Long considered to be a lost film, Mario Bava's RABID DOGS was made in 1974 but got entangled in a legal dispute which kept it in limbo until it was restored for a 1998 video release. The wait was well worth it, as the riveting crime thriller proves to be one of Bava's best films, albeit
in a totally different vein than his usual metiers of horror and fantasy.
During an armed robbery, four violent criminals kill two people. When their getaway car runs out of gas, they grab a woman hostage (Lea Lander), then jump into another car, forcing an old man named Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) to drive them out of town. However, Riccardo has an unconscious child
in the back of the car and pleads with them to let him take the boy to a hospital for an emergency operation. Doc (Maurice Poli), the gang's leader, refuses, and the two other robbers, nicknamed 32 (Luigi Montefiori) and Blade (Aldo Caponi), sadistically taunt Riccardo by pretending to stab the
little boy. Blade and 32 also torment the woman-whom they call Greta Garbo-with lewd remarks and physical advances. When they reach the outskirts of Rome, Greta tries to run away during a bathroom stop. Blade and 32 catch her, then humiliate her by making her urinate in front of them.
Back in the car, 32 exposes himself to Greta and Doc warns him to leave her alone, but after getting drunk, 32 tries to rape her. Doc is forced to shoot him, but he doesn't die right away. When they stop for gas, a woman named Maria (Erika Dario) asks them for a ride, but when she sees the dying
and blood-covered 32, Blade kills her. Her body is dumped on the side of the road, along with the still-breathing 32, who has to be shot again. When they reach their safe house, where a car is waiting, Doc prepares to kill the hostages, but Riccardo whips out a pistol and shoots Doc and Blade.
Before dying, Blade fires back and kills Greta. Riccardo grabs the money and drives away with the child in the new car. He then stops to phone someone, from whom he demands 3 million lire in ransom for the life of the child that he's got in the car.
The rescue from oblivion of RABID DOGS is a major rediscovery for Bava fans, for it reveals that even at the age of 60, the horror maestro was capable of moving beyond the realm of his customary genre. Although Bava had finished principal photography and assembled a work print, he had no money to
cover the final editing following the death of his producer's financial backer. This resulted in the producer filing for bankruptcy and the film elements being impounded in a property dispute. More than 20 years later, a production company run by actress Lea Lander (who plays "Greta") bought the
film and reconstructed it based on Bava's original notes. The only scene not originally filmed was a brief prelude, in which an unknown woman is seen sobbing. This was shot in 1997 and has been placed under the new opening titles. Considering that the film had been languishing in a vault
somewhere, it's in surprisingly good condition, with the expected grain and faded colors actually adding to its raw power.
The film itself is a taut nihilistic thriller without a trace of pity or sentimentality, as Bava wrings every ounce of terror out of what was obviously a very low budget, and thankfully keeps his sometimes excessive use of zooms to a minimum. The opening heist sequence is superbly handled,
employing tilted angles, aerial shots, and slow-motion, and the entire film moves at a breakneck pace, even though most of it takes place inside the speeding car. Bava's inventive editing and stylish compositions never allows the tension to flag and creates a sweaty, claustrophobic atmosphere
that's filled with dread, while the script is structured to allow for pit stops along the way, adding to the suspense. The film's most impressive accomplishment is how it cleverly contrasts the criminals' loathsome appearance, crude language, and barbaric behavior with that of the "normal" looking
Riccardo, the seemingly loving father whose rational demeanor is revealed to be a disguise for his cold-blooded ruthlessness. Even without this great final twist, the film would be an expert crime thriller, but the twist adds an ironical extra dimension to the story's exploration of the true
nature of evil. (Graphic violence, extreme profanity, sexual situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1974
- Rating: NR
- Review: Long considered to be a lost film, Mario Bava's RABID DOGS was made in 1974 but got entangled in a legal dispute which kept it in limbo until it was restored for a 1998 video release. The wait was well worth it, as the riveting crime thriller proves to be… (more)