Director: Mario Bava
Anchor Bay Entertainment

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 (not present on either version on this disc) 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 are included in this latest release by Anchor Bay, which will thankfully be the final stab at offering the maestro’s most diverse project to American audiences.

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.

Despite being sourced from an existing “work print,” the transfers for KIDNAPPED and RABID DOGS both look pretty good, presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers. Colors are solid and detail is strong, with only hints of grain and print damage. KIDNAPPED is producer Alfredo Leone’s approved version which changes the music (from the same composer, Stelvio Cipriani), has different dubbing (both versions are presented in Italian only with English subtitles) 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. The score heard here is also preferable, sometimes cribbing from Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida!”

Extras include an audio commentary on RABID DOGS by Bava biographer Tim Lucas, which includes a lot of informative factoids about the cast (which he often included quotes) and the making of the film. Lucas also confirms that it was shot in the summer of 1975, laying to rest theories of it being shot between 1973-74. Lucas also wrote the English subtitles which are different than what is transcribed in the KIDNAPPED version. “End Of The Road: Making RABID DOGS and KIDNAPPED” is a featurette which includes interviews with Lamberto Bava, Alfred Leone and actress Lea Lander, who was instrumental in lifting the film from obscurity and first releasing it to DVD a decade ago. The featurette offers the main back story, and reveals that Leone originally wanted an American star like Ernest Borgnine or Martin Balsam to play the “father,” and that 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). Rounding out the extras are a text bio on Bava by Richard Harland Smith, and trailers for other Bava titles available in a DVD box set from Anchor Bay. (George R. Reis)