Rabid Dogs (1974) | Mario Bava’s legendary lost psycho-drama is a blistering thrill-ride

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Lock the doors, roll-up the windows, and buckle up for the ride of your life!
One sweltering Friday morning, the Ajaccio street gang make off with the wages of a pharmaceutical company after a violent raid. When their driver is shot dead and their getaway car runs out of petrol, they take hostage a man on his way to hospital with his sick son in the back seat and a woman out shopping. The gang then head out of the city…

Rabid Dogs (1974)
Mario Bava is one of those film directors who really can turn his unique talents to any genre: horror, sci-fi, psychological thriller, fantasy. And his 1974 crime thriller Rabid Dogs (aka Cani Arrabbiati), is one that I have always wanted to see, but never got around to, mainly because Bava never got to finish it (the producer went bankrupt and the footage impounded), and the releases that came out after his death in 1980 were never his intended vision. Now, Bava’s psycho-drama has been given the Arrow makeover, and they should be commended for undertaking this once lost cinematic gem. It’s the best thing they have done, to date.

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Bava was really hurt by the failure of his dream project Lisa and the Devil (read my review of the Arrow release here), so he decided to try his hand at a crime thriller, which had become popular in Italy in the mid-1970s following the success of the Dirty Harry and Death Wish films. The veteran director drew his inspiration from a 1971 mystery magazine short story (which is reprinted in the collector’s booklet), then put his own spin on the story (adapted by Alessandro Parenzo) by setting it in real time, using real locations (mainly concrete highways, petrol stations and an underground car park), and giving it a docu-Hitchcockian vibe.

It was a departure for a filmmaker best known for artfully-conceived, studio-bound Gothic chillers and psycho thrillers drenched in vivid purple and green lighting effects. But for this sun-scorched thriller, he dispensed with artifice to get up close and personal with the sweating cast crammed inside a stifling hot car (you can almost smell the fear – and the BO), while we, the audience, watch as the power play between the criminals and their hostages builds to a blistering climax (and very clever twist ending).

Rabid Dogs (1974)

It’s this claustrophic technique that makes Rabid Dogs rise the countless other ‘poliziottesco’ films of the era, and why it has its champions in the likes of Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas (who supplies the audio commentary on the Arrow release and also helped rescue it from obscurity in the 1990s) and genre specialist Stephen Thrower, who best sums up the film as ‘a taut, energised, antagonistic film suffused with an amphetamine intensity that leaves the viewer knotted with anxiety and frustration’.(*)

What also grabbed me was the mesmerising performances; particularly Lea Lander (who reminded me of Karen Black), whose unfortunate hostage gets pawed at, slobbered over and humiliated by two of the thugs, Thirty-Two (played by Luigi Montefiori, aka Western star George Eastman) and Blade (Don Backy). These guys are so maniac with their facial expressions its quite unnerving to watch. Brilliant though!

Rabid Dogs (1974)

Interestingly, it was Lander who helped revive the film from obscurity in the first place by putting together the film’s original DVD release in 1998. The film was then re-edited and re-scored by Lamberto Bava (Mario’s son) and released under the title Kidnapped (a re-mastered HD version is included in Arrow’s release).

Arrow’s restoration, however, is a re-master of Bava’s intended version of the film and uses composer Stelvio Cipriani‘s original retro score (completed for Bava’s first cut), which is way better than the tinny synth track he created for Kidnapped. I could go on – but really just do yourself a favour and add this one to your cult collection. It’s a winner!

Arrow’s special features include both the Blu-ray and DVD presentation of Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped with new English subtitles. Also included is the 2007 documentary, End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped, an interview with Umberto Lenzi, and the alternate Semaforo Rosso title sequence.

(*) Quote from Stephen Thrower’s Fear by Noonlight [great title btw] article in the collector’s booklet

About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on December 15, 2014, in Cult classic, Must See, Must-See, Thriller and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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