|Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Riccardo Cucciolla, Maurice Poli, George Eastman, Don Backy, Lea Lander
Italian horror maestro Mario Bava is known for a series of breathtaking horror films, such as Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, Blood on Black Lace, Lisa and the Devil, and many more. He helped created both the giallo and slasher genres, and influenced several generations of Italian filmmakers such as Dario Argento with his powerful sense of style and color. Kidnapped, better known as Rabid Dogs or Cani arrabbiati, is one of Bava’s only crime films and one of his rare works to discard fantasy or the supernatural to embrace gritty realism.
Four criminals pull off a violent robbery and attempt to make a getaway, but their driver is shot and killed by police. The remaining men are forced to hide out, hijack a car, and take hostages — an older man, ordered to drive, who was on the way to the hospital with his sick son, and a young woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. When they realize they are being followed, they force the driver to take them into the country where the situation rapidly deteriorates.
This is an incredible change of direction for Bava, considering his mostly fantasy-based catalog and the fact that Rabid Dogs follows immediately on the footsteps of the deeply surreal Lisa and the Devil. Other than the possible exception of Bay of Blood, this is Bava’s only film totally steeped in realism that attempts to follow a real-time scenario. The plot is as minimal as possible and we know little about the criminals or hostages, though the lack of exposition works in the film’s favor. The claustrophobic action takes place primarily in the car and is reliant on dialogue and a number of tight performances, particularly from leads Maurice Poli and genre favorite George Eastman, though, as an aside, I don’t know how it was possible for Eastman, 6’9” in real life, to have fit into the backseat of that car.
Rabid Dogs is one of the best (and sweatiest) Italian crime thrillers, but this grim and nihilistic film is certainly not for everyone. Though it doesn’t completely enter the brutal rape-revenge territory it seemingly heads towards, there is a fair amount of nasty cruelty and relentless sexual violence that will leave most viewers exhausted, particularly after the surprise ending. With that said, there are many reasons to see this gritty, claustrophobic masterpiece and it still comes highly recommended.
Until the mid-‘90s, Rabid Dogs was considered lost, as one of the financial backers died during post-production and consequently, the film was seized as part of his estate. Female lead Lea Lander worked to secure the rights, add a title sequence, and have a near complete version of the film released. There are now two versions and what Kino has released is the second print known as Kidnapped, an insufferably stupid and annoying title that will only make sense when you’ve seen the film. Bava’s original work print, Rabid Dogs, is the superior print. His son, Lamberto Bava (Demons, Macabre), got together with producer Alfredo Leone in 2007 to film some additional scenes and re-edit a new version with a different soundtrack. While the additional scenes will likely not bother anyone coming to the film for the first time, they throw off the pacing and dumb down the otherwise effective twist ending.
Mastered from a 35 mm archival print, Kidnapped is presented in 1080p resolution with an aspect ratio of 1.84:1. Kino has done an excellent job restoring this print. As always their restoration is minimal, so the film still essentially looks like a crime film from the ‘70s, with all the grain fully intact. Despite my disappointment with some aspects of this release, Kidnapped looks better than it ever has and there is only minimal evidence that the source print is from the mid-‘70s, such as minor specks. Overall colors, contrast, and details look great. This print is noticeably superior to the older Anchor Bay DVD and this is currently the only way to see the film in HD and on Blu-ray.
The available audio track is a Linear PCM 2.0 in Italian with English subtitles. While the track sounds good and dialogue and effects are clear and easy to hear, I should mention that there is some obvious dubbing throughout the film. There are no major issues with the audio, but this might be a little jarring for anyone expecting the original language track to be dub-free. If you’ve seen a lot of low budget Italian crime and horror films, this won’t be a surprise. The worst part about the audio and one of the most grating things about this version of the film is the score from Stelvio Cirpriani (Bay of Blood, Tentacles). This is actually the second score and replaced the original composed for Rabid Dogs with some absolutely awful synth music that cuts into the film’s intensity and suspense at seemingly every turn.
The extras here — or lack of extras — are downright embarrassing, and make it difficult for me to recommend this release. The only special features included are a number of Bava trailers for films that Kino have recently released on Blu-ray: Black Sunday, Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, etc. While several of Kino’s ‘70s cult releases have had similarly thin special features, the earlier Anchor Bay release of Rabid Dogs included both prints (Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped), a wonderful commentary track from Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas, and a featurette, “End of the Road,” full of interviews with cast and crew.
Though this print of Kidnapped looks wonderful, I simply fail to see the point of releasing just the inferior Kidnapped version versus choosing the original Rabid Dogs or including both. The utter lack of special features when a few great ones already exist make it hard for me to recommend this Kino Blu-ray. Regardless, this is one of Bava’s most surprising, unapologetically brutal, and nihilistic films, and deserves to be seen. It is the best this film has ever looked.
~ By Samm Deighan