Rabid Dogs (also known as Kidnapped and Wild Dogs) nearly became Mario Bava’s “lost film” after a series of production hassles and a freak accident that claimed the life of one of its financial backers during the summer of 1974, only to be rescued from obscurity some 20 years later by Spera Cinematografica, a production company headed by actress Lea Lander. In the film, a group of bank robbers kidnap a young woman (Lander) and, later, a man and his sick child in an effort to dodge a widespread police hunt. The back of the film’s now out-of-print DVD cover likens Rabid Dogs to “Quentin Tarantino remaking Last House on the Left—inside a moving car”. But while Rabid Dogs is every bit as nihilistic as the Wes Craven classic, it’s not quite the same type of cautionary tale. Over the course of 90 minutes, the film’s ghoulish bank robbers mentally torture Lander’s squealing Maria and the man who will supposedly drive them to safety. Because the film lacks the expressionistic kick of some of Bava’s early works (Blood and Black Lace, The Whip and the Body), the film is often viewed as a stylistic departure for the director. But there’s no mistaking Bava’s unique fascination with religion and its complicated struggle against human reason (see Kill, Baby…Kill for more). The film’s thieves are certainly monsters (they force Maria to urinate in front of them and repeatedly torture her with the idea of rape), but they’re also remarkably loyal to the group order. Though Blade (Don Backy) doesn’t feel any remorse at the prospect of killing a sick child, he feels extreme regret when a farmer accuses him of trying to steal a bunch of grapes. A model of economic storytelling, Rabid Dogs is a collection of chilling litmus tests that repeatedly point to humanity’s complex notions of moral decency and entitlement. The seemingly immoral Dottore (Maurice Poli) spearheads the operation and while he seems to care only about saving his own hide, he’s still sensitive to the cons his men and kidnap victims repeatedly try to pull. The film’s final scene sees the virginal Maria dying so that a young babe could live. This unselfish act of spiritual sacrifice is fascinatingly subverted by a final plot twist so shocking that it forces the spectator to reevaluate everything that transpired prior. Quite cynically, Bava evokes a human society where no one is to be trusted.
- Spera Cinematografica
- 96 min
- Mario Bava
- Cesare Frugoni, Alessandro Parenzo
- Riccardo Cucciolla, Lea Lander, Maurice Poli, George Eastman, Don Backy, Erika Dario, Maria Fabbri, Luigi Antonio Guerra, Francesco Ferrini
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