Mario Bava’s “KIDNAPPED”: Confined in the Open Country (Blu-ray Review)
Kino’s ongoing transfer of the work of Mario Bava to Blu-ray presents not only a celebration of the Italian master’s filmography, but a way to gorge and gain perspective on a filmmaker that’s gone on to influence so much. I did as such last year, upon release of BLACK SUNDAY, HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON and LISA & THE DEVIL. Viewing all three, spread throughout Bava’s career, in a vaccum (with Tim Lucas’ informed commentary accompanying) shone light on the more personal flourishes in Bava films. Namely, that his homebody nature and reticence to leave Italy became a theme of confinement to history, legacy, supernatural fate or psychological trauma. So, what happened when Bava got out?
While not traditionally eerie, Bava’s “lost” KIDNAPPED may be his most tense, nervous, wince-inducing work. In his more lush films, in which Bava stylishly roves great halls and foggy grounds with vibrant color, there’s a comfort or resignation. It’s an aesthetic horror fans and enthusiasts of the macabre relish. The characters, often frightened and fraught may be debilitated by any number of things, but Bava knows this prison and will take it in lovingly as he fills it with dread.
In KIDNAPPED, the prison is greater contemporary (at the time) Italy. With no mystical atmosphere swirling, the film is a gritty, sometimes off-putting, nihilistic affair about untrustworthy, despicable humanity. It opens with a hold-up. Four men take a briefcase of cash. One is shot dead, leaving Doc (Maurice Polli), 32 (George Eastman) and Blade (Don Backy) on the run. Cornered in a parking garage, they use two innocent bystanders to escape, murdering one and fleeing with the other, Maria (Lea Lander), and her car. After ditching Maria’s Fiat, they infringe on Riccardo (Riccardo Cucciolla) and his sick son, forcing everyone into a small vehicle with the aim to get the hell out of the city.
Out there in the open country though, KIDNAPPED may be Bava’s most contained claustrophobic work. Largely taking place in an automobile, the film is positively shrill at times. Doc, the cool customer leader of the gang is frankly outnumbered by the level of frenzy that takes place in such close quarters. Blade and 32 are quick tempered, loud animals (one of the film’s alternate titles is RABID DOGS) who only speak in threats. Maria is loaded with fear and even when not making a sound, her distressed appearance speaks volumes. It surely doesn’t help that at all times, a child lies in the middle of the ordeal, with Blade’s blade pointed in his direction on several occasions.
Often, the type of criminal-hostage dynamic throughout KIDNAPPED is familiar, if fantastically told by Bava. Two sequences of suspense stand out greatly, however, highlighting the sheer terror of the ensemble at play. In one, Maria briefly escapes with 32 and Blade chasing after. It culminates in a moment not unlike Wes Craven’s lurid THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, where the two thieves force Maria to urinate out in the open. It’s possibly the roughest we’ve seen from Bava, and once again without supernatural circumstance, could speak greatly to his own view of the surrounding world.
Later on, a second Maria appears. Stranded by a broken car, she pushes herself onto the band of criminals and their captives, thinking they’ll help get her to a mechanic. With nothing but tight, all-too-close angles and a fantastic, obnoxious performance by Maria Fabbri as the chatterbox Maria, Bava wrings incredible nervous energy out of the set up. It of course ends terribly, leaving the criminals to dump the bodies of Maria and 32. In one of the film’s only notable wide shots, an aerial view of their corpses laid out in the country seems to say this is the only way free; the only way out of that car.
The bleakest note could be the one KIDNAPPED ends on. The destination is naturally death-filled and the faint light that emerges is one that betrays. It’s a moment that acts both as thriller twist and ultimate reveal that even in its darkest moments, Bava was not toying with you. There really is no hope. It’s a similar end to something like LISA & THE DEVIL—in which the title character is caught endlessly in a surreal loop the devil manipulates—but here, there’s nothing so richly designed to drink in, to get lost in. It’s a grounded, harrowing affair that at once holds with Bava’s themes and feels truly unexpected.
KIDNAPPED is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.