Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rabid Dogs (1974): Neck Stabbings, 12" Penises, and Bava Worship

Salutations, friends! Once again, the Duke of DVD returns to shine a light into the dingy room that is your collective lives. I see you there, huddled like a forsaken mass in the corner of your kitchen, the light reflecting off the Twinkie wrappers you clutch to your lumpy chest as if they were so many Krugerrans. I take a step into the room, my velvet slipper pushing aside the abused carcass of an opossum. You jerk as I gently pat you on the arm, pushing yourself further into the corner with your near-useless legs. Fear not! I whisper quietly into your ear, which is more scar tissue than useful appendage, calming your racing, massive heart. Soon you are blubbering, grateful for the blessings I bring you.

Today’s blessing comes in the form of a generous dollop of candied Bava. That’s right! The Duke has the Bava Goods™, that crystal spike of MAD wonder, injected straight into your disfigured arm like a silver lance of Happy. Release yourself to the MADness once again, and lie in sublime repose upon the cushioned lounge that is Mario Bava and his genius. As you should all know by now, the Duke and Vicar both worship all that is Bava, and we would be remiss if we didn’t include in our pantheon of MAD films Bava’s lost masterpiece: Rabid Dogs, a film that languished in a filthy lawyer’s desk drawer for decades before finally seeing the light of day.

What treasures could it hold? Just how Rabid are these Dogs? How many sweaty, horny Italian males can be crammed into 96 minutes of film?

Let’s find out, shall we?

Our film opens with a group of four sleazy gentlemen pulling off a heist, which quickly escalates into violence, as a few of the men are quick to murder at the slightest provocation. It seems the group of thieves found out when payroll arrival day was at a local business, and set up a quick heist to relieve the business of its funds. Grabbing the suitcase full of cash, one of the thieves stabs the case-carrier in the stomach. Before they can escape, the police show up and start shooting. As the thieves are driving away, a crack shot on the police squad shoots one of the robbers in the back of the head through the rear window of the car, and another cop shoots a hole in the gas tank.

"Of all the times to take a nap!"

The pursuit is on! The thieves quickly realize that their gas is running out, so they drive into a multi-storied parking garage. The police are in hot pursuit, however, and quickly catch up to the punks. The crooks, now cornered, grab the nearest hostages they can: two women, who are enjoying their day out shopping. A standoff quickly ensues, but ends just as quickly when one of the robbers murders one of the women by stabbing her in the neck! The cops, fearing the other woman will be murdered, finally back off, giving enough time and room for the thieves to make their escape.

They quickly realize that the car they are in is known by the cops, so as soon as they can they find another. This one just happens to be driven by the next person they see at a stop light. Jumping into his car, waving their guns, they force the woman hostage in with them. The man is Riccardo (played fantastically by Riccardo Cucciolla), who plays it cool because he has to: it seems the backseat contains his sick son, who appears to be around the age of 10 (we only ever see his face, as he’s wrapped in blankets the entire film). Riccardo explains he was on the way to the hospital.

Sorry dude, just because you stole some money doesn't make you any less gay.

It’s time we meet our criminals! First up, is the cool-as-ice Doc (Maurice Poli). He’s as smooth as he is tan, and hardly ever breaks a sweat (figuratively, for he, along with everyone else, sweats like a very sweaty thing throughout the entire film). He’s the obvious brains of the unit, and pretty much divides his time between coming up with what to do next and keeping the other two miscreants under control. This brings us to Blade (Don Backy), a bushy-topped, impulsive, twitchy man who gets high on the criminal life. He is, however, a controlled tornado next to the brash 32, who puts the “rabid” in “Rabid Dogs.” That’s right folks, his nickname is 32, as in centimeters, as in he’s hung like a mule (which thankfully Bava keeps off-camera; I don’t need the Vicar weeping openly in front of me again). 32 is much the focus of Rabid Dogs, and for good reason. Played by George Eastman (aka Luigi Montefiori, aka Gabriele Duma), this guy deserves all the praise he can be given and then some.

Very quickly, Riccardo explains to these men that he’s trying to take his sick son to the hospital, and that he wants no part with what’s going on. Doc explains he has no options, and that Riccardo, the boy, and the woman will all be free to go once the men make good their escape from the cops. This proves to be a shallow promise, however, as Doc never exactly explains how long he thinks this will take (note: they’ve already successfully ditched the police). So, with orders to drive on back-country roads in order to avoid attention, Riccardo takes off, the woman Maria (Lea Lander) in between him and Doc, and with Blades and 32 in the backseat, the young boy wrapped in a blanket between them. Got that? Don't make me break out the whiteboard.

