Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bravo, Bava! Mario's RABID DOGS (aka Kidnap-ped)--his best film--proves a streaming "must"

When one thinks of that 1960s-70s Italian filmmaker Mario Bava, horror, slasher and/or giallo movies first come to mind. This is because, till now, most of us have not been given the chance to see what is hands-down Bava's best film: a little heist-followed-by-kidnap movie called KIDNAPPED (in the original Italian Come cani arrabbiati or Rabid Dogs), which has been resurrected in an excellent Italian-language-with-English-subtitles version, given a hi-def transfer and is currently being streamed via Netflix.

Though best-known for a film -- Black Sunday -- that, despite its gorgeous and chilling black-and-white cinematography and a malevolent performance from Barbara Steele, doesn't hold up so well as any kind of a champ in the horror genre, it is this tight and absolutely right, ground-breaking thriller (his penultimate film, made in 1974) that is going to be remembered. This one holds up about as well as a forty-year-old film in this crowded genre has any right to do. Here, Signore Bava (shown at right) proves himself a master of suspense, surprise, black humor and much more. This film is so much better than so many other more widely-heralded genre pieces that attention really ought to be paid.

The film begins with a terrifically well-done heist scene (above), followed by a spectacular chase which leads to (maybe accidental) murder and a kidnapping (below)

and then to yet another kidnapping (below) --

leaving our three perps (below)

and their three victims (two of which are shown below; the other is a sick and sleeping infant),

stuck together in a car for an extraordinarily lengthy time (camerawork in the tight interior of the car is first-rate), which Bava puts to amazingly good use, with believable, exciting stops and starts.

The best of these involves an escape attempt in which the escapee is caught and forced to pee in front of her captors. This must have been ground-breaking stuff back in '74 (still is, actually), and while it is raw and rough, it never goes over the top into camp or the grossly bloody stuff we find in so many horror or giallo films.

How Bava and his screenwriter Alessandro Parenzo handle all this -- the logic of it, the twists and turns, the simply stunning climax and denouement (as darkly surprising as I wager you've seen) is exemplary.

The cast turns in exemplary performances, too: from Riccardo Cucciolla (above), as the quiet, reasonable father of the sick child, to the frightened-to-the-edge woman (Lea Lander, below) who has seen her neighbor slaughtered and now must put up with kidnapping and the attention of the two crazies who keep threatening rape.

Oddly enough it is one of those crazies who turns in the film's most memorable performance: a tall, rangy, very sexy actor named George Eastman (above, right, and below) who plays a fellow nicknamed 32. This won't mean much to us Americans, unless we realize that Italians are on the metric system, in which 32 centimeters translates into a little more than 12-1/2 inches, which should begin to bring 32's unusually ample anatomy into better focus.

There's another ground-breaking scene in which 32 pulls out his piece (Bava's camera remains discreetly in the front seat), hardens it up and insists that his victim service him. While this guy and his friend and accomplice (nicknamed "Blade" for the knife he sports--and uses) are surely reprehensible types whom you want to see put out of their misery, by film's end you can't help feeling a bit sorry for them, too, as opposed to the heartless guy in charge, called Doc, who radiates a nasty, evil, uncaring intelligence.

After viewing this little B-movie wonder, one wonders: Had Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped appeared toward the beginning of Bava's career rather than its end, might he have chosen to work more often in a different genre?

Whatever: The movie can be seen now on Netflix streaming, while the newly re-mastered Blu-ray edition, from Kino Classics, can also be purchased from the usual suspects.

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