Rabid Dogs Blu-ray Review

A curiosity item in the filmography of Mario Bava, for a start it’s a contemporary heist drama/road movie without a ghoul, ghost or knife-wielding killer in sight, Rabid Dogs (Cani arrabbiati) was left unfinished and unreleased for many years. Its unfortunate history can best be described as a series of clusterfucks that denied fans a look at a different side to the maestro's oeuvre. A variety issues relating to the film took decades to disentangle. 

A cynical and savage story focused on the kind of brazen criminality that haunted the streets of Rome in the 1970s (known as the Years of Lead) Rabid Dogs, upon first appearance, would be a vehicle far better suited to the tough guys of Italian genre cinema: Enzo G. Castellari, Umberto Lenzi or Ruggero Deodato. Bava was famously scared of the dark. The macho world of cops and robbers was a far cry from gothic pictures and gialli thrillers. But the fact that it’s Bava in the driving seat is what makes Rabid Dogs so damn interesting. Here is a director of baroque tastes making a truly minimalist picture. It's like a rational discarding of everything he had ever learned in order to experiment with a new batch of principles. No studio sets, no fancy lighting, no macabre humour. The story unfolds on a stiflingly hot summer’s day, but the subtext and themes are ice-cold. 

A gang of gun-toting thieves with really bad tempers make off with a pharmaceutical company's weekly takings. In a real tight spot, the gang need a getaway car pronto, so they kidnap a man taking his child to the hospital, and then a woman out shopping. Rabid Dogs is a mean-spirited and nihilistic flick. It would have given Sam Peckinpah a hard-on, for sure. 

Long stretches of Rabid Dogs are set inside a family saloon as it hits the back roads of the Roman countryside. The car circles the outskirts of the city like a mad fly trapped inside a glass jar. The use of close-ups, tight angles, the cramped interior and snappy editing crafted a movie of remarkable tension. The sense of heat and discomfort is unrelenting. It's a film you'll feel under your armpits - a sort of 'sweat-a-long' experience.

Bava is clearly having a lot of fun freed from the shackles of the supernatural and murder-mystery plots. The maestro takes the audience for a deeply unpleasant ride with truly contemptible people. Now, finally, we can enjoy what is a very impressive edition to the Italian crime picture from the last person we'd expect it from. Bava had a whole other side to his craft that was left unexplored, except for this diamond of a crime flick. 

Extra Features

Tim Lucas has provided a fine audio commentary track detailing the film's complicated history. An interview with Lamberto Bava offers further details on Rabid Dogs. Italian genre flick legend, Umberto Lenzi, is interviewed about Italy in the 1970s and why it was such a dangerous time. The Alfredo Leone funded cut of Rabid Dogs, known as Kidnapped!, has been made available as an alternative cut. Also included on the disc is an alternate opening sequence and an excellent 38-page booklet with an intro by Stephen Thrower, the short story 'Man and Boy', on which Rabid Dogs is based, and a piece by Helen Mulligan on the difficulties in restoring this particular film by the legendary Mario Bava. This really is one of the best releases by Arrow Video in 2014.

Rabid Dogs does suffer from picture defects. The switch in quality is noticeable throughout, and there is an intro forewarning of this issue. Alas, it is better than nothing at all. The film can be viewed in Italian dubbed with English subs. 

Rabid Dogs is available to buy now