Rabid Dogs (Mario Bava, 1974) – Review

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Fascinating, even if it was quite far from what I was expecting. Love the treatment of the villains here, and the way that we are forced to care about them in a way. The fact that they have hostages, most notably a dying child, makes us care about whether these “rabid dogs” will be captured because, if they are caught (or the threat of being caught becomes believable), we know that they won’t hesitate to kill the hostages, and so because we care for the hostages, the tension comes from (technically) not wanting the perps to be caught or found, which is very clever and quite subtle. The way that the villains are framed is also very interesting. At first, I fell for the animal comparisons – I mean, it’s in the title, and there is one particular scene after one hostages tried to get away where two of the three are grunting and licking their lips in anticipation of quite the awful act – but shortly after that, it became apparent that really the comparison is more to children than anything else. 

In one scene, the two less sensible villains are toying with the female hostage, telling sexual jokes and shouting and laughing, and when the driver puts the radio on, they stop instantly and start gently dancing as though nothing was happening. Shortly after this, they both fall asleep, and in that scene they actually rest even more than the child hostage, who is groaning and going ahead. It’s also not out of the way to look back at the scene early on when they seem completely incapable of knowing why the police are actually chasing after them, with them screaming “It’s not their money!”, and asking why they should care more than anybody else. They’re extremely reactionary, and the only thing that really goes against the idea that they’re more childlike is their rugged look and (some of) the sexual work that they do (though even some of that makes a lot of sense in context). It’s also illuminating when they try to attack their leader at one point when he gets in the way of their sexual behaviour, and the only reason that the other is hesitant is because it attracts the attention of other passers by.

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Putting that aside, this may just be Bava’s nastiest film. Usually, Bava is this great mix of restraint and explicitness, using his more explicit images at the start and the end of the film to, first, give the audience an idea of what is to be feared in what is to come and then just to give an explosive, memorable finale, and then he uses much more implied horror inbetween to survive the censors (or try to, at least) and to create some memorable chills, but here he is just full on for the majority of the runtime. It’s one of the most consistently shocking and repulsive films I’ve seen in a little while. 

The editing is perfectly frantic during these moments of trouble, too. At one point, there is this amazing cross-cutting between a close-up of a bullet hole in a person and a pinball machine flashing away, and during the opening chase the editing is always just slightly off the mark, cutting a little too early, which actually makes the tension much stronger as everything feels slightly more sped up, slightly more threatened. The cinematography also complements this beautifully, with frequent use of extreme close-ups that become really uncomfortable and even disorienting at times. Bava, much like Fulci and Argento, is known for his use of zooms, and this film is no exception (I’ve always been a sucker for them, as many of you will know – and it seems to only be Italian directors who use them well, with maybe an exception to the Safdie Brothers and William Friedkin), with wonderful moments of silence and a zoom used to emphasise the horrific acts portrayed.

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I’d also be a fool not to mention the score. It’s vaguely familiar to me for some reason, though I’m sure I haven’t seen this before – I’m assuming it’s just similar to other scores I have heard before – but Christ, it’s such a great score. It’s this wonderful, pulsating piece used throughout during the brief silences and it just works wonders in holding the tone and drawing out the discomfort. I won’t be surprised to find myself humming along to it at any given point over the next week or so, really. 

This is really a stellar film. It’s surprisingly patient, a creeping and malicious work coming from one of the greatest of all horror directors in what may just be his greatest film, though The Girl Who Knew Too Much is also a masterpiece. Highly recommended, especially via the Arrow Video Blu-ray which has a gorgeous restoration. Let it be known that I did watch the original cut rather than the re-edited, re-dubbed and re-scored version called Kidnapped, too!

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