Mario Bava was an exceedingly seminal director of horror cinema before his death in 1980, an Italian master of the genre who strongly influenced the likes of Dario Argento, Quentin Tarantino, and Martin Scorsese. Although he dabbled in several different genres, Bava specialized in moody horror films featuring dazzling art direction and garish color schemes. His second-to-last film, Rabid Dogs, is a heist movie, a rare departure for the director, and due to problems with the film’s financiers, the movie was “lost” for over 20 years. Mario’s son, Lamberto Bava (Blade in the Dark, Demons), along with the assistance of Alfredo Leone, one of the film’s producers, shot additional coverage and reedited the movie, and it was briefly released in 1998 before spiraling into DVD moratorium. Anchor Bay, forever the pimp daddy of quality horror re-releases, has finally coughed up a combo DVD containing both Kidnapped (the version shot by Lamberto and Leone) and Rabid Dogs (Bava’s original film), and fervent Bava fans should be eternally grateful.
Kidnapped begins with a heist gone bad as three greasy-looking dudes, Doc, Thirty-Two, and Stiletto, attempt to knock off a pharmaceutical company. After stabbing a couple of innocents, swiping a female hostage, and inadvertently stealing a car dangerously low on gas, the three criminals finally find sanctuary by carjacking the vehicle of a man driving his sick child to the hospital. Doc, the obvious leader, conveys a distinctly European screen presence with his long upper lip and cleft chin, and he orders the man to abort his trip to the emergency room and haul their thieving asses out of town.
The majority of the film takes place in the confined action of the moving vehicle as the criminals, the man, the sick kid, and the female hostage drive down back roads, avoiding police roadblocks, toward an uncertain destination. Doc is obviously in charge, but the bearded Thirty-Two ( with his toothy smile and crazy eyes, he looks like he could have easily made the “Last House on the Left” casting list) is a cruel misogynist who needs to be controlled, and Doc isn’t necessarily up to the task. As an exercise in tension, psychological torment, and pure, unadulterated directorial talent, Kidnapped is a staggering success.
As Doc continues to give orders and Thirty-Two continues to subordinate, the emotions in the car begin to escalate. Stiletto, the third criminal, seems trapped between the two alpha males, and the kidnapped driver attempts to soothe tensions while continuing to search for a means to escape. Every character glistens with a sheen of fine sweat, adding authenticity to dialogue concerning the heat, and the acting is exemplary. Although never quite approaching the cruelties exhibited in such fare as Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave, Kidnapped is nonetheless disturbing in its depiction of sadistic torment, and the twist ending was a pleasant surprise. Anchor Bay’s transfer to DVD is—as always—pristine and glorious, a wonder to behold. Although residing in an entirely different genre than Bava’s previous work, Kidnapped is an exciting piece of exploitation cinema that serves as a triumphant near-capper to his stellar career.