BLU RAY REVIEW: RABID DOGS / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: MARIO BAVA / SCREENPLAY: ALLESSANDRO PARENZO / STARRING: LEA LANDER, GEORGE EASTMAN, RICCARDO CUCCILIOLLA, DON BACKY, MARIO FABRI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Mario Bava might not be a name hugely familiar to modern moviegoers, but to reasonably well-informed cineastes he’s often regarded as the godfather of the ‘giallo’ genre of Italian thriller movie. An accomplished screenwriter, cinematographer and FX artist, his best-known works are probably Black Sunday and Planet of the Vampires and 1971’s Twitch of the Death Nerve is often cited as one of the inspirations for the ‘slasher’ horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s. Rabid Dogs (variously known as Red Light and Kidnapped) is probably his masterpiece and certainly the film that Bava, who died in 1980, was most proud of. It’s not difficult to see why.
Quentin Tarantino is on record as stating that Bava is one of his favourite directors. If not for the fact that it was filmed in 1974 but not released until 1998 (the footage was literally held for ransom for decades by the investors when the already-shoestring budget ran out), it wouldn’t be too huge a leap of faith to assume that Rabid Dogs was uppermost in Tarantino’s mind when he was crafting Reservoir Dogs, his own first masterpiece. In Rabid Dogs, a payroll robbery in downtown Rome goes disastrously wrong and the survivors of the gang take a terrified young woman hostage and hi-jack a vehicle driven by a nervy middle-aged man whose passenger is a sick and delirious child. Told more-or-less in real-time, the film follows the gang’s attempts to make their way to their hideout outside Naples where they can pick up a secondary getaway car. But the psychopathic Blade and Thirty-Two are growing restless on the journey and they start to abuse and intimidate the terrified Maria, and Doc, the more temperate leader of the gang, struggles to keep them under control as the driver, Riccardo, tries to keep a cool head as tempers fray and tensions escalate.
Rabid Dogs is a tough, ugly and difficult movie, almost a psychological study in mounting desperation, punctuated by moments of raw, off-hand violence. As the gang’s heist goes disastrously unstuck and they find themselves on the run, we’re trapped in the stifling confines of the car for virtually the duration of the movie and Bava ratchets up the sense of claustrophobia and growing menace like a master craftsman. Poor Maria becomes a plaything for the bored and frankly hateful Blade and Thirty-Two - the treatment she receives makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially in the sequence where she effects a temporary escape from the gang’s clutches - and an already unbearable situation becomes even worse when a ditzy innocent hitches a ride when her own car breaks down near a garage they’ve briefly stopped at for fuel.
Utterly gripping and often unflinchingly dramatic, Rabid Dogs builds up to an explosive climax and yet has one last gut-punch of a twist up its sleeve which will quite possibly leave you breathless with its audacity. Beautifully-restored by Arrow, this new Rabid Dogs transfer positively sparkles; Bava’s ultimate masterpiece is a vibrant, intense and unforgettable experience. Essential for Bava fans and a more than worthwhile purchase for those who’ve yet to discover his idiosyncratic oeuvre.
Special Features: Commentary / Production featurette / Interviews / Booklet
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