Emergency tracheotomy, Italian-style
To say that Blade and 32 are amoral would be an understatement. They are barely restrained Mad-men, sweating and laughing uncontrollably. Bava’s camera confines us to the car for almost the entire film, creating a claustrophobic environment where we’re a silent passenger. We see the characters sweltering in the hot summer sun, almost always in EXTREME CLOSE-UP. Blade and 32 behave like caged animals in heat next to the cool calm of Doc and Riccardo and the wide-eyed panic of Maria. Very quickly, Maria becomes the focus of 32, an Italian poon-hound if there ever was one. His huge frame, barely fitting into the side of the backseat he occupies, is in constant motion, fidgeting and jerking, at times reaching over the seat to try and fondle Maria, at others pulling his pants down for no reason other than to terrify with his massive appendage. We’re all along for the ride, and what a ride it is!

As Bava has pointed out before in his films, greed gets you no where. We soon learn, via the probing questions of Riccardo, that the men didn’t steal that much money; certainly not enough to warrant the multiple murders that resulted. Not only that, but the money is slowly but surely used up on the get-away journey. First Riccardo (either accidentally or on purpose, we aren’t sure) rear-ends another driver in front of him during a traffic bottleneck caused by road construction. Doc, knowing they can’t very well kill everyone around them, instead pays the motorist off, using some of the money. In another scene, a farmer extorts money out of them due to some damaged grapes. In yet another, they have to pay exorbitant fees to get gas into their car’s tank. Coupled with this is the constant headache of keeping to back roads and dealing with Maria, who is always either pleading to be let free or trying to escape.

"And then, you must give us all a good spanking!"

One escape attempt leads to a foul scene at an empty farmhouse. Maria asks to be let out in order to use the restroom, and bolts as soon as she can, running to a nearby farm. Blade and 32 chase after her. I was assuming a rape scene was incoming here, but instead we get something that, while not as contemptible, is still pretty heinous: Blade and 32 force Maria to urinate on herself while standing, as they watch and laugh. (The mighty Bava influenced by upstart Wes Craven's Last House on the Left (1972)? Apparently so!) Degraded, Maria can do nothing but slump listlessly as the two men force her back to the car, this time putting her in the backseat.

This proves unhealthy for 32, whose lust overwhelms any need to remain inconspicuous while on the lam. He begins to try and rape Maria, in flagrante de Pinto. Doc tries to calm him down and gets choked by 32 for the effort, though he's released before suffering any real damage. The Doc pacified, 32 continues the rape attempt, causing passing motorists to yell and shake their fists. The car enters a tunnel, and Doc seizes the moment and shoots 32 in the neck! However, 32 is so big and crazed, this doesn’t kill him, it merely paralyzes him. Blade doesn’t like this, but realizes it needed to be done.

I think we all know the answer to that question.

The car finally runs low on gas, forcing the crew to stop at a station. After badgering the attendant, who is on break, to fill the tank up, they are just about to leave when a woman happens by. It seems her car has broken down and she needs a ride to a mechanic. She basically forces her way into the car, chatting non-stop. At first she attempts to open 32’s door, who is slumped against it with a towel over his head. She assumes he’s sleeping and instead sits up front with Maria and Riccardo, the Doc moving to the rear seat. The woman will not stop talking and singing along with the radio, which ultimately proves her undoing when Blade rams his switchblade into her throat. (Hey, the dude just likes stabbing throats, ok?).

Noticing a theme with ol' 32 here?

Realizing now that they have two dead or dying bodies in the car, the crew pulls over near a ravine. Blade and Doc unceremoniously fling the hitchhiking lady’s body over the side, and then haul 32’s hulking frame down a path before finally placing him near the crumpled body of the lady. Blade ends 32’s suffering with a bullet to the brain, and also relieves him of his watch. After some more driving, the Doc, Maria, Riccardo, Blade, and the boy finally arrive at the destination that Doc has been leading them to, albeit in a very convoluted fashion: a stashed car! Seems the Doc was smart enough to stash a car miles away from anywhere in an abandoned barn, just in case. Smart dude, that Doc.

"Pop Rocks and Coke... how could I have been so stupid?!"

Blade grabs Maria and starts dragging her over to the new car, as Doc holds a gun on Riccardo, ordering him to take the boy over. As Riccardo is leaning in to pick up the blanket-wrapped boy, we see Doc's not the only one who can plan ahead--Riccardo has somehow managed to secret away a small caliber pistol by hiding it in the boy’s blanket! Riccardo stands up and fires directly into Doc’s chest, who slumps immediately to the ground. Blade doesn’t move fast enough with the sub-machine-gun he’s wielding and gets shot by Riccardo, who then notices Doc trying to rise and plugs him again, mercilessly. As Blade lies on the ground, one hand holding his machine-gun, the other holding the money bag, Maria runs across from the new car to the old one, her hopeful face beaming at Riccardo.

