The remake machine has been pretty relentless during these first few years of the 21st Century. We've had everything from THE HITCHER and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR to DAWN OF THE DEAD, IT'S ALIVE, HALLOWEEN and beyond. But I dare say a remake of Mario Bava's troubled 1974 classic RABID DOGS never seemed a likely prospect for many.
But here it is.
It opens, much like its predecessor (itself based on Michael J Carroll's short story "Man and Boy"), with a bank robbery. This ends badly, a shootout in the streets leading to the villains - Chief (Laurent Lucas), Manu (Franck Gastambide), Vincent (Francois Arnaud) and getaway driver Sabri (Guillaume Gouix) - fleeing to a nearby shopping mall. The cops catch up with them there; the crooks take a pretty female hostage (Virginie Ledoyen) in a bid to escape. In the ensuing madness, a cop is shot dead and Chief takes a fatal bullet to the stomach.
Realising they need a fresh set of wheels to make it to the French border without getting caught, the remaining trio hijack a car being driven by a frantic father (Lambert Wilson). Cramming into the vehicle with their female hostage, the gang insist on the father driving them to said border - despite the fact that he also has ailing daughter Charlotte (Megane Lemee) in the car, who he protests urgently needs a kidney transplant. Alas, his dash to the hospital will have to wait, as Sabri and co have little sympathy now that they're wanted on counts of robbery and murder.
The car radio keeps the gang informed as to the police's actions while the father drives them closer to the border. Along the way, the villains bicker internally as they struggle to find focus without Chief to lead them, and frisky Vincent letches over the attractive Ledoyen. The father, meanwhile, plays along with the gang's demands as best he can, determined to make it out of this ordeal alive and get Charlotte to where she needs to be.
As this motley bunch continue on their fraught road trip, they encounter the usual obstacles: road blocks, overly curious gas attendants, escape attempts by the hostages...
Ultimately, will the crooks make it to the border with their loot? Will the hostages survive their ordeal? Will the woman's rich husband's offer of a healthy reward for her safe return have any impact? Will Charlotte get the treatment she desperately needs?
First-time director Eric Hannezo takes stylistic liberties with Bava's template. For a start, his film isn't largely set in real-time like its predecessor. Instead, he has the time flash onscreen occasionally to signify lapses in the narrative. Whereas Bava's film had a gritty look of realism about it, an aesthetic departure from the gaudy opulence of earlier films of his like KILL BABY KILL and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, Hannezo's movie is slick, colourful and self-consciously stylised at every turn.
The simple, effective storytelling of the original RABID DOGS is replaced here by fancy aerial shots, red-hued flashbacks and an incessantly pounding score. In keeping with the warm "car-commercial" cinematography, we get four baddies who are too attractive to convince as brutes: they look more like 'Hollyoaks' actors. Their actions hardly qualify them as "rabid dogs" either - none of the surviving trio have ever killed a man before, and when they're each inadvertently required to do so, their deeds are followed by shock rather than self-congratulation. The abuse Ledoyen suffers amounts to little more than Vincent snuggling up suggestively beside her (she certainly not forced to piss her pants like Lea Lander in the original). In fact, she and Lucas - two of the biggest names in the film - are disappointingly underused.
The rest of the cast are passable, nothing more. As mentioned above, the villains lack menace. If you think back to the sweating intensity of Bava's antagonists, this bunch are whining young pups in comparison. Even star Wilson is restrained for the most part, seemingly unsure about how to play his ambiguous role.
Then there's the weird time setting. Hannezo appears to be undecided as to what era his film is set in. Attire and architecture suggest modern times, though cars, radios, televisions, telephones etc all hint at a retro setting. Laurent Eyquem's score is equally confused, alternating between pulsating modern beats and swanky 70s sounds a la THE SWEENEY.
The film is certainly fast-paced, extremely slick in look (too much so) and does proffer the odd touch of originality (though a later episode involving a village celebrating the Feast of the Bear really doesn't work at all, or serve any worthy purpose).
Without giving too much away, Bava's RABID DOGS is partially infamous for a cruel twist in its tale (one that was seriously compromised when a re-edited version emerged many years later under the alternate title KIDNAPPED). Hannezo stays true to Bava's original vision, but somehow even manages to dilute that.
It feels too easy, too convenient, to slam this film for not living up to the impact of Bava's original. But it's impossible not to compare the two. And with those comparisons in mind, Hannezo's RABID DOGS comes out second-best on every front.
RABID DOGS is presented uncut and in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The picture is enhanced for 16x9 televisions and is fantastic. Pin-sharp, clean images; solid blacks; true colours and flesh tones: the texture, depth and clarity on offer are quite remarkable - this transfer is about as good as standard definition gets.
French audio is provided in reliable 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both are dependable, though the latter sounds truer and fuller when it comes to getting the almost constant score across. Burned-in English subtitles are well-written and easy to read.
Metrodome's DVD contains a static main menu page. From there, a similarly static scene selection option allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
There are no bonus features, unless you count trailers for MEA CULPA, IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE and HYENA. The disc is defaulted to open with these.
Eric Hannezo's RABID DOGS should perhaps be retitled PUPPIES WITH MILD DISTEMPER. It looks great, desperately wants to impress with slick editing and cinematography, but lacks any character development or tension along the way. Stick with the far superior original!
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Metrodome|
|see main review|