The plot of Mario Bava's Rabid Dogs (or, if you prefer, Kidnapped) is deceptively simple. In short, a trio of men (Maurice Poli, Aldo Caponi and Luigi Montefiori) who attempt a daring robbery of a payroll truck hijacks a car and its drive, Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) after they screw up their getaway plan. They bring with them a female hostage named Maria (Lea Lander) and force the man to drive them out of the city, really giving him no choice but to comply. Complicating the matter is the fact that the man also has a very sick boy with him who is in dire need of medical attention. As the road trip progresses, tensions start to rise with the various people inside the vehicle caught in a game of wits until it all boils up to a shocking conclusion.
In order to fully appreciate Rabid Dogs one has to first understand where Bava was at around the time that the film was made. His last picture, Lisa And The Devil, was a very personal project that wound up a complete disaster from a financial standpoint and the last few film's he'd made prior to that hardly set the box office on fire. It was as if Bava's style had gone out of style and so the director decided that for his next project he needed to go in a very different direction. Casting problems and budgetary restraints plagued the production but photography was finished on schedule but by then, it didn't matter. The production had gone bankrupt and the rough cut of the movie that Bava had assembled was confiscated and there it sat, unfinished, until Lea Lander eventually rescued the work print from the producer's creditors years later. By the time this happened, Bava had passed away from a heart attack at the age of sixty-five. Lander and Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, used Mario's original script and shot an opening scene for the picture and then scored and pieced together using the materials that they had available. The results of this project saw the light of day on a DVD released by the long defunct Lucertola which was only in print a short time and, until this Anchor Bay disc was released, was quite collectable. If that weren't enough, a few years ago in 2002 Lamberto and long time Bava producer Alfredo Leone decided that the Rabid Dogs cut wasn't good enough so they took it all back to the editing room once more, added in some different footage and completely rescored the film. This new version of the film was titled Kidnapped. Thankfully, both versions of the movie are included on this release.
So how does the film hold up? The Rabid Dogs cut holds up extremely well. It's a dirty, tense and very mean spirited film but at the heart of it all is an extremely well written and tightly directed story made all the more interesting by some very believable performances. It's a very strong film that doesn't pull any punches and that features one of the best and most effective twist endings in crime movie history. You can feel these characters sweat as the tension builds amongst them and Bava seems to be controlling every facet of their development very, very tightly. Everything feels very bitter and very angry here and while it certainly doesn't make for happy viewing, the results are nothing short of compelling. While the cinematography is still top notch, it's nothing like the painterly visuals that Mario Bava was known for; instead it feels dirtier and as such is very much in keeping with the tone of the story. It's a very low-fi film, there aren't really any effects set pieces and the bulk of the movie simply takes place inside a car (not an easy task – for proof of this see the recent Penny Dreadful!).
Those who haven't seen the film probably won't notice much difference between the two edits, but those familiar with the old Lucertola release will no doubt prefer the Rabid Dogs cut to the Kidnapped cut. Differences are fairly minor but they should be noted. First and foremost is the fact that composer Stelvio Cipriani did finish some music that was used in Rabid Dogs but never really came close to finishing his work on the film. This has changed with the Kidnapped edit, and here Cipriani brings much more to the film than he did in the rough cut, for better or worse. Some scenes are missing, such as the pinball scene, but it also adds some bits and pieces in the form of some more recently shot material courtesy of Lamberto. Most of these scenes add nothing, but nor do they really hurt the film save for on bit tacked on to the ending. In its rough cut, the ending of Rabid Dogs hurts. It's a completely effective sucker punch and it makes you feel something. By adding to this and slapping some additional footage on, the film has effectively had its balls cut off. Regardless, with both versions included here fans can decide for themselves which take on the film they prefer.
Anchor Bay presents Kidnapped in a strong 1.77.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is noticeably improved from the 1.66.1 non-anamorphic transfer that was found on the previous DVD release from Lucertola. Some mild print damage is present as is some grain that you'll likely notice but aside from some mild edge enhancement there aren't a lot of transfer related issues here and the source material has obviously been cleaned up a fair bit. Color reproduction is strong while black levels stay deep and consistent. Some scenes are softer than others but detail is, for the most part, good (not great, mind you). Flesh tones look lifelike and natural and all of the grit and sweat that permeates the movie comes through quite nicely here. All in all, there's little to complain about. This is a fine transfer and a big improvement over the film's last DVD release.
In order to really appreciate Rabid Dogs one has to first understand the basic history of the picture. When the film was made, Bava was at a bit of a low point. Lisa And The Devil hadn't found any sort of success at all and the few films he'd made prior weren't exactly smash hits.
Both cuts of the film are presented in an Italian language Dolby Digital Mono mix with optional English subtitles. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to report and the subtitles are clean, clear and easy to read. There are some spots where things are a bit on the flat side but given the history of the film this isn't really surprising and it sounds much better than anyone probably expected it ever would. As far as the subtitles go, Tim Lucas has posted on his blog that he was hired to create them for the original Lucertola DVD release of the film and that in doing so he adjusted things just a little bit to give the movie a harder edge by injecting more profanity into the script. Although Lucas references this in his commentary track, the subtitles that have been included on the DVD are not those that were prepared by Lucas but are instead a more literal translation.
First up, in terms of extra features, is a running commentary track with Mario Bava biographer and Video Watchdog publisher, Tim Lucas, which plays out over the Rabid Dogs edit of the film. Lucas does an excellent job of explaining the history of the film as well as that of its cast and crew lending critical and biographical insight to the picture that helps put it in context against Bava's other films. He also does a good job of explaining Lamberto Bava's part in the picture and points out some of the more subtle characteristics of the film that first time viewers might not necessarily pick up on. Free of any serious dead air time, it's a very informative and interesting commentary track that sheds some much needed light on the history of the picture.
The second substantial supplement is a sixteen-minute documentary entitled End Of The Road: The Making Of Rabid Dogs And Kidnapped. Containing interviews with Lamberto Bava, producer Alfredo Leone and actress Lea Lander, this is a really interesting look at the various parts that these three people played in the picture. Leone tells the most interesting stories, explaining how this film was at least partially responsible for the souring of his relationship with the director when it was taken out of his hands while Lamberto explains what went into reassembling the movie. While it would have been nice to see other surviving players interviewed here like George Eastman, this is still a very solid featurette even if it feels like it should have been longer.
Rounding out the extra features on this disc are a Mario Bava text biography courtesy of Richard Harland Smith, trailers for other Anchor Bay DVDs, animated menus and chapter stops for the feature.
Considered by many to be 'Bava's lost masterpiece,' there's no doubt that Rabid Dogs is a harsh and grim by expertly made thriller. How definitive either of the versions included on this disc are is debatable but it's to Anchor Bay's credit that they've included both cuts of the film even if the Rabid Dogs version works better than the Kidnapped version. The transfer is excellent and the audio quality perfectly acceptable with the commentary track and featurette adding plenty of value to the package. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.