When one goes into a film from the ever intriguing canon of director Mario Bava, there are a few things one should learn to expect. Neon colored photography, erotically-tinged blending of melodrama and horror and, most importantly, blood so red that it is nearly blinding. However, what most film fans don’t realize is that the legendary horror icon was just as big a fan as other types of genres as he was the genre that made his career.
Be it his co-directing of a seminal Italian sci-fi film like The Day The Sky Exploded or a blending of genres like Planet Of The Vampires, Bava made as big a wave in other areas of cinema as he ever did in horror. And thankfully, the good folks at Kino Lorber haven’t neglected to realize this in a new continuation of their Mario Bava Collection home video series.
Entitled Kidnapped, Bava goes into the realm of the pure-blooded thriller, telling the story of a couple kidnapped by a gang of bank robbers following their latest botched scheme. Three evil criminals nab the young woman and older man, along with a child, and drive them out to the countryside in hopes of getting clear of any heat that may be coming their way from the police. Oddly beautiful and startlingly bleak, Bava’s film is an interesting digression from a filmmaker who brings his own blend of darkness of narrative and beauty of aesthetic turning this bizarre thriller into something that is both entertaining and brutally made.
Bava’s picture may be one of his most vicious. While much of Bava’s horror work features its fair share of brutal violence, but not nearly as palpable and tactile as the violence found within this film. Again, beautifully shot and framed by Bava and his cinematographer, the film is a gorgeous picture that is impossible to forget about. There are moments here so bleak and tough to watch that it feels as though Bava is truly working out some major thematic issues, with Kidnapped revolving entirely around the darkness found within each and every human being, and the inevitability of that malevolence. Taut and shockingly assured from a filmmaker you would never imagine delving into this small thriller, it lacks the melodramatic set design or much of the neon photography found within his pictures, but makes up for it with a narrative that ramps up to a genuinely effective conclusion all thanks to performances that go above and beyond what you’d expect from a Bava picture.
With performances never truly the focus of a Bava film, here, he gets some solid turns from relatively unknown thespians. George Eastman steals many scenes as the snarling and sneering ThirtyTwo, a manic robber who is truly the gang’s loose cannon. It’s an over the top performance from an actor who appears thrilled to be letting off the steam, a manic maniac fueled by seemingly nothing more that pure, distilled id. Surrounded by other actors like Don Backy, Maurice Poli, Lea Lander, Riccardo Cucciolla and Erika Dario, Eastman fits perfectly here, as do many of the character actors tapped for their respective performances. The gang, particularly (led by Backy, Eastman and Poli), carry much of the weight here, as the tension inherent in this type of plot only makes the slow boil under each of their characters surfaces all the more intriguing and potent.
Now, this type of picture isn’t without its inherent problems. The drama here often veers to the tough-to-watch side of things, particularly near the film’s conclusion. It’s a deeply troubling watch that hinges on everything from blood to, well, other bodily fluids. Black as the night sky, Kidnapped is a bleak existential thriller that, while taut, may overstay its welcome for many viewers. However, for fans of Mario Bava, Kino’s Blu-ray of this picture is relatively great. Bare bones, the picture does get a superb new restoration and transfer, and the film being one of Bava’s later works that was previously thought lost, makes this something a tad bit more than a curio for genre fans. A commentary or retrospective is desperately missing here, especially when the price point is relatively steep (a bare bones $25 Blu-ray feels a tad odd in today’s market), but Bava’s bleaker than bleak gem is a truly interesting entry into the canon of one of film’s most underrated genre icons.