Kidnapped (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers would have avoided all this if he would've just ran that red light...
When their getaway car is damaged and their driver shot, a trio of criminals kidnaps a hostage carjacks an innocent bystander (or bysitter in this case, I suppose). In the car is an ill child in need of medical attention. The gang forces the driver to leave the city and avoid the police, despite his son’s condition. What follows is a real time account of a very twisted day.
Towards the end of his career, now in his 60s and constantly overshadowed by younger filmmakers like Dario Argento, Mario Bava attempted to rejuvenate his filmography with Kidnapped (or Rabid Dogs, or Cani arrabbiati, Semaforo rosso, Wild Dogs, etc.), a grim and gritty thriller like no other film in his collection. The multi-nominal feature was the victim of studio aliments, producer deaths, and a general lack of funding, and was never finished or released. After several years of diligent work, lead actress Lea Lander finally secured the rights and the film was released in a rough cut form as Rabid Dogs. This version found it's way onto American DVD thanks to the efforts of Image Entertainment.
Now that the initial release has been out of print forever, Anchor Bay is releasing the recut, rescored, and partially reshot version under the title Kidnapped. Bava's son, Lamberto, a protégé of both his father and Dario Argento, who frankly never amounted to much as a filmmaker, in my opinion, has added a few additional shots his father never filmed and tightened the editing. Like most post-mortem fiddlings, this leads to a less accomplished motion picture. Most of this review will refer to the original rough cut.
The beauty of Rabid Dogs is that it's about as raw as cheese-grated flesh. Bava has always, and will always be known for his incredible polish and attention to detail. Rabid Dogs features very few bravado camera moves, its colours and lighting are real-world derived, and the framing is often disgustingly tight. The film is meant to evoke a documentary or news reel feel, much like the work filmmakers Sam Peckinpah (both The Getaway, and Straw Dogs are obvious influences) and William Friedkin ( The French Connection is another obvious influence) were pumping out at the time. The style is again common in these modern days of reality TV and post-70s film revival.
To digress, the Friedkin connection is kind of ironic considering Friedkin was obviously influenced by Bava in his later hit The Exorcist, and Bava then ended up directing Shock, which was sold as a pseudo-sequel to an Exorcist rip off called Behind the Door or Chi sei?, and retitled Behind the Door II. Anyway, the point is that Rabid Dogs is a special film that represents an ingrained and aging filmmakers successful attempt at reinvention. The tragedy is that the public never saw the film in Bava's lifetime, and his final directorial work on Shock was more or less a regression.
Rabid Dogs is dirty in a way only found in low to medium budgeted, mid-70s thrillers, a purposefully gritty style that was popular in B-pictures (and some A-pictures) all over the world. The film is grainy, the lighting unflattering, but these are all the means to a very realistic end. The actors sweat like skewed boars throughout the rapid timeline, their greasy facades making the viewer feel the uncomfortable, literally and figuratively 'hot' nature of the situation. In spite of a few off story threads and some overwrought acting, not to mention the dated look of the clothes and hairstyles, it's next to impossible not to get wrapped up in this nearly nihilistic tale of crime.
Rabid Dogs looks like the film of a young man, an angry young man. It doesn't quite manage the peaks of anger that bleed from Peckinpah's best work, but there is a palpable ferocity. The immediacy of the threat, and spiteful realism of the characters is the kind of thing that makes the film worthy of the lofty title of 'Long Lost Classic'. There are some script problems (though not any plot holes, as is the norm for Italy in the period), and I could use with even more obstacles thrown into the road, but the overall effect is pretty breathtaking.
Lamberto's recut is tighter, but the new scenes take a lot away from the film's final twist (a real doozy), and are very, very obviously directed by a less talent filmmaker in a different time period. The musical score is much slicker and less repetitive, but is all wrong for the film, especially after seeing the original cut and score. I admit that Rabid Dogs has some editing issues, but there is no way I'd call it an inferior product, despite Bava Jr.'s insistence that his father would hate the rough cut's release. The only addition to the rough cut (differing from the Image release) I noticed was the new opening titles, which I enjoyed very much.
Both versions of the film appear well worn, but not surprisingly Kidnapped is slightly cleaner overall. Both versions are anamorphically enhanced, and feature several of the same pitfalls, though they are slightly enhanced on the work print version. For a work print, Rabid Dogs is pretty stunning actually. The recently added scenes on Kidnapped stick out like big old sore thumbs because the film quality doesn't even come close to matching.
There are artefacts aplenty on both versions, including some thin track lines and chunks of dirt. Colours seem well represented, though contrast levels are very high, creating sharp edges between skin and sweat. The grain is omnipresent, but fine enough, and serves the film well. I can't say either transfer is a revelation, but unlike some of Bava's Technicolor work, not to mention his more artistically planed black and white features, I prefer this film dirty.
Kidnapped features, in addition to its new score, a new Italian dub track (most Italian films of the style and era were filmed without sound). The track features much more accurate lip-sync, and the performances are a little better. The redubed sound effect (gunshots, tires squealing, etc.) sound far too modern. The original version may sound a bit artificial, but it is a familiar artificiality to anyone who’s seen more than a few '70s era Italian thrillers. The fidelity of the Kidnapped track may be more impressive than the tinny distortion of the Rabid Dogs track, but it ends up sounding like a lie.
As in the films included on the other Anchor Bay Bava release of the week, Kidnapped features a commentary from Bava expert and biographer Tim Lucas, taken from the earlier Image release (on his blog, Lucas warns that the English script he takes credit for on the track is not used on the Anchor Bay release). Lucas' track is one of those tracks that makes any historical or critical content found in my review moot. He's unsurprisingly prepared and full of important info, but he also manages to make critical notes on the film, which is uncommon for 'expert' tracks. The track isn't wall-to-wall, as Lucas takes plenty of breathers, but I can't really think of much else I'd like to hear about the film, it's director, or it's actors.
The commentary is complemented by a 16 minute documentary, entitled End of the Road, about the film's rough and tumble birth, and eventual release. The doc doesn't cover much ground not already covered by Lucas, but puts faces to the names, and allows the usual suspects to put the situation in their own words. Noticeably missing from the doc are all the actors except for Lea Lander, who I already mentioned was the person that finally secured the right to release the film. I know some of the actors are dead, but am especially curious as to what grindhouse favourite George Eastman had to say about the film.
I suppose the inclusion of Rabid Dogs is kind of an extra in itself, as this DVD could very easily have been only the inferior recut version. I'm not inclined to include this in my final score, but appreciate it. Things are finished up with a collection of Bava trailers.
It's always great when a lost gem is found, and it's even better when the gem is worth the dig. Kidnapped and Rabid Dogs are both worthy films, but only the latter deserves a spot on Bava fan's must-see lists. Those disinterested in Italian horror, but fanatical about '70s crime cinema like that of Sidney Lumet, William Friedkin, and Sam Peckinpah will also want to add it to their list. This DVD includes an invaluable commentary track from the always invaluable Tim Lucas, and more than passable A/V.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 3rd April 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono Italian
Extras: Tim Lucas Commentary, End of the Road, Mario Bava Bio
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Riccardo Cucciolla, Lea Lander, Maurice Poli, George Eastman, Don Backy
Length: 96 minutes
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