When Mario Bava’s work was revived on DVD in the 1990’s and 2000’s, the big discovery was a previously unreleased film called Rabid Dogs. It was a tense blend of psychological thriller, crime movie, road movie and extremely dark social commentary that surprised fans who associated Bava primarily with horror fare. It was also unique in that it had the kind of high-concept premise you could imagine being easily remade for a modern audience. That remake has arrived, retaining the title and the basic premise. While the result is slicker and benefits from a bigger budget, it doesn’t pack the punch of the scrappier original version.
Rabid Dogs begins with a gang of robbers (Guillaume Gouix, Francois Arnaud, Franck Gastambide) hastily escaping a botched bank robbery. They lose their leader but gain a female hostage (Virginie Ledoyen). After being forced to ditch their vehicle, they carjack a smaller car being driven by a man (Lambert Wilson) trying to get his daughter to the hospital for an emergency organ transplant. The crooks force him to drive them away at gunpoint, creating a tense situation as the man and woman try to figure a way out and the crooks begin to bicker amongst themselves.
The best thing about the 2015 version of Rabid Dogs is its professionalism: director Eric Hannezo keeps the plot points moving along smoothly, aided by crisp ‘scope lensing by Kamal Derkaoui and an effective minimalist-electronica score by Laurent Eyquem. It’s also worth noting that all the actors competently hit their marks.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers seem to have misunderstood the nature of their premise, opening it up so far that they drain all the tension. The original Rabid Dogs drew its power from keeping its characters confined to a claustrophobic car interior as much as possible and kept the obstacles to their journey smaller in scale and thus more believable.
The new version finds all manner of reasons to constantly stop the journey of the travelers, building in several extra victims and chases via unnecessary setpieces. The third act is particularly bizarre, weaving in a small town where everyone is involved in a festival that allows them to dress like extras from The Wicker Man. It’s also worth noting that the crooks are much less threatening and much more clichéd here, falling into easy types (the reluctant leader, the crazy one, the scared one).
In short, this version of Rabid Dogs is like all too many modern remakes: competent, never dull but misguided in its attempts to reinvent its template.
Availability: Scream Factory has assembled a nice little special edition for this IFC Midnight pickup. The transfer does well by the steely, digital look of the photography and there are 5.1 and 2.0 lossless French stereo mixes with English subs. The 5.1 was used for this review and its a nicely-designed track that uses the multi-speaker soundscape well.
The heart of the extras is a making-of documentary (1:33:21) that is as long as the main feature itself. It’s narrated by Hannezo and offers a comprehensive, fly-on-the-wall depiction of the film’s production, in the order of how scenes were shot. Elsewhere, a cast interviews segment (41:38) offers a half-dozen interviews with actors, including Wilson and all the actors playing the crooks, and a special effects/production design featurette (14:20) offers up a trio of quick segments on atmospheric effects, the guns used in the film and the sets. The extras are completed by a theatrical trailer.