Director: Mario Bava
Kino Lorber/Kino Classics

Thought to be a lost film for many years, Mario Bava’s mid 1970s crime thriller, RABID DOGS, remained on the shelves after one if its producers died and its assets became frozen. In the mid 1990s long after Bava’s passing, the footage was put together into a comprehensive feature, and new wraparound scenes (no longer present in any subsequent release of the film) were added for a 1997 DVD release from Lucertola Media, now long out of print. More recently, yet another version titled KIDNAPPED was fashioned by producer Alfredo Leone and Bava’s son and frequent assistant Lamberto. Both versions were included in a DVD issued by Anchor Bay a few years ago, but now Kino Lorber has fashioned a beautiful quality Blu-ray of the KIDNAPPED version only.

Three cold-blooded criminals – Dottore (Maurice Poli), Trentadue (or “32”) (George Eastman, aka Luigi Montefiori) and Bisturi (or Blade/Stilleto Don Backy, aka Aldo Caponi) – rob the payroll of a pharmaceutical company, with their fourth companion being shot during the getaway. Now toting a sack full of cash, the trio takes a hostage in a woman named Maria (Lea Lander) after stabbing her shopping partner in the neck. Needing new transportation, they then hijack the car of a middle-aged man named Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) who is harboring a very sick young boy wrapped in a blanket. What follows is a nerve wracking journey of helpless hostages in the hands of heartless, savage rogues on the run from the law and capable of just about anything.

Whether it’s the KIDNAPPED or RABID DOGS incarnation of the film, the outcome reflects a sharp contrast to Bava’s usual flashier works. Taking place almost entirely in a moving automobile, the film is tense, gritty and ultimately mounts a sweaty sense of claustrophobia set during a hot summer day in Rome. The heavy dialogue – which only helps to develop the characters better – doesn’t distract from its excellent pacing, not to mention the kick-ass opening sequence and a rather twisted surprise ending. Bava was a stylist in every genre he dabbled in, and this is no exception. The bare minimum filming techniques here still allow for some remarkable camera set ups and ingenuity within each edgy sequence, making this one of the best of the Italian crime thrillers of the 1970s.

Despite the film’s sleazy heavies and their callous practices, the onscreen violence is not at all overboard (Bava’s earlier TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE was far more graphic) and often implied with aftermath shots of various victims, showing that the director had control and could be subdued even in such exploitive trappings. A scene where the sleazo team of Trentadue and Bisturi force Maria to urinate in front of them was most likely influenced by the recent success of Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which itself resulted in a number of Italian-made imitations (Bava’s own TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE was often passed off as a LAST HOUSE sequel to American drive-in patrons). The cast on a whole does a fine job, but acting honors here go to gigantic George Eastman (proudly using his real “Luigi Montefiori” moniker) as one of his many cinematic sicko characters, and Riccardo Cucciolla as the calm “father” who was unfortunate enough to get entangled in the ultimate day in hell. According to Leone, he originally wanted an American star like Ernest Borgnine or Martin Balsam to play the “father,” and actor Al Lettieri (THE GODFATHER, THE GETAWAY) was initially cast as the gang leader but was fired immediately due to his alcoholism (Lettieri died of a hear attack in ’75).

With the previous Anchor Bay DVD presenting both KIDNAPPED and RABID DOGS from an existing “work print” source, Kino’s new Blu-ray represents the KIDNAPPED cut only. This is considered producer Alfredo Leone’s approved version and changes the music (from the same composer, Stelvio Cipriani – the preferable RABID DOGS score sometimes cribbed from Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida!), has different dubbing than RAPID DOGS (both versions were in the Italian language only) and several new scenes (seamlessly integrated) which Leone felt where instrumental to the plot. The version known as RABID DOGS includes bits that were removed from Leone’s version, and contains a different title sequence, as well as a different ending. As the previous DVD transfers of the film had evidence of print damage, this Blu-ray transfer of KIDNAPPED is quite sparkling, mastered in HD from a 35mm archival print in 1080p in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The clarity is quite impressive, the image is extremely clean and skin tones seem natural. The Italian language lossless 2.0 mono track is satisfactory all the way through, and the optional English subtitles easy to decipher.

The excellent commentary by Bava biographer Tim Lucas recorded for the previous DVD is unfortunately, not carried over here, and Lucas also wrote the English subtitles for the RAPID DOGS version which are different than what is transcribed here in the KIDNAPPED version. Unfortunately, the featurette from the DVD (which featured interviews with Lamberto Bava, Alfred Leone and Lea Lander) is not present here either, so the Anchor Bay standard def edition is still worth hanging on to, and it of course includes a different cut of the film which some fans actually prefer. The only extras here are trailers for other Bava titles in the Kino Bava collection: BLACK SUNDAY, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, BARON BLOOD, LISA AND THE DEVIL and THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. (George R. Reis)