This is a real gem of a movie and one that has been missing in the annals of time until recently when star of the film Lea Lander, along with some German backers and Bava enthusiasts helped get it out of the litigation hell it had been embroiled in to be finally seen. Due to the fact that producer Roberto Loyola went bankrupt the film was never completely finished and the existing footage of the 1974 movie was seized. Obviously with Bava dying in 1980 he never got the chance to finish it and this was posthumously completed from his notes. Just to make things all the more confusing an alternative cut of Rabid Dogs known as Kidnapped was made with the help of Mario’s son Lamberto and producer Alfredo Leone. I shall come onto the differences between these later but in the extras of Arrow’s presentation which contains both cuts of the film on dual Blu-ray and DVD there is a very insightful extra ‘End Of The Road’ making of segment recounting all the trials and tribulations of the films.
The movie itself was a bit of a curveball for Mario Bava. Although he had worked across genres making everything from sci-fi to peplum titles he was best known for his Gothic horror tales such as Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963) as well as crime giallo including Blood And Black Lace (1964) and Bay Of Blood (1971). Although there was a certain amount of notoriety with that particular title even landing on the banned list during the video nasty scare he felt he was being somewhat left behind by a new breed of Italian directors making gritty, modern and violent thrillers in the cop and gangster genre and this was his attempt at that. Italian crime films known as Poliziotteschi had emerged in the 60’s and become very popular during the 70’s and quite a lot of well-known directors were getting in on the violent action and viscerally blasting the crap out of the screen in lurid detail plotting criminals and police against each other in dramatic fashion. I guess one thing that unites the films is that everyone in them pretty much on both sides of the fence is a complete and utter bastard, totally ruthless and not letting anyone stop them in their tracks. Directors such as Fernando Di Leo, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato and Enzo G Castellari were liberally creating violent blood soaked dramas with ever more inventive deaths and gore splattering their audiences. Many of these are due for reappraisal and release and some are making it to DVD at last.
Rabid Dogs was an equally excessive slice of crime slime which quickly thrusts the viewer straight into the action as a hoodlum gang of 4 (bang, nope make that 3) go on a payroll heist leaving dead bodies strewn in its wake. A couple of girls are seized as hostages, one killed and the other forced into a car with the gang. Forced to swap vehicles with her as hostage they end up carjacking a vehicle driven by a middle aged man and his young ill son who is asleep and being taken to hospital for an emergency operation. From here it becomes a road movie in essence with most of the action shot in the vehicle in real time. If that sounds boring to you forget it, it’s not in the slightest due to the excellent acting and situations that the constantly at each other’s throats cast find themselves in. The gangsters are Dottore (Maurice Poli) who is in charge and exudes a cruel air of authority over everything, Blade (Don Backy) a deranged and dangerous knife artist who has no compunction against carving up human flesh and ThirtyTwo (George Eastman aka Luigi Montefiori) a hulking, lecherous drunken beast and the muscle not the brains behind it all. With them are driver hostage Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) and the snatched female captive Maria (the aforementioned Lea Lander). I won’t mention the kids acting or abilities as he spends the entire film asleep!
It’s an intense and volatile mix of characters and all are a delight to watch as they move along through the stifling heat of the day from motorway to the Italian countryside getting caught in road works, having to make pit stops for petrol, water, whisky and encountering all sorts of problems along the way. There’s plenty of action, escape attempts, humiliation, misogyny and violence on the road and watch out for the most annoying hitch-hiker ever seen in the history of film. Eastman is especially going to be of interest to Italian exploitation fans as the actor, director and scriptwriter is well known from roles in everything from Western baddy to cannibal “he ate a real baby” gut munchers. He plays his part with a real dangerous and deranged glaze in his eyes, on the edge of being out of control and a bomb waiting to go off throughout. It’s a real race through the entire film and the ending is a complete humdinger that will leave you gasping
Another thing that should be mentioned is the excellent Stelvio Cipriani score, which is catchy and repeated to such an extent you won’t shift it from your head for days. It was this that was one of the main differences between Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped, the producer decided to replace it with something trite and schmaltzy completely losing the impact and tension it created. He also redubbed the film and added a couple of parts which help as ever explain things a bit to home audiences who never seem to manage to catch up with what is going on in foreign films (it was essentially done for the American market). Personally I have watched this version the once (I have had an Anchor Bay region 1 release of both films for some time) and never wanted to see it again. I think that most people would agree that Rabid Dogs is by far the superior cut of the film.
Apart from the ‘End Of The Road’ extra there is a short interview with Umberto Lenzi contextualising the short lived sub-genre of films and what was in reality going on with organised crime gangs in Italy at the time. Also there’s a commentary track with Bava Biographer Tim Lucas and an alternative opening title sequence for ‘Semaforo Rosso’ an Italian variant of the film, making Arrow’s release the one to go for and the most comprehensive way of finally seeing the films. So “Lock the doors, roll up the windows, and buckle up…for the ride of your life!” Hopefully some more of these gritty action crime thrillers will make it to DVD in the same authoritative fashion as all the ones I have seen are a real blast!
(Review Pete Woods)