DVD Review: Kidnapped

Kidnapped DVD boxSTUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Mario Bava | CAST: Riccardo Cucciolla, Don Backy, Lea Lander, Maurice Poli, George Eastman
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 7/16/2013 | PRICE: DVD $19.95, Blu-ray $24.95
SPECS: Not rated | 95 min. | Thriller | 1:78 aspect ratio

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

KidnappedAlthough much is made of his successors Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava was the unquestioned Italian master of genre moviemaking. Argento and Fulci crafted some top-notch horror pictures, but Bava made impressively innovative films in many different genres, from horror and the giallo to low-budget “sword and sandal” epics and even a sex comedy.

Originally titled Rabid Dogs, Kidnapped is a dazzling example of what Bava could do with a very low budget. The script dictates that the action takes place largely within the confines of a car, yet at no point does the film become harshly claustrophobic. Instead, Bava creates razor-sharp tension with a cast of characters comprised of three out-and-out thugs (thus the Rabid Dogs title) and three barely sketched “innocents.”

The plotline is simplicity itself: After they rob a pharmaceutical firm’s payroll, a trio of crooks force their way into a car driven by a man (Maurice Poli) taking his young son to the hospital. They abduct one more person — a woman (Lea Lander) who stumbles into their crossfire with police — and off they go on a tense road trip to their hideout.

Bava and scripter Alessandro Parenzo were obviously riffing off  classic gangster/noir films in which innocents are held hostage, from Ida Lupino’s The Hitchhiker to The Desperate Hours. Here the crooks are utter savages and the abductees take two different tacks: stoicism (the man) and hysteria (the woman). The minimalist approach ratchets up the film’s suspense level — in spite of the fact that we can’t relate to any of the characters, Bava makes every minute, and gesture, count. (The influence of Hitchcock is felt throughout.)

The film would be impressive enough if it was simply a feature Bava completed and released after it was shot in 1974. Instead, Kidnapped was a “lost” film for 24 years due to legal troubles — an investor’s death caused the movie to be seized by the court and the film wasn’t edited or released before Bava’s death in 1980.

Different horror fan sites have disparate accounts of how the film was restored — and there are sadly no supplements available on this DVD to tell the tale — but the common consensus is that producer Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava (Mario’s son) stepped in to shoot new scenes, alter the music track, and edit the movie, which has since been released in two separate cuts, one under each film title.

None of this is apparent from the finished product, because the occasionally wonky overdubbing of the dialog and cheesy musical score seem perfectly appropriate for an Italian film of this vintage. Also, Leone and the younger Bava have assembled an incredibly tense thriller from the material Mario shot, presumably cutting it to his original specifications.

Thus, this is one of those all-too-rare cases where a “missing” film turns out to be a major work by its director. Throughout, one senses that we are being masterfully manipulated by Bava, and that is driven home by a terrific last-minute plot twist.

Kidnapped has been released by the “Kino Classics” division of Kino Lorber in tandem with Bava’s Black Sabbath with Boris Karloff. These two releases add to Kino’s growing Mario Bava Collection, which includes, among others, the first masterpiece of modern Italian horror, Black Sunday, and the wildly dreamlike cult film Lisa and the Devil.


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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”