One of the main joys of DVD has been that numerous "lost" films have been rediscovered by the format and Mario Bava's films have benefited more than most from rebirth on a new medium. With the advocacy of people like Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, and, head Bavaphile, Tim Lucas, new viewers have taken a chance and shelled out on these releases. The desire for all things Bava has grown and even extended itself to relatively minor works like I Vampiri and unfinished ones like the film under review here. Rabid Dogs, Cani Arribiati, Semaforo Rosso and now Kidnapped, Bava's lost film has had quite a life already on DVD due to the various rights holders who have sought to capitalise on the thirst for the film. With the US rights now in the hands of regular Bava producer, Alfredo Leone, the film has now been "finished" by son Lamberto. Anchor Bay have released this completed cut along with one of the unfinished versions of the film.
Rabid Dogs, much like Bay of Blood before it, is a tale of moral corruption and decay, and a grim story it is too. Claustrophobic and filled with inhumanity, the film is the ultimate in heist movie as comment on the parlous state of the human condition. The film begins with a gang ambushing the delivery of the payroll for a factory. The ambush is bloody and starts a domino effect of calamity and injustice where innocence is simply irrelevant. Characters who act honorably find themselves humiliated or killed, and the criminals responsible are irredeemable and hungry for vice. The robbery goes wrong and bodies begin to pile up as the gang kidnap first a woman shopper, and then a car with an older man and a seemingly sick child inside. Forced at knife-point to evade the police helicopters and road blocks, this devil's road trip heads towards a devastating conclusion.
Even in its unfinished form, Rabid Dogs had an irresistible momentum, and the completed version of the film titled Kidnapped attempts to add greater continuity and a sense of context to proceedings. The added scenes include inserts of police helicopters, scenes with the child's mother, and new opening titles. Kidnapped tries to complete what was one of the most well-written screenplays of a Bava film and this version re-records the Italian dub, adds digital effects and a complete score from Stelvio Cipriani. This makes the movie easier to follow and more whole, basically the whole affair becomes a more comfortable watch and this is the problem. Rabid Dogs was embittered, original, cynical, nasty, and very rough around the edges. Unlike many of Bava's films the atmosphere was not ameliorated or compromised, the film stood in its imperfection and rawness, and seemed even more painfully sincere for that. The lack of trademark ingenious effects, stylistic cinematography, or whimsical humour differentiated the film from his previous less hard-boiled pictures. In the form of Rabid Dogs the film achieved a moral message that posing exploitation pieces like Last House on the Left never will, for whilst Bava understood beauty he also could represent cruelty in its full repugnance. The finessing of Kidnapped means more people will find the film less challenging, and consequently less of a trial to watch, and I think this goes against the grain of the film's message.
The new scenes are not too obvious to new viewers, but they do stick out to more seasoned fans as they seem static and uninspired against the sheer brio of the central drama within the moving car. These car scenes are worthy of immense praise for their accomplishment and dramatic intensity. 25 years later, Gaspar Noe achieved something similar with the taxi journey in Irreversible, but this was aided by digital effects and the brilliance of Benoit Debie, and to be frank even that excellence is no match for how Bava uses the car to focus the tension and bring the terror home. As Kidnapped, the film is an enjoyable curiosity for euro-cult tourists, but as Rabid Dogs Bava surpasses the majority of his own work with a pure anger and a rough passion. It deserves a place alongside Aldo Lado's great The Night Train Murders as an intelligent gem of an exploitation movie. Bava made glossier, warmer films but Rabid Dogs is his most effective comment on the world we live in.
Anchor Bay present the film with the two options discussed above. You can choose to watch the "finished" version of the film, Kidnapped, or the previous cut by choosing from two menus. The cut of Rabid Dogs presented here does not include the silhouetted crying inserts that you will find on the Lucertola disc and the film ends on the car boot scene as well. The Rabid Dogs cut is clearly superior lacking the cheesy new score or the Lamberto Bava directed additions. The film is presented in both versions at 1.78:1 whereas the Lucertola disc was at 1.66:1. The anamorphic transfer has been cleaned up substantially and the colour boosting has been appropriately done with flesh tones looking sweaty in keeping with the claustrophobia of the movie. The image is very sharp if not very detailed, and the print has minor hairs and regular brief marks upon it. The transfer looks better than the film did on the Lucertola disc and upgrading for picture quality seems a no-brainer. The audio has been re-recorded as according to the commentary no complete audio track existed, the quality of both audio tracks for the different versions of the film is very good with no distortion and minimal imperfections. The English subtitles which follow the feature are of the yellow removable variety and the translation is not always literal but they are easy to follow.
Tim Lucas provides his usual excellent commentary and it bodes well for his forthcoming book that, after numerous commentaries on Bava, he still has more to impart to the audience. He gives good biographical detail on the actors, discusses the casting, and explains some of the recurrent themes in the film which reflect Bava's whole work such as the use of religious ruins and the references to Greta Garbo in the dialogue. The disc also comes with a 16 minute featurette on the film which interviews Lea Lander(Kruger), Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava as it looks into the problems in getting the film made, and then the rights issues that prevented its release. The special features are topped off with a biography of Bava and the trailers of the other Anchor Bay releases from the maestro. One word, and a gripe at that, I do wish Anchor Bay would stop starting their discs with trailers rather than going straight to the menu.
A true lost classic gets its best release yet. Ignore the Kidnapped version and watch the original edit here as the picture and sound quality is possibly as good as we could expect for a film with such a chequered history. This is one of Bava's best films and a true gem for Euro Cult fans.