Mario Bava was famous for his colourful, inventive horror films by the early 1970s. Indeed, the likes of BLACK SABBATH, KILL BABY KILL and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE were already regarded as classics of the genre. But then, as his career hit something of a slump and the budgets started to fall out of his Gothic productions, he turned his hand to another genre that was burgeoning at the time: Eurocrime.

The result was RABID DOGS, a film that could easily have took his career in a whole new direction. Unfortunately, due to the producer's bankruptcy at the time the film never saw the light of day and remained unfinished in Bava's lifetime. It wasn't until 1996, in fact, that his son Lamberto joined with actress Lea Lander and Alfredo Leone to reconstruct the film and finally give it the release it had always deserved. Albeit, they took it upon themselves to make liberal changes to Bava Senior's original vision and retitle the film KIDNAPPED.

Fortunately, as the years passed by, we've been able to see both versions on home video format, enabling us to ascertain that, yes indeed, the father's original film is so much better than his sonís pointless bastardisation. In fact, Mario's RABID DOGS is a masterpiece; Lamberto's touch-up is closer to a travesty.

The film follows four violent thugs as they escape from a heist that's gone badly wrong. One gets shot dead almost straight away, leaving ringleader Doc (Maurice Poli), knife-wielding Blade (Don Backy) and sex-mad giant 32 (Luigi Montefiore) to scarper in a stolen car.

Before long they've been cornered in a multi-storey car park, where a shoot-out results in one dead cop, a murdered civilian and the terrible trio fleeing with a female hostage, the petrified Maria (Lea Lander).

They soon happen upon middle-aged Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla), sitting stationary in his car at traffic lights. Jumping in and demanding he drive them to safety, they're alarmed to then discover that he has a sick boy wrapped in sheets on his back seat. Riccardo explains the kid is his son, is terribly ill and needs urgent medical treatment otherwise he'll die.

Doc doesn't seem to care too much: he insists Riccardo drive him and his mates to the border first, otherwise Riccardo, Maria and the boy will all be shot. Begrudgingly, Riccardo does as he's told.

What transpires from thereon in occurs almost entirely in 'real time' and almost exclusively within the confines of the cramped car. Attempted rape, enforced urination, gunshots to the throat ... I don't want to give TOO much away, but will say that RABID DOGS is a bona fide classic of 70s Euro thriller fare. It's Bava at his most mean-spirited, as well as his most taut and economic.

The script is sharp, pointed and cruel; the performances are exaggerated and effective. Stelvio Cipriani's score is iconic and exciting. And that ending ... that ending is fabulous, time and time again.

But all of that refers to RABID DOGS. KIDNAPPED, on the other hand, re-edits the film, re-scores it to ill effect, adds new scenes filmed in the late 90s for no good reason and basically robs the film of much of its integral charm. Itís a baffling act of graffiti on a film thatís now rightfully viewed upon as a highpoint of the late maestroís career.

Arrow's 3-disc set offers both versions of the film, in both HD and standard definition variants. We were sent the blu-ray disc to review.

The 50 GB dual-layer disc presents both films uncut.

For RABID DOGS, an extensive search was conducted by Arrow last year for decent elements that could be restored in high definition. Alas, despite their online appeals and the help of people like renowned film archivist Marc Morris, Arrow were unable to locate said materials. Therefore they decided to construct a composite print of Bava's original vision, utilising the HD master for KINDNAPPED and editing in standard definition clips from the best-known existing version of RABID DOGS.

The results are, at first, a tad jarring. The credits (opening and closing) both look quite rough, VHS quality. But it's the early scenes during the siege and subsequent getaway that are most noticeable, as a second of footage here and a second of footage there are spliced into the film, the constant dips between HD and standard definition meaning the brightness of the film often alters several times during a single scene.

However, this soon settles down as the film progresses. It's still there on occasion, necessarily so if you ever want to see Bava's vision in high definition, but not as frequently or as noticeably. In truth, it's nowhere near as irritating as I've probably made it sound: the work compiling this composite print - undertaken by Mr Morris - is quite sterling, and we're privileged that so much effort has gone into bringing the uncut, original film to blu-ray in this manner.

KIDNAPPED is sourced from more consistent elements and therefore doesn't suffer the standard definition inserts. In both cases, the actual HD footage is stunning - bold, bright, detailed, colourful: you've never seen the film look this good.

Presented in its original aspect ratio as an MPEG4-AVC file, the film (in both versions) is also naturally enhanced for 16x9 televisions.

Both films benefit from clean, crisp and perfectly balanced uncompressed Italian 2.0 audio tracks. Optional English subtitles are easy to read and well-written for the main part. Interestingly, the translation of identical dialogue is different at times between films.

A vibrant animated main menu page opens the disc, replete with snippets of Cipriani's attractive score. From there, you're able to access either version of the film - each one is graced with a pop-up scene selection menu allowing access via 12 chapters.

Extra features begin with a 9-minute chat with Umberto Lenzi. This featurette, entitled "Rabid Romps", sees the aged Italian director looking back on his buddy Bava's transition from early Gothic horrors like BLACK SABBATH to Eurocrime in the early 70s. He also speaks a fair bit about his own Eurocrime films (TOUGH COP etc), allowing for plenty of highly desirable archive poster art to decorate the screen throughout.

"End of the Road" is the same 16-minute documentary that originally featured on Anchor Bay US's special edition DVD from a few years' back, including interviews with Lamberto Bava, Leone and Lander. The troubled production is touched upon, Lander speaks of the pissing scene being "difficult", and focus is then given to the film's controversial restoration which resulted in the new version, KIDNAPPED...

Also ported across from the DVD release is Tim Lucas' excellent, fact-filled audio commentary - an essential companion piece to the main feature.

A 92-second alternate opening sequence looks very rare indeed, presented in pillar-boxed VHS quality and bearing the title SEFAMORO ROSSO. It bills the film as "Un thriller di Mario Bava". Nice.

This fine set also comes with 2 DVDs presenting both versions of the film in standard definition, reversible cover art (the reverse is the KIDNAPPED artwork with the illustrated dagger a la the aforementioned Anchor Bay DVD release) and a collectors' booklet containing extensive notes on the nightmare Arrow experienced trying to restore the original film, a great new essay by Stephen Thrower and lots of lovely stills and poster reproductions.

Itís been a long time but Arrowís hard work has paid off. Their dual format release of RABID DOGS and KIDNAPPED comes highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Arrow Video
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review