On a quiet, sunny morning, four men speed up to a pharmaceutical company and steal the payroll delivery. The cops shoot the driver, but the other three men -- Dottore (Maurice Poli), Blade (Don Backy), and 32 (George Eastman) -- flee into a parking garage, where they grab two women and demand the cops free them. Blade kills one by accident, prompting the cops to let them go, with the other woman, Maria (Lea Lander) as their hostage, but they know they need to switch vehicles to avoid roadblocks. They hold a driver at gunpoint and force him to chauffeur, but the man, Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla), is focused on the dying boy in the backseat, who was on his way to emergency surgery. Over the next several hours, all six people are trapped in a white-knuckle hostage situation as the car speeds across Italy.
Directed and written by Mario Bava (well...mostly), Kidnapped is an interesting departure from the horror movies that made him famous. Crime thrillers were big in Italy in the 1970s, so Bava decided he'd throw his hat into the ring with Kidnapped. Unfortunately for Bava, one of the film's financiers died while the film was in production, creating a legal maze that prevented the film from being finished or released. In the 1990s, the film was restored under its original title (Rabid Dogs) by Lander, who shot some additional footage based on Bava's screenplay. Later, in 2002, Bava's son Lamberto and producer Alfredo Leone did their own re-cut, shooting their own footage and bringing Stelvio Cipriani in to complete his score. That version, titled Kidnapped, is presented here.
For about half of the film's 92-minute running time, Kidnapped is a pretty standard thriller. Although it's hard to say whether the film, originally shot in 1974, is the forefather of these cliches or following in the footsteps of others, the elements are familiar. Dottore is the stern boss, keenly aware that keeping cool is the way to escape. Blade is the twitchy wild card, so thirsty for blood that he stabs the seat in front of him to pass the time. 32 is a bit like the little pup from the "Looney Tunes" cartoons, following in Blade's footsteps, but appearing a bit unsteady when Blade gets really antsy. Maria is the panicked victim, desperately looking for a way out, while Riccardo tries to keep his compsure, in the hope that the robbers will let him and the kid go free. They face simple challenges: a potentially suspicious tollbooth operator, a minor car accident, and an escape attempt by one of the hostages.
As the film shifts into the second half, however, Bava starts to turn those cliches around. Characters take logical action. Coincidence sometimes works out in the criminals' favor. Reason wins out over insanity. Lesser director / writers seem to think that allowing characters to inch toward an obvious conclusion is a way of increasing tension, but Kidnapped does the opposite and is more successful, reminding the viewer that anything could happen next. Again, it's possible that what passes as a cliche today wasn't so tired 40 years ago, but there's a sense that Bava is winking at the audience with his little twists and turns; a confrontation with a grape farmer late in the movie is so sly it's almost funny.
Although I don't know how significantly the younger Bava and Leone changed the ending when they worked on it in 2002 (it appears to utilize some footage from the original production, which suggests it was planned, but it's possible the dialogue dubbed in is entirely re-written), it's hard not to wonder what kind of doors the movie could've opened for Bava had it been released while he was alive. Kidnapped isn't a masterpiece (the performances are fine but unremarkable, the direction has some nice touches but isn't necessarily inventive for the genre), but it is a remarkably clever little thriller that engages, then turns the tables, and finally closes the entire experience with a particularly wicked final note. It's the kind of film that home video was made for: a lost gem, with a second chance to shine.
Other than the text on the cover, Kino's key art for Kidnapped is identical to Anchor Bay's previously-released disc -- very Saul Bass. The back cover is set up like the usual Kino Lorber import horror movies, with blue and white boxes laying out the specs and features. However, unlike most of those releases, there is no booklet inside the case. Worth a warning: the back cover contains a still of a minor spoiler, which is unfortunate.
The Video and Audio
Kino's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is new, scanned off a 35mm archival print. I don't have the other disc to compare it to, but this is a mixed bag that leans positive. Many shots are clean, crisp, and offer impressive depth, appearing like new. Others are softer, murkier, and most of the film (even some of the "good" shots) appears a little washed out. Saturation and colors are mostly vibrant and well-balanced. Kidnapped can't reach the heights of some of the Kino discs I've watched, but this is certainly a respectable effort, inconsistencies and all. Audio is an Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is crisp and aggressive, especially when it comes to the film's pulse-pounding score by Stelvio Cipriani (the scene in the cornfield sounds fantastic, for example). Dialogue is stable, without any hiss or fuzz, and some effects provide the illusion of surround sound. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are included.
Sadly, while Anchor Bay's release offered Bava's original cut of the film, an audio commentary by Tim Lucas, and a featurette, this new Kino release only has a Bava trailer gallery (Black Sunday, Hatchet For the Honeymoon, Baron Blood, Lisa and the Devil, and The House of Exorcism).
Kidnapped is a pretty devious little thriller that ought to please fans and non-fans of Mario Bava alike. This DVD is a bit of a trade-off -- it's got a fresh transfer, but it lacks the suite of extras that Anchor Bay provided on their disc, which is now out-of-print. If you own that DVD, you can skip this one, but this (or the concurrent Blu-Ray) is recommended for those who don't want to track that edition down.
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