminals’ apprehension. Then spends a little more than hour with the criminals in a cramped vehicle with hostages in the middle of a heat wave. And by confining the story this way it gives the viewer a chance to know who everyone is and what their motivations are. Also this setup lends greatly to the mounting tension that Bava is so masterful at creating.
From a visuals stand point this film always surprises since there is only so many places the camera can go due to the limited space of the shooting in a car. Fortunately Bava proves once again that he is up for the task as he creates what are arguably some of his most menacing moments on film. One scene in particular springs to mind. It involves two of criminals and a female hostage who has to go to bathroom. After she tries to escape, they then force her to pee in front of them and to up the ante by humiliating her by leering and making rude jesters.
When discussing this film one must not overlook the contribution of its score which was composed by Stelvio Cipriani, who had previously worked with Bava on, Bay of Blood and Baron Blood. Cipriani contributed many notable scores to the poliziotteschi genre, like Emergency Squad, Colt 38 Special Squad and the poliziotteschi / giallo hybrid What Have They Done to Your Daughters? For Rabid Dog’s he creates another superb that is equally evocative to his most renowned scores. Interesting side note that when this film was released in that aforementioned alternate version that the producer made changes to the score.
Performance wise the entire cast are exceptional in their respective roles. The two most obnoxious characters are Blade and Thirtytwo and they are portrayed by Don Backy and George Eastman (Absurd). These are also the two characters that spend the majority of their screen time tormenting Lea Lander’s character Maria. The ring leader of this gang of criminals is portrayed by Maurice Poli (5 Dolls for an August Moon) and the fourth criminal in this gang died in the getaway. Rounding out the cast is Riccardo Cucciolla (One on Top of the Other) in the role of a man who is forced to drive a getaway car and he is also transporting a sick child. And though this character is the one that reveals the least about himself. When all is said and done, it is his character that final moments that resonate the strongest.
A quick reference about these two versions included with this release, “Rabid Dogs’ – Bava’s original version posthumously completed from his notes & ‘Kidnapped’ – the re-edited, re-dubbed and re-scored version, supervised by Bava’s son and assistant director Lamberto Bava, and producer Alfredo Leone.”
The transfer for Kidnapped exhibits nicely saturated colors and flesh tones that look accurate, black and contrast levels look very good and details look crisp. Also there are no issues with compression or DNR. And in order to create that transfer for Rabid Dogs standard definition source material had to be used since the original negative for these moments no longer exists. And when these inserts happen there is a noticeable difference in quality when compared to the bulk of the transfer which is taken form the same source that was used for the Kidnapped transfer. Fortunately the end result is a strong presentation of Mario Bava’s preferred cut of the film.
Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped each come with one audio option, a LPCM mono mix in Italian and removable English subtitle shave been included for both versions. Dialog always comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced. Of these two version and their audio tracks, the audio track that accompanies Kidnapped is easily the stronger and more robust of the two audio tracks.
Extras for this release include the alternate ‘Semaforo Rosso’ opening title sequence (1 minute 32 seconds – letterboxed widescreen), an interview with director Umberto Lenzi titled ‘Bava and Eurocrime’ (9 minutes – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in Italian with English subtitles) and a featurette titled ‘End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped’ (16 minutes 33 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in Italian and English with English subtitles) with comments about the film from Lamberto Bava, producer Alfredo Leone and actress Lea Lander.
Topics discussed in the interview with Umberto Lenzi include, Mario Bava’s influence on him as a filmmaker, Riccardo Freda, Bava’s technical prowess as a filmmaker and the poliziotteschi film genre. Topics discussed in ‘End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped’ include, the short story ‘Man and Boy’ that inspired the film, casting, shooting on location and how the car that all the actors were in was put on a flatbed to make it easier to film interiors, how the completed footage was shot over a four week span and how the film was not completed due to the producer going bankrupt, how the film was eventually rescued by its leading lady Lea Lander, the additional scenes and changes that were made to the film in order to complete it and their thoughts on the final product.
Rounding out the extras is an informative audio commentary track with Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas, reversible covert art and a forty page booklet with cast & crew credits, an essay about the film titled ‘Fear By Noon-light, Mario Bava’s Rabid Dogs’ written by Stephen Thrower, an essay about Rabid Dogs first official release titled ‘A Young Lizard Wrestles an Old Dog’ written by Peter Blumenstock (Lucertola Media), the short story ‘Man and Boy’ that inspired Mario Bava to make Rabid Dogs, information about the difficulty of finding usable source materials for this release titled ‘In Search of Rabid Dogs’ written by Helen Mullane, information about the additional work that went into creating the subtitles that are used for this release and information about this films transfer.
Included as part of this combo release are two DVD’s, one DVD contains Rabid Dogs, the alternate opening title sequence, the Tim Lucas audio commentary and the featurette ‘End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped’, while the other DVD contains Kidnapped and the interview with director Umberto Lenzi. Overall Rabid Dogs gets an exceptional release from Arrow Video, highly recommended.