Cinematographer, FX technician, and director: Mario Bava was a visitor of the night-time world equally at home with the fantastical and harshly realistic. With Rabid Dogs, he proved to critics that he was as capable of exploring sensitive nuances of character and plot as he was of crafting sumptuous otherworldly visuals. While Bava was no stranger to frustrated efforts due to financial problems and troublesome distributors, his experience with Rabid Dogs was perhaps his most heartbreaking. When the film's producer s went suddenly bankrupt, and the film was shelved, unable to be released, it must have been heartbreaking for the 60-something director. Having abandoned his preferred gothic excesses for a more 'modern' and immediate style of shooting, and fresh from the failure of House of Exorcism (the Leone-instigated butchered form of Lisa and the Devil), Bava was forced to die before his most concise movie would ever be officially released. Two major versions of this crime feature exist. The first release of Rabid Dogs was culled from Bava's own rough cut, representing most honestly Bava's unique vision. Later, Bava producer Alfred Leone re-cut and re-edited the footage, altering various scenes in attempts to make the film more modern, changing the title to Kidnapped. Lucertola Media released Kidnapped in the late 90s. Anchor Bay offers both cuts in one package, and has given both significant visual and audio improvements.

Throughout his career, whether the tone was fantastical or realistic, Bava's attention to color, camera composition, and emotional honesty brought disturbing life to shocking characters and situations. Marking a visual departure for while preserving his interest in such themes as appearance vs. truth and the degeneracy of the human animal, Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped are striking examples of the director's naturalistic abilities. Simply put, this emotionally gripping tragedy of crime, hidden motivations, and survival is lean, mean, and grimy in its simplicity. In a plot reminiscent of several other Italian crime thrillers of the Seventies, Kidnapped/Rabid Dogs manage to be crime thrillers and dramas of conscience -- unflinching looks at mental cruelty and madness. In their cruelty and grim nature, these two prints share thematic similarities with such exploitation films as The Last Hill on the Left and Aldo Lado's Night Train, but with more craftsmanship. Doc (Maurice Poli), Blade (Aldo Capponi) and Thirty-Two (Luigi Montefiori) attempt a botched daylight robbery. On the run from police, they panic and kidnap 'innocent' bystanders. The majority of the film takes place in an automobile -- an intimate, believable device that encourages and makes more claustrophobic the raging tempers that soon become to sadism. Trying to elude the police, the criminals force Riccardo Cucciolla -- a man desperate to get his child to a hospital -- to drive them to safety.

In Kidnapped/Rabid Dogs, Bava exchanges the fog-laden blue and red fantasy atmospherics of his gothic material for a masterful expose of realism/naturalism. He also abandoned the elegant 'creative kill' sensibilities of the gialli genre. The painfully realistic violence is believable in every sense of the word, captured with the purposeful immediacy -- the shame and dull rage, the unpleasant shock of life. Lacking the poetic rhythms and technical winks that Gialli often depend on to soften their blow, here the violence is real, the anger deadly, the passions uncomfortably understandable. Bava and some outstanding performances (particularly by the criminals) force you to feel the senseless terror and shame, the psychological trauma, and its reverberations.

Perception and how it can be manipulated, subjectivity used as tool and weapon: these are just one of many themes explored in Kidnapped/Rabid Dogs. This is apparent in his handling of several key scenes and characters, such as when Bava hides the identity of one of the kidnapped 'victims' until the shocking ending, and questions the very concept of innocence and guilt. No one is who they seem, and this sense of subversion/doubt adds tension. Bava uses his lens as co-conspirator in his desire to examine the deceitful possibilities hidden within the seemingly innocence of appearances. Kidnapped/Rabid Dogs can be seen -- in both its style of filming and its content -- as Bava showing the world that he could bring his sensibilities to the realm of naturalism with the same artistry with which he had so energetically revitalized the gothic. He certainly embraces a more nihilistic message -- one more depressing than even the moral bankruptcy of Bay of Blood or 8 Dolls for an August Moon. Gone is Bava's lyrical style and almost operatic movement, replaced by a harsh and purposefully crude glimpse into modern urban trash, complete with cursing scumbags and shocking sexuality. One only wishes he had followed this new sensibility into more films.

Which cut of the film is the best or most honest? That depends on your own preferences and tastes, of course. But speaking from a Bava purist point-of-view, the rough cut, represented by Rabid Dogs, is the fullest and most successful version of the story. While Bava never did finish the audio track, and would have probably made more revisions for continuity and pacing, this was at least a direct product of the maestro's vision. Kidnapped, on the other hand, was, as mentioned above, re-cut by Leone. Not only is the score different (and less effective) but the ending is softened/altered, damaging the dramatic impact of the original version. This and additional scenes for padding do nothing but slow down and lesson the impact of the story. Still, it is invaluable to have both cuts on one disc for comparison.

Rabid Dogs is 96 minutes and presented in its proper 1.78 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. Whereas the original Lucertola transfer suffered from several moments of grain and dirt, as well as muted colors, this incarnation is remarkably free from grain and scratches, and the colors are bold and enlivening. Scant print damage is evident, and what little remains is probably due to the storage of the materials or rough condition of the film itself, not resulting from any laziness from Anchor Bay. Kidnapped, the Leone version, is also remarkably free from technical deficiencies. Weighing in at 95 minutes, the movie is treated to a 1.78/16:9 aspect ratio. Print damage is minimal. The transfer is clean and crisp, and the colors bold and realistic, not glossy but toned down to a consistently naturalistic feel.

Now we come to the matter of English Subtitles. Over at Video Watchblog, Bava authority Tim Lucas wrote that there is some slight inconsistency in his commentary. It seems that Lucas offered Anchor Bay the English dialogue he had written originally for the Lucertola disc release. These subs attempted to match the Italian meanings with the harsh spirit/characters of the story, making them more modern. Anchor Bay opted not to use these subs, making some of the 'Lucas Commentary' confusing (not too bad, just a minor inconvenience), as he occasionally refers to his work on the dialogue, and makes mention that the subs are his own work. He asks us to remember that they are not.

Extras for Kidnapped/Rabid Dogs include the usual informative yet personable and unpretentious commentary of Tim Lucas, who explores not only the story on screen but the stories behind the story, including the production's troubled history, Bava's aesthetic goals for the picture, analysis of several key scenes, and many more tidbits. Other extras include the featurette: "End of the Road: Making RABID DOGS and KIDNAPPED," with producer Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava, which is the second best feature of the disc, fitting a solid amount of behind-the-scenes information in its brief running time. These are followed by a well written Mario Bava Bio and a host of Bava trailers. Any way you look at it, this release is a wonderful achievement.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Anchor Bay
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review