Saturday, 27 December 2014

Blu-ray Review: Rabid Dogs

Mario Bava's 'Rabid Dogs'(1974) had a troubled production history to say the least.
With the lion's share of the film completed, the production company went bankrupt, and Mario Bava never got to see it released. Actress Lean Lander paid off various debts and acquired distribution rights, but things never really got off the ground. Eventually, Alfredo Leone purchased the film and Mario's son, Lamberto, filmed new footage which was married to a re-orchestrated score. The new version was titled 'Kidnapped', and appears alongside 'Rabid Dogs' on Arrow Video's new Blu-ray release.

The films begins with a robbery at the Gaboni Pharmaceutical Company where guns and a knife are used in a bloody heist. When the driver of the getaway car is shot dead, Doc (Maurice Poli) takes the wheel and finds his problems are only just beginning. His accomplices - the lecherous 'Thirty Two' (George Eastman) and psychotic 'Blade' (Don Backy) - are a tough duo to handle, indulging in menance and molestation when they kidnap Maria (Lea Lander) in order to shake off close police attention. A child and a remarkably cool travelling companion (played by Riccardo Cucciolla) are also abducted, with the former seemingly requiring urgent hospital attention. Doc and his teammates share an exceptionally callous attitude towards their captives, constantly humiliating the frightened woman, and also insisting the life of the child means nothing to them. It's a harsh and brutal regime to contend with and as the majority of the running time takes place within the confines of a car, it's also claustrophobic in the extreme. Even exterior scenes when the film moves to outdoor locations bring no relief, for the viewers or for the shell-shocked hostages, delivering carnage and a supremely difficult to watch scene as Doc struggle to control his men.

'Rabid Dogs' - thanks to Bava's considerable talents and the efforts of various parties - is a totally compulsive crime drama that's a world away from resurrected Baron's, ghostly little girls and fashion houses of death, though it ultimately shares one of his recurring themes: that the line between the living and the dead is wafer-thin.
As previously noted, 'Kidnapped' features a new score (which, for me, fails to eclipse the tense 'Rabid Dogs' soundtrack) and new footage, which includes additional heist footage, and introduces a tearful woman who's in telephone contact with the police on several occasions. See which version you prefer, and if you're watching for the first time, you'll enjoy following events right up to the twist ending.
Image quality on Arrow's Blu-ray release is exemplary, with bold colours, strong detail and healthy fleshtones which only depart for several very brief periods when an alternative source had to be used.

The supplementary material begins with a commentary track from Tim Lucas, editor of the essential 'Video Watchdog' magazine, and author of the wonderful Mario Bava book, 'All The Colors Of The Dark'. Tim delivers valuable cast and crew information; discusses the film's production history, and also finds time to clear up a few misconceptions. He also calls 'Rabid Dogs' the film of a young man, and highlights just how much of an accomplishment it was. It's another fine track from a historian who must surely the best in the business when it comes to increasing our enjoyment and understanding of film.
The commentary is followed by 'Bava And Euro Crime' - a 9 minute interview with Umberto Lenzi. Here, the director tells of his admiration for Bava (who he didn't get to know as a friend), and of Ricardo Freda and his influence on Bava. He also discusses the organised crime scene in Italy, and of police and security forces who were behind the times.
It's good to see Lenzi contributing, and his presence brings further authority to this release.
'End Of The Road: Making Rabid Dogs And Kidnapped'runs for just over 16 minutes and features interviews with Alfredo Leone, Lamberto Bava and Lea Lander. Mondadori mystery novels are discussed, and there's further amplification on the film's troubled production history and financial woes. It's a treat to see these important figures discuss past events, and somewhat moving too, when we consider the road to the film's completion outlived its illustrious director.
'Semeaforo Rosso' Alternative Opening Sequence' follows, being a 92 second alternative credits sequence: a nice addition for the completist's amongst us.
The package is rounded off with another of Arrow's excellent booklets, this one featuring writing on the film from Peter Blumenstock, Michael J Carroll and Helen Mullane. Notes on Tim Lucas' translation and the transfer are also included, together with some wonderful stills.

Arrow's Mario Bava collection continues to bestow reverential treatment on one of the most important film director's ever, and I wholeheartedly recommend this latest instalment.

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