With much interest circling around the net about director Mario Bava, such as here and here, I found it fitting that I should contribute somehow. Granted, my appreciation and fervor for Bava is less than the writers at either link, but Bava is still a director whose work I seek out. And when I discovered there was a Bava film being released by Anchor Bay under their "Cult Fiction" series which I wrote about a couple weeks back, well I knew the film had to be moved to the top of my queue. Even with that, it was a Bava film I'd never heard of. The film, titled "Rabid Dogs" (and a host of other names) is one of Bava's excursions into the crime thriller genre. Running a total of 93 minutes and released in 1974, "Rabid Dogs" is a breathless journey about the getaway of a band of robbers who kidnap several people and spend the next 75 minutes confined in a small car attempting to outrun and evade the police. Claustrophobic beyond belief, "Rabid Dogs" makes you sweat and nervously shift in your seat along with the kidnapped driver (played by Riccardo Cucciolla) and unlucky woman Maria (Lea Lander) as the robbers psychologically assault and terrorize their prey. The tense interiors of the car are punctuated only by suspenseful breaks at a rest stop, a gas station, and a corn field where one of the hostages makes a daring attempt to flee.
"Rabid Dogs" could be considered a precurser to the modern wave of torture porn (on wheels) but Bava isn't an overt filmmaker. There is sadism and mental manipulation, but it stays within the grimy guidelines of early 70's exploitation. A quick breast fondle here, the constant waving of a switchblade there, and a particularly uncomfortable scene of Maria being forced to urinate standing up are the limits that Bava takes his narrative. The viewer is certainly turned off by the actions of the film's rabid dogs (named for the robbers overriding primal urges) but it's not on par with the gross-out aesthetic of recent torch carriers of the genre. And "Rabid Dogs" has the distinct pleasure of pulling out a finale that is completely unexpected and knocks the wind right out of you. This may be my new favorite Bava.