Review Date: April 17, 2007
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: 4/3/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.77:1 | 16x9: Yes
What is sad about most artists, and people in general, is that they hit their peak far before they throw in the towel. Greatness is often achieved in mid-life, and the rest of it is subject to diminishing returns. How great would it have been to see Bob Clark go out with the western he always wanted to do, or Fulci his collaboration with Argento. Instead, their final films were Baby Geniuses 2
and the substandard Voices From the Deep
. John Ford’s last was Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend
, and Frankenheimer’s was Reindeer Games
. That’s not how anyone would want to go out, and for many years that was Bava’s tale as well, with the mediocre dramedy, Four Times That Night
, being his last completed film as sole director. With the unearthing of his much maligned Rabid Dogs
a few years ago, history could finally be reinvented. This was to be the masterpiece for which he would finally be remembered. Anchor Bay has presented the film here (in two cuts, no less) for the first time in North America. Is this how we want to remember Mario, or is this shelved film the dog its title suggests?
Three hoodlums make off with the payroll from a pharmaceutical company. Their driver gets shot by police, and they are forced to scramble for another getaway car. They get in a shootout and finally make away in a car from a parking garage, but the cops all over Italy have the plates. At an intersection, they hoods and their hostage quickly switch cars with a older man with his child. The child is sedated and wrapped in a blanket, and the man is trying to get him to the hospital. His plans, however, are trounced when the leader of the hoods, “The Doctor” (Maurice Poli
), demands Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla
) and his child tag along with them on a road trip out of the city.
What transpires is a 95-minute examination of social psychology, as the riley Blade (Don Backy
) and Thirtytwo (Anthropophagus
’s George Eastman
) physically and psychologically torture the captive Maria (Lea Lander
). They force her to “piss her pants” (as David Hess would say) and Thirtytwo then shows her the true meaning of his name (that’s centimeters, not inches). We’ll read her as the Virgin Mary, but in this nihilistic world, any sacrifice is for naught. As with most crime films, the reckless behavior of the criminals get the best of them, and Thirtytwo’s sexual abandon threatens to blow everyone’s cover. The Doctor, whose name obvious suggests authority, must thus clash with his two accomplices in a bid for order.
Despite making out with millions, The Doctor shows a quiet compassion for humanity, wanting to just get through his one last score. He clearly identifies with the elder father beside him, even if he forces the man to neglect the child that is clearly dying in front of them. The Doctor just wants to get away, but he’s got himself in a mess that no man can get out of, not the characters, nor the audience. The world of Rabid Dogs
so brutal, the punishments so severe, that death seems a sort of salvation.
If the synopsis couldn’t tell you as much, Rabid Dogs
is a major thematic departure for Bava. Faced with dwindling box office and interest, Il Maestro sought to reinvent himself with a film culled from the realist aesthetic of The Last House on the Left
and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
. Gone is the gothic and gone is his style, there is nary a tinted light or dynamic shot to be found. What we have instead is deceptively simple, a movie occurring almost entirely in one constrained location and without any visual effects. The irony is that, despite appearing as far removed from the Bava canon as one could imagine, Rabid Dogs
is without a doubt his most personal statement on life and the arts. It is a masterpiece, really, hampered only by the fact that external factors prevented Bava from ever finishing the film further than a rough cut. Still, what is there is the culmination of Bava’s life as an artist.
On the surface the plot seems so simple, robbers fleeing from the police eventually getting their comeuppance, but Bava has a lot more going on behind the car doors. What we are viewing instead is his commentary on the topical age divide between the young and the old. With Woodstock, Vietnam or any other sixties cultural landmark, the clash between young opinion and old was in full swing. It was as equally a part of Bava’s career too, where he saw his type of film replaced with modern films from younger directors, including those of his own son, Lamberto Bava. We see Bava embody a youthful aesthetic here with his visual approach to Rabid Dogs
, but throughout there is definitely a conflict. Whether played out in style or in the backset of the car, where the youthful hoods sit opposed to their front seat superiors, this is a film about difference.
In the front of the car we have the “doctor” and a father, two emblems of adulthood. They focus on goals; they have places they need to be and plans on how to achieve it. The boys in the back, on the other hand, live for the moment, as instinctual in their desire for sex and violence as the dogs of the title. An abrasive cross cutting of bloody death and a pinball machine truly showcases the divergence between age and responsibility. Bava clearly illustrates throughout that it is the youth causing the problems; were it not for Thirty two and his untamed libido, the robbers wouldn’t likely be in the tense situation in which they find themselves. Without the calm and composure of the adults, the youth with their progressive ideas and uncensored expression, end up creating more harm than good. Bava clearly illustrates here, a contempt for the generation that has replaced him as Italy’s storyteller.
The progressive thing about all of this though, is that Bava doesn’t just reduce the age difference to a black and white. It would be easy to point fingers one way or the other, as many of the young American pictures of the time attempted. Bava surmounts all clichés and expectations with his final resolve. On its own, it makes for a great crime movie twist, but looked at from Bava’s perspective, it is a morbidly joyful assertion of aged strength. “Yeah, the youth are mucking things up, but don’t discount us old folks,” you can hear Bava saying. At dark comedian at heart, Bava has joy in pulling the rug of expectations out from his audience here, boldly stating that even if the youth have taken over, he can do them one better…or worse.