Riccardo had to be very careful: he knew that a mere glimpse at George Eastman's exposed chest hair was enough to shatter the heterosexuality of even the sweatiest Italian stud.

The hope, it fades, with a quickness! Blade uses his last once of life-force to machine-gun Maria in the back, and she crumples dead instantly at a shocked Riccardo’s feet. Bava gives us a wide, spectacular view of the carnage as Riccardo stands alone, triumphant, pistol still at the ready as he cradles the young boy. Riccardo scurries over and puts his young ward in the new getaway car. He pauses to think a minute, and heads back to Doc’s corpse, bends down, and rips the wallet from Doc’s back pocket. Riccardo then walks over to Blade and jerks the money bag free of his clutches. Riccardo’s the man! He drives away, free and clear.

*** Friends, Bava has one more twist in store for us. If you’ve made it this far, and are thinking to yourself, furrowing your brow in a vain attempt to form a coherent thought, that perhaps you would like to watch this movie for yourself, then I encourage you to avoid the next paragraph. You have been warned, spoilers ahoy! ***

We see Riccardo pull up at a gas station, and head to a nearby phone booth. He drops a coin in, and connects to a frantic lady, who, as it turns out, is the young, quilt-wrapped boy’s mother! It seems Riccardo, instead of on his way to a hospital with his sick son, is a kidnapper himself!! The kidnapper has been kidnapped, or rather he was. Ooohh, the delicious irony! Bava, you are the king, sir! My turgid member salutes you! Riccardo tells the mother he wants 2 million lira or some such, which is roughly enough to buy a moldy sandwich nowadays. He hangs up, walks back to the car, and opens the trunk, revealing the sickened boy. Fin.

Quilt, tablecloth, drapery, or lady's dress: YOU make the call!
Friends, I am impressed by this movie. Blown away, even. It plays just like a modern thriller, and would have been eons ahead of its time, had it been released when it was originally made. However, thereby hangs a tale: the original producer of Rabid Dogs, Roberto Loyola, was killed during the production of the film, and the Italian court seized his entire estate, including the only print of the movie. It stayed this way for 23 fucking years until finally being released by the courts. Bava had long since gone to his infernal reward, so he never got to see one of his greatest masterpieces released.

Bava’s son, Lamberto, decided to rework the film along with producer Alfredo Leone. They shot a new ending, reworked some key scenes, and released the movie as Kidnapped. Spoiler: it pretty much sucks. I have no idea what they were thinking! The original is far superior, and certainly more visceral and tight. One other interesting bit of trivia: the budget for Rabid Dogs was so tight, Bava had to fire cinematographer Emilio Varriano and take over that role himself, just to have enough money to finish the film.

Every Vicar-thrown croquet party always ends the same.

I really wish Bava had lived long enough to see his original masterwork released. I honestly believe it would have been a success. In the end, we should all be glad that the original print still exists at all. It is a brutal, unforgiving film that features Bava’s trademark eye for quality and ability to get amazingly MAD performances out of his actors. Needless to say, this one gets a stellar 3+ Thumps Up from yours truly. I encourage everyone to track down a copy and give it a go. You shall not be disappointed!

And whoever frees the switchblade from this hooker's throat, will henceforth be King of All Italy!


The Vicar of VHS said...

Wonderful stuff, Duke! You are without doubt the world's foremost authority on Bava (that has also visited the forbidden tomb of Gog Magog in the blackest Welsh marshlands of Gwynnshoggoth, and touched with his own hands the Glossy Cack of Cawdor)! Such an interesting back story to this one, what with the Maestro's son trying his best to take up the mantle, and failing so horribly.

Not that Lamberto is a slouch--I quite enjoyed the DEMONS films, actually--just that he was the seedling in the shadow of such a mighty oak, he couldn't help but seem stunted by comparison.

Out of curiosity, what were the differences between Bava the Younger's version, and the one you reviewed?

In all, another wonderful entry in the Bava Files, my good Duke--or should I say, "Signor 48"? :)

J. Astro said...

I haven't seen this one, although I do love me some movies by both Bavas.

I was mostly taken in by the tagline for your post: 'Neck Stabbings, 12" Penises, and Bava Worship'.

'Hey, that sounds like my life', I thought. Then I realized it said 12" penises, not 2" penises. Bummer. ;)

Al Bruno III said...

Another intriguing articles about films I wouldn't ordinarily seek out. I will make an effort to seek this one out.

And as always the Duke's prose makes me moist in all the wrong places...

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