Rabid Dogs (Mario Bava / Italy, 1974):
(Canni Arrabbiati; Kidnapped)

The focal keynote, incredibly, seems to have been Rossellini's filming of autos in Viaggio in Italia. (Lea Lander is the desperate Nordic captive here, dubbed "Greta Garbo.") The elasticity of modern evil is surveyed in the opening robbery, pivoting on the jagged, low-angled shot of a window smashed by maniacs decked in The Killing's masks. The three fugitives (Maurice Poli, George Eastman and Don Backy) snatch Lander, hijack a car driven by a middle-aged stranger (Riccardo Cucciolla) with a comatose child stashed in the backseat, and kick off their reign of terror. The woman is made to pee for the enjoyment of the giggling killers, the unlucky chatterbox picked up at the gas station is silenced with a blade in the throat, Backy elaborates on the effects his switchblade can have on human skin ("I wanted to try that on a dead person, but... I'm not crazy"). This is the "surplus aggression" Robin Wood charted in '70s American horror, Mario Bava drags Italy's own nightmares out into the blistering sunlight for a pitiless analysis. Sustained trauma demands unvarnished mastery, and gets it: Bava fitting the car's windshield to the widescreen (with a dash of distortion in the center of the image) is like Hitchcock lining up a shot in Lifeboat, the inside of the car is slashed into an assortment of distressing close-ups, zooms, and tilts. The razor thug bawls at the blood-spattered spot where his pal once sat, the mustached pillar of paternalism is debunked, morality is mocked to the camera's face ("things fall apart..."). A dazzling work -- and reportedly a near-lost one -- in which the trancelike perfection achieved in Lisa and the Devil is cracked to expose raw nerves, illustrating Marianne Moore's definition of poetry as "imaginary gardens with real toads." With Maria Fabbri.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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