It was supposed to be a simple bank job. In the bank, grab the cash, control the crowd, out of the bank, and into the getaway car. Up until they left the building, everything was running smoothly, and it appeared that this group of thieves may actually pull off the heist without a hitch. However, once they crossed the threshold and stepped out into the light, a rogue member of the group panicked upon the arrival of police, and gunned down two officers who threatened to block his escape.
Now, with their charges heightened from robbers to murderers, and their perfectly organized plans gone askew, they’re forced to improvise, which means that they need hostages. Backed into a corner after a deadly car chase, they grab the first victims they can find to protect them from harm on their way out of town. A young woman and a middle aged man with a sick daughter will do, as they seem the least likely to defend themselves, but as the six of them begin their claustrophobic car ride away from the scene, these criminals will learn that they aren’t the only ones who can’t be trusted.
A remake of Mario Bava’s 1974 nihilistic crime thriller Rabid Dogs, a.k.a. Kidnapped, writer/director Eric Hannezo moves the story from Italy to France, providing an impressive, polished take on Bava’s gritty pessimistic classic, and helping bring attention to the original film that almost didn’t see the light of day. Although Bava’s Rabid Dogs was finished in 1974, it was seized by the courts after one of the main financiers died in a car crash, and the film lacked the funds necessary for completion and release.
After floating around in limbo for over twenty years, the film was finally released in 1998 on DVD, although it went through a few different edits according to Bava’s notes, creating multiple versions of the film which don’t all display Bava’s original vision. However, director Hannezo maintains a close adaptation with roots deeply imbedded in Bava’s brutal roots, captured in a style all his own that’s slick, confident, and classy.
A bleak look at the world, Hannezo’s Rabid Dogs offers little in the way of hope. With the majority of the film taking place inside of the car, the cramped conditions and constant threat of being outed makes the whole film feel on edge, and gives the viewers that sense that they, too, are tripped within the confines of this automobile.
Strapped in for the entirety of the ride and forced to watch helplessly as opportunities for freedom come and go, tension permeates the entire feature, giving a feeling of suffocation as relentless as the thugs controlling the car. Few films achieve this level of heightened desperation, and the impact is a testament to the power of the raw performances by the talented cast, the growing intensity of the highly stylized score, and the energetic pacing that brings with it a sense of urgency that’s stubbornly denied by the men with guns who refuse to let the audience go.
Finally, in the big finale, after the all of the elements have slowly been brought to a raging boil, the climax duels out a shocking blow and delivers a gut punch of an ending. For all of those who were fans of Bava’s original, know that the remake has been placed in good hands. This film pays homage to the predecessor, while also providing a new, tighter light, giving a delicate balance to both worlds and still bringing the same potency to the screen. For those who have never seen the original, hopefully this will inspire people to do so, and to take a chance on a lesser known director, who clearly deserves the attention that this heart-pounding thriller, with any luck, will bring.