Rabid Dogs is an Italian film directed by Mario Bava. It was made in 1974 but the film was seized by the courts during the final stages of production when the producer went bankrupt after the main investor in the film died in a car crash. It was not released until 1998. According to Bava's son Lamberto, Mario apparently considered the film his most important work.,
Filmed originally as Semaforo Rosso (translation: Red Light), the film was released in 1998 on VHS as Rabid Dogs / Cani Arrabbiati, and re-released in 2007 (in a slightly reedited form) on DVD as Kidnapped. The original Italian title referred to a key scene in the film in which the characters make a fatal stop at a traffic signal, an occurrence that triggers all of the events of the plot, which involves a group of bank robbers and the hostages they take who they order to drive them from Rome to another location.
Four ruthless criminals wait outside the gates of a pharmaceutical company to steal the pay wages from an armored truck which will arrive at the gated complex. Upon the truck's arrival, the heavily armed thieves hold up the truck, killing a number of people in the process. But during the getaway, the thieves car is riddled with bullets from the company's security guards which kill the getaway driver, and damage the car so that it's leaking fuel. The clean-cut, cunning leader of the group, known only as Doc (Maurice Poli), and his two vicious and scruffy cohorts, the knife-wielding Blade (Aldo Caponi) and the hulking seven-foot tall Thirty-Two (Luigi Montefiori) are overjoyed at the stolen cash they now have. But when their car stalls in a downtown part of Rome, they are forced to flee on foot into an underground car park, persuaded by the police. The criminals grab two women as hostages, and when Blade accidentally kills one, the police, seeing the other female hostage Maria (Lea Lander) in danger, back away, allowing the criminals to steal her car and make an escape from the car park.
Back on the street, Doc knows that its only a matter of time before a description of their new getaway car will reach the authorities, which will make it impossible for them to get out of the city. But the situation is resolved when they stop at a red traffic light, they hijack the car in front of them. The middle-aged driver of the other car, Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) protests that he has to get his young child, a small, deathly-pail little boy wrapped up in a blanket, to the hospital. But the criminals, plus their female hostage Maria, force Riccardo to drive them out of the city.
Once outside the city, Doc forces Riccardo to drive onto a local tollway to Naples which will lead them to their hideout outside that city. But aware that the police will be surveying the autostrade for them, Doc forces Riccardo to turn around and exit the toll road, in which they decide to take a few secondary, but slower, roads to get to their hideout.
During most the long road journey, Maria cannot stop herself from shaking and quaking with fear, which annoys Blade and Thirty-Two. Riccardo on the other hand, despite being somewhat unnerved and intimidated, takes what's happening to him very calmly. Doc, the most civilized of the criminals, is barely able to keep Blade and Thirty-Two in line who are both frequently fondling Maria who continues to tremble constantly. At a traffic construction site, Doc forces the group to roll their windows up, which attracts some attention for in the middle of a hot summer day, makes some of the motorists in front and behind them to question. But Doc has them roll their windows back down when it makes is look they might be made, and the group continues on.
A little later, Maria ask Doc to pull the car over so she can relive herself. But she takes the opportunity to try to escape. She is perused by Blade and Thirty-Two, who chase her to a farmhouse, which is unoccupied. Once Maria is re-captured, Blade and Thirty-Two torture the woman, both physically and mentally. Since she used the fact that she has to relive herself as a excuse to try to escape, they force her to urinate in front of them for punishment.
Back on another autostrade, Riccardo asks Doc if can pull into a rest stop for food and supplies, with Thirty-Two accompanying him, Riccardo buys some sandwiches, soda pop, while Thirty-Two buys a bottle of scotch. When a random woman at the rest area recognizes Riccardo, he manages to shake her off by saying that he's going on a picnic in the countryside with some friends.
Back on the road, Thirty-Two becomes very intoxicated from the bottle of liquor he bought, and his actions begin to draw attention to the car from the other motorists. Doc and Blade try to control him, but he gets more and more out of control, and he attempts to rape Maria. Rather than risk attracting the attention of the highway police, Doc suddenly shoots Thirty-Two in the neck. Blade is completely shaken by this, but understands that Doc had no other choice. Thirty-Two does not die, but is completely helpless and immobile. Blade tries to help his friend by banding the bullet wound, but Doc knows that Thirty-Two is as good as dead.
