Having clocked a couple of Mario Bava films recently, I was somewhat curious as to what he could offer outside of the slasher genre. Rabid Dogs was just what I needed, a concise, forgotten gem of the thriller genre dating back to the middle of the 1970s. Receiving its release years after the death of its director, the film feels like a time capsule of Bava’s filmmaking assets, one that has aged surprisingly well for a film that was shelved for two whole decades.
Bava utilises Rabid Dogs as a way of showcasing his ability to create character driven thrillers. He doesn’t do away with his patented slasher style altogether, with a few scenes still finding the time to give us the gruesome deaths and brash murders found in his other films. We follow three hardened robbers on the run who take control of a car driven by Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla). Their escape sees them interact with varying levels of hostility as they flee the city, onto the motorway and beyond in a thoroughly entertaining thriller.
Keeping us confined to a car for the majority of the film feels great. The few scenes we have outside of this cramped space are utilised well, often leading to disastrous consequences or scenes that shift the dynamic of these characters. Riccardo Cucciolla’s leading performance is a marvellous piece of work, keeping calm under the ever-growing pressures that come from his terrifying circumstances. The best performance of all comes from Maurice Poli, a strangely likeable air of respect illuminates his performance as leader of the criminal gang. Poli’s work stops short at endearing, with Bava throwing in a few scenes to remind us that the man is a cold-hearted killer, and not someone who will wave his fortune away to conform with the morally right ideas. It’s hard not to like him though, the dialogue he receives is far superior to the remaining characters, who flounder around in some not so impressive scenes.
Maybe that’s why they’re kept in the back of the car. There are times when Bava’s slasher tones come out in full force and they don’t gel all that well with the rest of the film. George Eastman and Don Backy provide serviceable enough performances as the underlings of Dottore, but the acting themselves could really use some refining. Eastman spends about 40% of his performance laughing, 30% of it harassing the other passengers of the vehicle and a further 25% looking tall. The remaining 5% is wiggle room for his lines of dialogue, which are inundated with the fear that the man is sweating so much he looks like he’s one slip up away from dying of heatstroke.
Still, these haphazard performances are kept relatively grounded and polished by the strong direction Bava has to offer. Leagues better than Black Sunday and a couple of more engrossing merits edge it ahead of A Bay of Blood, Bava’s attempt at leaving the slasher genre doesn’t exactly work out, but it’s nice to see he can craft a consistently enjoyable thriller.