Combustible Celluloid
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With: Riccardo Cucciolla, Lea Lander, Maurice Poli, George Eastman/Luigi Montefiori, Don Backy/Aldo Caponi, Erika Dario, Maria Fabbri, Luigi Antonio Guerra, Francesco Ferrini
Written by: Cesare Frugoni, Alessandro Parenzo
Directed by: Mario Bava
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Italian with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 01/01/1974

Rabid Dogs (1974)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Road Weary

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Mario Bava was finishing up his penultimate film, one of the backers died and all the footage became locked up in a complex legal battle. Bava, who died in 1980, never saw the finished film. It was rescued sometime in the 1990s and Rabid Dogs was assembled. But Bava's son, Lamberto Bava, who had assisted on the original production, was not happy with this cut, and turned in his own cut, Kidnapped, which had a theatrical premiere in 2002. And so, as with some of Orson Welles' films, there is no definitive director's cut, but happily, fans can now decide for themselves on this new DVD from Anchor Bay, which includes both versions.

Despite the younger Bava's insistence, fans seem to far prefer the Rabid Dogs cut, which retains its 1970s-era raw energy. Kidnapped is much slicker and the re-editing (with new footage) loses its punch (it's one minute shorter). Not to mention that Bava biographer (and Video Watchdog editor) Tim Lucas recorded a commentary track for Rabid Dogs and not for Kidnapped.

The film itself revs up with an explosive start: a gang of criminals roars into the scene, kills a few people, and steals a bagful of payroll money. During their escape, the cops kill the driver and shoot a hole in the gas tank. On foot, one of the baddies shoots a woman shopper and kidnaps her friend. The three men and their hostage then grab the nearest available transport, driven by a cool-headed, middle-aged man, accompanying a sick young boy. Like a disturbed stage play, the bulk of the film takes place in the car among this small band of people, playing psychological games with one another, each trying to up the stakes.

The film has been compared to Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972) for its psychological violence toward the woman and the child, but these elements are fairly minor in the film's grand scheme (it's more of a threat than actual violence); not to mention that it was the film's lead actress, Lea Lander, who fought to rescue the film from limbo.

I wouldn't even consider it a horror film; it's more like a Grindhouse-era crime film that reminded me many times of Quentin Tarantino. Rabid Dogs is definitely one of Bava's more pessimistic films, but it shows just how far the master was capable of stretching into a more realistic, less expressionistic palate.

Anchor Bay is labeling their 2007 DVD as Kidnapped, with a small "a.k.a. Rabid Dogs" in smaller type on the cover. Aside from the two films and Lucas's commentary track, we get a making-of featurette that explains more about the two cuts, plus a Bava bio and optional subtitles.

Kino Lorber released this on a new Blu-ray for 2013, but -- astoundingly -- are only including the 2002 Lamberto Bava cut. The Rabid Dogs cut, as well as Tim Lucas's commentary track, are not included. Sadly, this makes the DVD preferable to the new Blu-ray, at least in my book. The only extra is a selection of trailers for the other Kino Lorber Bava Blu-ray releases.

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