Soon after this incident, Riccardo tells them that they need to stop to get gas. However, when they finally reach a rural Esso filling station, the elderly attendant (Francesco Ferrini) tells them that he's on his hour break and won't help them for at least another 20 minutes. Doc, in a hurry to complete their journey, attempts to threaten the old man, who instead pulls a gun on Doc telling them that he was robbed the previous year and cannot be intimidated. Thinking quickly, Blade forces Maria to smooth things over by pleading with the attendant to come out and fill their car so they can get the comatose little boy to a hospital. The old man quickly relents and comes out to fill the car. But soon, another complication arises with the arrival of an overly cheerful young woman (Eriak Dario) who shows up at the station claiming that her car has broken down a kilometer away and needs assistance. Seeing the group, she pressures Doc to give her a ride to the next town. When the woman opens the side door to the car, Thirty-Two's hand, covered with his own blood, slumps into view, the woman fails to see this, but the attendant does. Rather than risk a scene, Doc allows the woman to come along with them, and they drive off, with none of them knowing that the attendant saw the near-death Thirty-Two. The old man returns to his office with a shrug.
The presence of this female hitchhiker is clearly annoying to Doc and everybody else since she cannot stop talking or ranting about how hot the day is and of the countryside. Ironically enough, the woman is also named Maria. But Maria the hitchhiker is a little too vivacious and outgoing, and her manner clearly has a grating effect on both the criminals and hostages. Maria the hitchhiker is completely oblivious to her situation and when she inadvertently removes the blanket covering Thirty-Two's neck, she notices the bullet wound. Blade kills the hitchhiker by stabbing her in the neck with his signature knife. Doc forces Riccardo to pull over so they can dispose of the body. As the hitchhiker's body is thrown unceremoniously off a cliff, Riccardo helps Blade carry the still breathing Thirty-Two down the bottom of the cliff where Blade shoots his mortally wounded friend in the head to put him out of his misery.
The group finally reaches their destination: a ruined villa just south of Naples where Doc has stashed a back-up car, carrying the appropriate papers that will enable him and Blade to leave the country. Riccardo and Maria are elated, but Doc reveals that he has no intention of letting them go for the hostages must be killed to secure their escape. Riccardo persuades Doc to let the little boy, who has been in a sedative-induced sleep for the whole duration, live. But Doc refuses and orders Riccardo to remove the little boy from the car. However, as Riccardo does so, he pulls out a gun hidden all this time in the child's blanket and shoots and kills both Doc and Blade, who fires off his machine gun fatally injuring Maria before expiring. With the tires of the car flat from the bullet hits, Riccardo moves the child to Doc's getaway car, and promptly steals the stolen money still clutched in Blade's fingers, and drives off.
At a nearby rest stop, Riccardo, now alone, pulls over to make a telephone call. When a woman on the other end picks up, the film's big twist is when Riccardo says: "It's me again. I have something important to tell you. Yes, it's about your son. Yes, he's right here with me. Now, if you ever want to see him again... alive... it will cost you 30 million lira." Riccardo tells the sobbing boy's mother that he will call back to give her further instructions, and then hangs up. Riccardo casualty strolls back to his car, cheerily greeting a passing stranger on along the way. Upon opening the truck, the kidnapped child is shown, lying completely immobile as he has throughout the film. Riccardo gives the boy another shot of drugs to keep him sedated, closes the car truck, and drives away.
Allmovie's review of the film was mixed, calling it "easily the most nihilistic of Mario Bava's films."Tim Lucas, author of the critical biography Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, calls the film "an exceptional work in the distinguished career of Mario Bava" and states that "Rabid Dogs is to Bava's career what Detour (1945) is to the filmography of Edgar G. Ulmer, a minimalist noir masterpiece that shows how much drama he was capable of conjuring onscreen with little or no means."
24 February 1998 (Germany; DVD premiere),
25 February 1998 (USA release on VHS),
18 June 2004 (Italy; TV premiere),
September 2004 (Italy; Venice Film Festival),
2007 (USA DVD, slightly reedited version) retitled Kidnapped