I was pretty surprised to learn that a remake of Mario Bava's Rabid Dogs (1974) had been filmed under everyone's noses, and once it popped up on Netflix streaming I had to check it out. The original Rabid Dogs is one of Bava's most atypical and yet most effective thrillers, in which the director very consciously sought to reinvent himself. Bava was (and still is) most renowned for his Gothic horror films, but his Romantic and stylized approach to the genre seemed hopelessly dated to seventies film-goers, and so he set about producing an extremely gritty and contemporary crime thriller. Unfortunately the film wasn't released in Bava's lifetime due to an untimely bankruptcy on the producer's part, and post-production wasn't completed until the mid-nineties. With all of this in mind, it strikes me as particularly interesting that this is the first Bava film to receive an official remake, and even more so to see how radically different Hannezo's approach is from Bava's.
The story concerns three criminals on the run after a violent robbery, and the game of cat and mouse that plays out between them and their three hostages: a woman, a man, and the man's young daughter. As the film begins, a character who we will soon identify as the male hostage tells himself in voice-over, "Ignore the assholes who preach. This is your story. Only your version matters. No other." Here Hannezo seems to be telling the viewer to forget Bava's version, and that this new film should be judged on its own merits, but the words strike me as insincere since the film itself is credited as an adaptation of Bava's film rather than the short story, "Man and Boy," and even uses a techno cover of Stelvio Cipriani's original theme music. Nonetheless, Hannezo does distinguish himself from Bava in a number of ways.
Whereas Bava tells his frantic story in a linear fashion, and essentially in real time, Hannezo attempts to flesh out the film and its characters with several stylized flashbacks. Thus we see how such-and-such criminal began their life of crime, what our hostages were up to before their capture, etc. While the scenes are beautifully lensed in vivid Refn-esque primary colors by D.P. Kamal Derkaoui, they don't contribute anything of importance to the narrative. The insights they provide into the characters are superficial at best, and don't significantly inform their decisions throughout the story. More surprising, though, is how much tamer Hannezo's version is in terms of its on screen violence. Though the gunshots are more graphic here than in the original, most likely due to Bava's meager budget ruling out elaborate make-up effects, it significantly dials down the torture and sexual violence that its heroine undergoes. This isn't necessarily a criticism (who leaves a movie complaining there wasn't enough rape, other than sadists and serial killers?), but it does mean that Bava's film is easily the more shocking and transgressive of the two. And since Hannezo films his story in a far more glossy, stylized way than Bava, the violence isn't nearly as hard-hitting when it does occur, though he certainly knows how to craft an exciting chase scene.
The biggest issue with the remake, I think, is in the casting, since the players here are largely interchangeable, with the only standouts being Lambert Wilson as the man, and François Arnaud as the most sadistic of the three criminals. Arnaud isn't given as much to do as his counterpart in the original, but he has a young Oliver Reed vibe to him, which made him stand out in a big way. Unfortunately the largely generic actors here make it far more difficult to care about the characters' fates.
After the last scene played out in almost exactly the same fashion as in the original film, I found myself questioning why this one even needs to exist. Though it's very well produced and reasonably entertaining, it doesn't really accomplish anything of note that the original film didn't do better. By providing a new point of comparison with Bava's original film (another point being the misguided Kidnapped cut assembled by Alfredo Leone and Lamberto Bava), though, this remake sheds greater light on why Bava's interpretation of the story remains so effective, so for that I appreciate the experience. If you haven't seen either version, though, I'd definitely stick with Bava's, which remains a classic of its genre.