Mario Bava’s intended Rabid Dogs finally comes together in this new special edition
After a bloody robbery that leaves one of their gang dead, three vicious criminals make a desperate getaway by kidnapping a man and his sick child. Originally directed by legendary Italian genre director Mario Bava, Rabid Dogs was the first Italian film to have its narrative move completely in real time. This new, deluxe release includes both Rabid Dogs, Bava’s original version posthumously completed from his notes and Kidnapped, the re-edited, re-dubbed and re-scored version, supervised by assistant director Lamberto Bava and producer Alfredo Leone.
Mario Bava had made his mark in Italian cinema directing haunting films such as Black Sabbath in the 1960s. Tastes changed and lurid crime thrillers had become all the rage in Italy. Bava dropped the stylistic atmosphere so common in his prior films and embarked on a grim, straightforward giallo, Rabid Dogs. He died in 1980 thinking it was an unfinished failure as a series of unfortunate events had prevented its final completion and release. The crime film has finally come together as close to his original vision as time allows, years after his death, marking it an artistic success and one that adds to Mario Bava’s legacy.
Rabid Dogs starts with a pulse-pounding opening sequence, as criminals rob the weekly payroll of a pharmaceutical company. The small gang makes it clear from the beginning they are hardened criminals, willing to do anything to escape the law and steal the money. In a desperate bid to escape Rome after one of their partners is killed, the three criminals take a woman hostage.
Maria (Lea Lander) was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, used as leverage in case they need something to trade with police or as a human shield. She is dragged along against her will, constantly toyed with and harassed by the men. Needing an impromptu getaway car, all four take another man’s car and force him to drive away from the city.
Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciola) is that car’s driver, but the kidnappers soon discover a young child is with him. Riccardo says the child is sick and has to go to the hospital. The criminals ignore Riccardo’s concerns, forcing him to drive outside the city. Things escalate in an air of suspense and tension, as the hostages realize these criminals are desperate. Their lives are at the criminals’ tenuous mercy.
Rabid Dogs has a kinetic sense of pacing in its taut drama, slowly unwinding like a dangerous python. One is always waiting for the other shoe to drop, especially as the criminals get more and more desperate. The hierarchy within the criminals is fascinating to see unfold. There is Doc (Maurice Poli), the nominal leader of this criminal enterprise. His subordinates include 32 (Luigi Montefiore) and the mercurial Blade (Aldo Caponi). They are all sharply-drawn characters, given wildly different personalities.
Mario Bava moved outside his comfort zone and delivered a compelling giallo in Rabid Dogs. A cult predecessor to stylish crime films like Reservoir Dogs, the film would have been a critical success in the 1970s if released. Finished for the first time as Kidnapped by Lamberto Bava and long-time associate Alfredo Leone, we finally see what Bava intended. It is a definite treat to finally see Bava’s vision come to fruition, the last movie he directed by himself.
Both Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped have had a tortured history concerning their actual release. The original film by Mario Bava had been shelved since the 1970s, unfinished. Mario Bava died in 1980 thinking the entire project was an unseen failure. In 2002, Kidnapped was released with new editing and scoring, supervised by Lamberto Bava and producer Alfredo Leone. Kidnapped has been released before on Blu-ray, most noticeably by Kino Video in the United States.
Arrow Video undertook an ambitious project, deciding to release for the first time anywhere a cut of the film far closer to Mario Bava’s intended vision, titled Rabid Dogs. The enclosed booklet generously details the laborious process it took them to acquire suitable materials for releasing Rabid Dogs in Hi-Def on Blu-ray. The original film negative had been cut for mastering Kidnapped, leaving Arrow having to manually construct Rabid Dogs out of inferior-looking sources for the instances when the two versions differ.
Most of the transfer for Rabid Dogs is taken from the Betacam master tape for Kidnapped. Color correction was used to blend the disparate sources as best possible, though one will notice changes in contrast and color tonality when the source elements switch. I have to commend Arrow Video for the work put into this previously unseen cut, they could have easily forgotten it and no one would have complained. Unfortunately, some shots had to be taken from standard-definition quality sources.
Both versions of the film are included on a single BD-50, presented in the same 1.85 widescreen aspect ratio. Rabid Dogs runs 95:51 minutes, while Kidnapped runs slightly shorter at 95:30. The biggest differences in content between the two versions are shots of police helicopters and scenes of the child’s mother in Kidnapped, left entirely out of Rabid Dogs. Both receive a quality AVC video encode, averaging around 23 Mbps for each main feature. It handles the light grain structure in a transparent manner.
For a vintage Italian film, the transfer isn’t that bad. Many older Italian masters have been slathered with DNR and other forms of video processing. While Kidnapped has less detail and clarity than a completely fresh film scan from original elements, the Betacam tape-derived transfer has solid definition. This is not eye-popping video, the colors are a little washed-out and overall clarity could be sharper. My score is more a reflection on Arrow Video’s efforts in bringing Rabid Dogs to Blu-ray for the first time.
Explanation for the transfer’s origin by Arrow Video, taken directly from the included booklet:
“As discussed elsewhere in this booklet, the disjointed release history of Rabid Dogs has meant that essential elements required to transfer the film and restore it to Mario Bava’s original vision have been cut and moved around over the years. Despite a lengthy international search, many elements, from the original negative through to distribution prints, could not be found. As such, the decision was made to create a composite version of the film, using the newly remastered Kidnapped master and two separate Standard Definition tape masters, which are all that could be located. This composite version was carefully assembled frame by frame and then re-graded to improve consistency between source elements.
While every effort has been made to present Mario Bava’s original cut of Rabid Dogs in the highest quality possible, there are noticeable variations in image quality throughout, owing to the reliance on Standard Definition video source materials. The audio is also not of pristine quality, as it comes from a dated SD source.”
The original Italian monaural soundtrack is presented in fine 2.0 PCM audio. The score has pleasing fidelity and its dialogue is perfectly intelligible. For a low-budget giallo, it is a strong effort that serves the movie very well. There is decent enough bass and mid-range punch, the mastering is a bit on the compressed side.
Arrow Video has provided newly-translated English subtitles for Rabid Dogs, going to great lengths in preserving the Italian cultural nuances for modern audiences. The enclosed booklet helps explain some of their translation choices, including why they went with Doc as the translation for the head criminal’s name.
This special 3-disc edition contains each cut of the movie on both Blu-ray and DVD. New reversible cover art has been included in a clear Blu-ray case. Typical of Arrow Video’s past history, a lavish 40-page booklet with new essays go into some depth about Rabid Dogs and Mario Bava. The collector’s booklet features new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower, Peter Blumenstock on the history of the film’s first distribution, and more.
Commentary by Bava Biographer Tim Lucas – Author Tim Lucas gives one of the most prepared commentaries I’ve heard. It’s a thorough monologue, delivered from what sounds like prepared text. He goes through the various complications in making this film, relating to the larger context of Bava’s career. It does get a bit dull at times, as the speaking is a little stiff for a commentary.
Bava and Eurocrime: An Interview With Umberto Lenzi (08:54 in Italian, with English subs) – The Italian director broadly speaks on Bava’s career and his entry into Italian crime thrillers with this effort.
End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped (16:30 in Italian and English) – A short documentary piece interviewing Lamberto Bava, Lea Lander, and Alfredo Leone. This concisely explains how the two versions came about and their history.
Semaforo Rosso Alternate Opening Title Sequence (01:30 in SD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.