In 1974, Mario Bava (Black Sunday) crowned a rich career dedicated to genre cinema by directing Cani Arrabiati (Rabid Dogs in English), a moist and tense low-budget thriller following the escape of three bank robbers after kidnapping a young woman, a middle-aged man and his daughter. Bava was trying to re-invigorate his career, after the commercial failures of his recent movies (especially Lisa and the Devil which struggled to find a distributor and ended up being heavily re-edited and re-shot in a desperate attempt to get it a theatrical release), by trying to fit more with contemporary Italian cinema then dominated by poliziottesci. Bava would never see the final version of Cani Arrabiati as the film was seized by the court when the producer went bankrupt in 1974, during the final stages of production. Tied up in legal wrangling, the movie became legendary and wasn't really released widely until 1998 when Peter Blumenstock, a German Film journalist, instigated a restoration of the movie in accordance with Bava’s original intentions, under the literal title translation Rabid Dogs, for the home video market (this version, and the less interesting one created by Lamberto Bava (Demons), son of Mario and assistant on Cani Arrabiatti), and Producer Alfredo Leone, has recently been released on a gorgeous blu-ray by Arrow Video). It is now considered one of Bava’s best movies.
This is this movie that Éric Hannezo, an ex-sport journalist and occasional producer (The Players, an anthology movie featuring Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lelouche, both recently in The French), decided to remake last year. If the movie is still calledRabid Dogs for its international exploitation, in French Hannezo decided to lose the ‘Dogs’, simply calling it Enragés, in an attempt to move away from its illustrious predecessor.
The plot of the movie is exactly similar: a bank job goes wrong. The armed robbers take refuge in a shopping centre. Surrounded, they take a woman hostage and hijack a car driven by a man on his way to hospital with his sick child.
If the idea of a contemporary French remake of a famous 70s Italian movie seems at first sight bound to fail, the cast of the recent version, made of established actors like Lambert Wilson (Of Gods and Men), Laurent Lucas (Calvaire) or Virgine Ledoyen (The Beach), and promising newcomers like Guillaume Gouix (Midnight in Paris), and the crew behind the camera (the movie was co-written by Yannick Dahan, writer and director of the highly referential The Horde, and the cinematography assured by Kamal Derkaoui who did an amazing job on Pascal Laugier (Martyrs)’s underrated The Tall Man), sounded at least intriguing.
And if the result is not the envisaged disaster and remains watchable, partly due to its crepuscular cinematography and some interesting scenes towards the end of the movie, it is far from rivalling with Bava’s version. A shame when considering that the remake starts reasonably well with an intriguing opening scene (paradoxically assuming the reference to the original’s title) and a visually striking credit scene. Unfortunately, the Canada set and the polished yet disarmingly banal direction and cinematography, anchors the first third of the movie into a frustratingly common TV looking style look.
Another major issue with Hannezo’s version is the complete lack of characterisation of the main protagonists. You can feel that the director and his writers have tried to instil some originality in the way of explaining the past of the bank robbers by moving from the archetypal flashback scenes, but the lack of means and/or ambitions led them to justify the bank robbers’ motivations via a ridiculously simplistic analogy to dogs’ mistreatments illustrated during scenes shot in the corridor of an abandoned factory lit by an ugly red light. In contrast, the force of Bava’s movie was partly due to the total lack of explanation of the bank robbers’ history or background making them very scary because indefinable. Even worst the remake’s complete lack of tension, one of the main strengths of Bava’s movie, ultimately leads it to be no more than a futile stylistic exercise.
Metrodome is releasing Rabid Dogs on DVD on August 22nd.
The film will only be available in the UK on DVD in a correct looking version which doesn’t suffer from Hannezo and Derkaoui’s bold lighting choices while preserving the crepuscular atmosphere of the movie. No major defects are to be reported on this release.
There are two audio choices on the disc: Stereo 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1. On the review disc I reviewed, both tracks were clear with no issues to report.
The disc doesn’t offer any extras.