Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Rabid Dogs: The French Canadian Bava Remake

For years, Mario Bava’s roughie kidnapping thriller was bottled-up unseen in court due to insolvency and estate issues. Some staid bankruptcy judge must have really gotten an eyeful if he ever had to watch it. The sexual violence is toned down, but human nature is just as sinister in Éric Hannezo’s French Canadian remake of Rabid Dogs (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Although he was indelibly associated with the genre, Bava’s Rabid Dogs was not a Giallo, per se. However, Hannezo certainly gets his Giallo money’s worth during the throwback opening credit sequence. Four armed robbers have executed a daring daylight bank heist, but there will soon be only three of them. With their getaway plans in disarray, the bandits take two hostages, but they will quickly be left with only one. However, the elegant married woman is certainly an effective bargaining chip. The cops back off after the accidental death of the first hostage, allowing the criminals to slip out of the commercial district. Unfortunately, their escape involves further hostage taking.

The poor carjacked father was taking his daughter to the hospital for a long-awaited transplant. Still, he is pretty cool under pressure, all things considered, but he is played by Lambert Wilson, so it rather follows. Blessedly, her medication should keep her zonked out throughout the ordeal. In the short term, the creepy Vincent’s rapey fascination with the woman hostage will cause most of the problems. Sabri, their new de facto leader will try to restrain him, but the woman is clearly looking to bolt at the first opportunity.

For those familiar with the original, Hannezo and co-screenwriters Benjamin Rataud and Yannick Dahan dispense with the hitchhiker sequence, which sure lightens it the heck up. However, they add a really weird “Burning Man”-style gathering, as Ben Wheatley might re-conceive it.

In addition to their famous names and class value, Wilson and Virginie Ledoyen add plenty of brooding tension to the film. Ledoyen elevates the woman beyond typical victims, emphasizing her proactive assertiveness. (The film is still a far cry from a feminist manifesto, but what can we expect, given its exploitation lineage.) Guillaume Gouix, Franck Gastambide, and François Arnaud all lose their cool quite spectacularly as the robbers. However, cult film fans might not realize that is Alleluia’s Laurent Lucas as the ringleader, since he dons the gang’s intimidating, vaguely S&M looking motorcycle helmet for most of his scenes.

Rabid Dogs is not for those like their mysteries cozy and their endings neat and pat. This is a messy film in just about every respect and it packs a mean punch. For those who feels like stepping over to the dark side, it is a lot of twisted, anti-social fun. Recommended with enthusiasm for connoisseurs of gritty, nervy genre fare, Rabid Dogs opens this Friday (1/21) in New York, at the IFC Center.