Opening with a brutal and bloody bank robbery, Mario Bava’s brilliant Rabid Dogs throws the audience into a visceral world of violence and terrifying tension from the outset and never lets go until the final frame.
Interestingly this intelligent contemporary thriller not only differs vastly from the historical horrors previously made by the director (such as Black Sunday) but also from the more supernatural and Gothic sensibilities of works like Lisa and the Devil and Baron Blood.
Added to this is the fact that although made in 1974, the film was seized by the courts after the producer went bankrupt, only finally appearing on VHS in 1998. Luckily for film fans Bava’s bold movie did resurface and with Arrow’s amazing High Definition transfer to Blu-ray, which is packed with extras including Audio commentary with Bava biographer Tim Lucas, interviews and making of documentaries, it’s a must have for fans not only of Bava but thrillers in general.
Existing in two versions (both included on Arrow’s Blu-ray) the film was re-edited, re-dubbed and re-scored as Kidnapped all under the supervision of Bava’s son, assistant director Lamberto Bava, and producer Alfredo Leone. Rabid Dogs is the title given to Bava’s original version posthumously completed from his notes and the truer form of the film the director considered one of his most important works.
After the heist intro which leaves a string of bodies on the streets of Rome including their getaway driver the crime gang made up of browbeaten leader Doc (Maurice Poli), knife wielding psycho Blade (Aldo Caponi) and the lecherous hulk of a human known as Thirty-Two (Luigi Montefiori) flee the scene and are forced into a gun fight with the police.
Murdering more cops and taking two female hostages one of which dies in the carnage they hijack a passing car containing Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) who is shocked and distressed as he is on route to the hospital with a seriously sick child.
Uncaring of Ricardo’s situation the three murderers and their female hostage Maria (Lea Lander) pile in and aggressively persuade the driver to transport them out of the city and to a hideout they have in a more rural area.
Trapped in the car with the prospect of violence boiling just under the surface the five individuals journey into the unknown, facing the various twists and turns of fate that await them at every turn.
With a simple and stunningly effective set up worthy of Hitchcock and the innovative confines of filming predominantly in the car, Bava’s film is a masterclass in tension as the victims face a long and torturous ride with their captures that could seemingly descend into chaos at any point and often does.
The ever present threat both of physical harm and more upsettingly sexual abuse towards Maria makes the film more stressful to watch for the audience. This ups the suspense at every point until it explodes with deadly and unpredictable consequences which reveal further intricacies to the characters who at first seem two dimensional.
Like Clockwork Orange Mario Bava shifts your perspective on the gang, moving them from heartless evil sadists to almost sympathetic. And the intense performances and realism of the situation enhances the moral complexity and the fear factor making it all the more authentic.
By putting the criminals in center stage Rabid Dogs makes the viewer face up to both their desire to keep watching the humiliation and degradation dealt out to the hostages whilst seeking a redemptive ending that it seems will never come – which sadly is much more like real life than we would all dare to admit.
Rabid Dogs is an excellent thriller and one of Bava’s finest films. Makes it all the more shocking that the world nearly never got to see it.