Either powerfully nihilistic or comedy at its blackest, the final moments of Bava’s Rabid Dogs
are among his finest. Never has he so skillfully manipulated the audience, and never has his statement as an auteur been as bold. We live in godless times, as the naming and killing of his “Maria” character certainly suggests, and nobody, not the youth, not the old, are innocent. Everyone is guilty. As cynical a statement as the finale seems, you can just picture Bava smiling in the background. He made a horror film in the vein of youthful directors, and did it better than almost all of them.
was shelved as a workprint before it was ever completed, and for a (non) film of such age to be discovered and remain in such good shape thirty years later, is a true blessing. It is though, still a workprint, so the missing frames, scratch lines and debris are to be expected. Working with what they’ve got, Anchor Bay has done a stellar job at transferring the picture, giving real punch to those saturated colors, making the film look more like Bava’s early Technicolor days than the washed out aesthetics that usually hamper horror films of the same era.
As for the difference between the two prints (more on the subject matter in the Supplements section), the Rabid Dogs
print looks a little worse, with higher contrast and less detail. The colors are more vivid with the Dogs print (as is usual with high contrast stock) but the Kidnapped
print obtains a better balance. The Rabid Dogs
print is also slightly pinched compared to the Kidnapped
version, with faces looking a little longer than they really shoot. Still, the differences in ratio are negligible, and considering the vast superiority of Rabid Dogs
as a film, one must settle for the slightly inferior transfer. Both are 1.77:1 anamorphic, and both contain roughly the same amount of print damage, but both are still effective transfers of a maligned film.
The film is presented in English mono only, with new English subtitles created by Tim Lucas. Lucas has done a meticulous job with the subtitlting, even if a few moments still come off as awkwardly phrased. The audio, well, it’s there, and it sounds alright. There are a couple small sync issues that happen from scene to scene, usually resulting from dropped frames (check out 1:10:35 in the Rabid Dogs
cut), but overall it isn’t too distracting. Considering the obscurity, we should be happy to have sound at all.
First thing’s first. There are two cuts of the film on this disc, the Rabid Dogs
cut and the Kidnapped
cut. Basically, Rabid Dogs
is the workprint that Bava was close to signing off on until the plug was pulled on the film. Kidnapped
is a version completed only recently by Lamberto Bava and producer Alfredo Leone, with smoother cuts and a few added scenes. While Lamberto Bava attests to his Kidnapped
cut being the more true to Bava’s vision, I beg to differ, since the added phone call scenes do nothing but deflate the power of the unexpected finale in Rabid Dogs
and the alternate Stelvio Cipriani score is much too temperate compared to the jarring ferocity of his Rabid Dogs
track. Every single alteration in Kidnapped
goes against what works so well in Rabid Dogs
, including even the commonly reviled scene of Maria singing obnoxiously in the car. That scene only further establishes Bava’s morbid humor, and without it the black comedy of the finale is no longer intact. Why Anchor Bay chose to release the film under the Kidnapped
moniker is a mystery to me, in all ways the Rabid Dogs
cut is far, far superior.
Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the supplements. Tim Lucas’s commentary is as strong as his ones on the Bava box, and thankfully a tad less academic. He seems to be a lot more conversational about the tumultuous production history, and dishes out a lot of great facts. He spends a little too much time giving biography to every actor on screen, but with dry wit and facts in hand, he makes for an informative listen.
|From the featurette||Kidnapped added scene|
The seventeen-minute featurette, “End of the Road: The Making of Rabid Dogs
” further details the history of the film and its two versions, with interviews with Lamberto Bava, Alfredo Leone and actress Lea Lander. Lander’s role in the history of this film is noteworthy, as she alone was almost single-handedly responsible for the film being rescued today. Bava and Alfredo detail the cuts and changes for their version of the film too, so even if you probably won’t agree with their reasoning, you’ll want to see what they have to say.
is in everyway the perfect swan song for its ailing director. Both the last film he’d direct on his own and the only film devoid of his trademark style, this was both a closing and reinvention of the man who had shocked and entertained so many. The definitive statement on aging and the difference between reckless youth and composed adulthood, its finale is as bold a statement as the director would ever make. Anchor Bay does the master proud in presenting Rabid Dogs
and the grossly inferior Kidnapped
cut on the same disc with solid extras, an improved subtitle track and a surprisingly vibrant transfer. Bava fans will be in heaven with this, but those who never took to his gothic horror need to check this out too. If ever there was a window into the corrupt brilliance of the Bava, this is it. Highly recommended.
Movie - A
Image Quality - B
Sound - C+
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - C+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour and 35 minutes (Rabid Dogs), 1 hour 36 minutes (Kidnapped)
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Italian mono
- English subtitles
- Commentary with Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas
- "End of the Road" featurette
- Anchor Bay trailers
- Mario Bava biography