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DVD SAVANT

Rabid Dogs (Kidnapped)
Cani arrabbiati


Rabid Dogs (Kidnapped)
Anchor Bay
1974 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 95 & 96 min. / Cani arrabiati, Semaforo rosso / Street Date April 3, 2007 / 19.98
Starring Riccardo Cucciolla, Lea Lander, Maurice Poli, George Eastman (Luigi Montefiori), Don Backy (Aldo Caponi), Erika Dario
Cinematography Mario Bava, Emilio Varriano
Film Editor Carlo Reali
Original Music Stelvio Cipriani
Written by Cesare Frugoni, Alessandro Parenzo
Produced by Lamberto Bava, Alfredo Leone, Roberto Loyola
Directed by Mario Bava

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Italian director Mario Bava's attempt to join the 1970s wave of nihilistic thrillers might have been a surprise success, if legal problems hadn't left Cani arrabiati (Rabid Dogs) locked away by court order for over twenty years. The tale of ruthless criminals seems inspired by the sadistic excesses of Wes Craven's Last House on the Left and for many viewers will play as an exercise in gratuitous cruelty. Adopting an entirely new style, Bava beats the competition at its own game, with an ultra-cynical shocker that hides a perversely satisfying narrative stinger in its tail.

Synopsis:

Four vicious criminals rob the payroll of a pharmaceutical company, ruthlessly slaying employees and a hostage to insure their getaway. They then hijack a station wagon and force its three occupants to drive them to safety. Hostage Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciola) complies because he's desperate to get his tiny son to a hospital -- the child is unconscious and feverish. Poor Maria (Lea Lander) attracts the crude advances and provocations of fugitives Trentadue (George Eastman) and Bisturi (Don Backy). Maria is taunted, mauled and humiliated, and gang leader Dottore (Maurice Poli) won't let Riccardo intervene. The crooks promise to let their hostages go free, but Riccardo and Maria are all too aware of their poor chances for survival.

Relaxed film censorship in Europe and America cued the rise of explicitly gory horror films, favoring sordid realism over traditional stories that limited transgressive ideas to the thematic plane. By the time of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre stylish vampires were Out and homicidal maniacs were In. Perhaps wanting to distinguish himself from Italian disciples like Dario Argento, Mario Bava took two frustrating career turns. His creepy essay in necrophilia Lisa and the Devil found no distributor and was eventually re-filmed as the execrable House of Exorcism. Bava's next effort Cani arrabiati was almost complete when creditors closed it down and a court seized all film elements. Bava died in 1980 with his son Lamberto still unable to clear the legal obstacles. Only in 1996 did Mario Bava's lost movie manage to make it to the screen.

The recovered film has been finished in at least three versions. After festival screenings, it was premiered on DVD as Rabid Dogs. That version was essentially Bava's workprint with an added shot of a mysterious silhouetted woman at the beginning. On this disc, that opening has been replaced with a new graphic sequence bearing the title Semaforo rosso (Red Light Signal). Producer Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava subsequently filmed new connective scenes and re-edited a third version with the unimpressive title Kidnapped. That version is included on this DVD release.

After thirty years of escalating screen violence, Rabid Dogs still maintains a disturbing edge. It unfolds in real time and (in its initial version) never cuts away from the core situation in the getaway car. Thus Bava achieves a claustrophobic quality, even though the bulk of his story takes place on the open road under blue skies. The pressure of the situation -- five adults and one child crammed into a small Fiat on a hot day -- makes the killers even more combustible and erratic. In the back seat are dueling psychos. The giant Trentadue gleefully pursues his sexual appetites, and the murderous Bisturi has a horrible habit of stabbing people without warning. The terrorized hostages have little choice but to yield to their captors' twisted demands, especially with Riccardo's helpless, sleeping little boy along for the ride.

Writers Cesare Frugoni and Alessandro Parenzo place roadblocks and a fender-bender accident in the path of the fleeing car, but the real tension develops in the cramped back seat. Although never as disgustingly literal as The Last House on the Left, Bava's film isn't for viewers seeking light entertainment. The foul-mouthed Trentadue gropes poor Maria while Bisturi pokes her with his knife. After a useless escape attempt, the killers force her to urinate while they watch in hysterics. Maria spends most of the trip reduced to a quivering, sobbing mess. Throughout the ordeal, the helpless Riccardo drives the car and tries to stay calm. Just when we think the terror will end, Rabid Dogs kicks into a higher level of jeopardy, one that shifts the entire movie into a new perspective.

Bava keeps this torture from becoming monotonous by constantly varying his camera angles in the speeding car. Taking up a new kind of technical challenge, the director mounted several cut-away car sections on a speeding flatbed truck to get full filming flexibility. We soon forget about the presence of the camera. Perhaps Bava was inspired to better the advanced automobile camera mounts seen in Steven Spielberg's thriller The Sugarland Express.


Anchor Bay's DVD of Rabid Dogs / Kidnapped sports dual versions of the film, both of them excellent enhanced transfers. The clear audio is in Italian with English subtitles. 1 A lengthy interview doc called End of the Road allows Alfredo Leone, Lamberto Bava and actress Lee Lander to explain the headache-inducing series of events that caused the movie to be locked away for twenty years. Ms. Lander was actually the one to free the film from cinema limbo.

Tim Lucas' authoritative commentary track advances a convincing case for Rabid Dogs as the better of the two versions. Although it doesn't represent Bava's final cut, it hangs together quite well. The Kidnapped revamp version imposes much tighter editing that seems too abbreviated for a 70s movie. Stelvio Cipriani replaced his very-70s original score with indifferent synthesized work that also appears calculated to make Kidnapped play like a new thriller. Although Lamberto Bava's re-shoots followed his father's notes, the new filmed material outside the getaway car breaks up the film's spacial unity and dilutes the claustrophobic tension. It also trims the twist ending before we can appreciate its full horror, leaving us staring at a freeze-frame of the wrong character.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Rabid Dogs / Kidnapped rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary by Tim Lucas, Interview documentary, Mario Bava bio
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: March 26, 2007

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

Footnote:

1. Tim Lucas recorded his commentary with the understanding that a set of subtitles he wrote for an earlier Lucertola Media DVD release would be used. With new subtitles in place, some of Lucas' comments no longer make sense, as they refer to the older translation.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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