The story, essentially, one long getaway sequence, begins when 4 armed robbers hit a payroll delivery. With the cops in pursuit, their driver is shot dead and the remaining gangmembers kidnap a woman and force a man on the way to hospital with his sick and comatose child, to take them to their remote hideout...
Rabid Dogs may be Mario Bava's roughest looking film, don't expect any pools of surreal lighting in this one, the director goes for a natural, often primitive look that is entirely suited to the proceedings. This is one of the most compressed thrillers you are ever likely to see, the entire film taking place in the space of a few hours, and most of the action set in the cramped confines of a car. Occasionally Bava opens up the action - a crowded gas station stop where help seems tantalizingly close, and a magnificent sequence where the woman makes a desperate escape attempt through a field of crops only to be debased and humiliated for her transgression.
Bava's direction is a masterclass of film making, placing the audience right there in the car. Logistically, it must have been quite difficult to shoot actors speaking dialogue in such tight conditions but the film meshes together so seamlessly, Bava makes it all look effortless. Performances are pitch perfect and each of the actors attend to their roles with utter conviction, not an easy task I'm sure as the dialogue is often extremely nasty, with the two heavies in the gang dishing out sexual slurs and threats of physical abuse to the three hostages. The always great George Eastman, appearing here under his real name Luigi Montefiori is especially menacing and creates a palpable mood of barely contained violence.
Rabid Dogs comes right at the beginning of a new era of Italian Exploitation cinema, films like Night Train Murders, Terror Express and House on the Edge of the Park, which were dark, deeply pessimistic, and featured disturbing sexualized violence. In fact, Bava's film delivers an absolute knockout twist at the climax which is as bitter and cynical as it is ingenious.
After the Italian financier behind the film was killed, the funds required to complete post-production dried up and Rabid Dogs went into freefall. However, Bava's lost film made a surprise comeback almost two decades later when its lead actress Lea Lander acquired the rights to the film and had it reassembled in line with Bava's original intention. Furthermore, Bava's American producer Alfred Leone then purchased the rights a few years later and shot some additional scenes (by Lamberto Bava) to flesh out the story and the film was re-scored and renamed Kidnapped. Viewing the two versions (available on Anchor Bay's Kidnapped DVD), the older Rabid Dogs cut is much superior, the additional scenes in the Kidnapped cut manage to dilute the tension in Bava's taut thriller. Also, Stelvio Cipriani's Rabid Dogs score is far superior to the Kidnapped music.
Rabid Dogs was released on DVD in 1997 courtesy of German soundtrack specialist label Lucertola Media. However, the best edition of the film is the Anchor Bay Kidnapped DVD which includes both versions of the film. The image (letterboxed at around 1.66) and sound are very impressive considering the film's ragged history and the disc comes with another essential Tim Lucas commentary and an excellent featurette on the trials and tribulations of this great Mario Bava treasure.