There’s no escape.
In the history of “killer animal” movies, there has never been anything quite like Wild Beasts.
We’ve seen movies in which one individual animal — be it shark or gator or grizzly bear — gets all worked up and goes out for blood. We’ve seen movies in which a single species of animal — worms, slugs, spiders, ants, even rabbits — rise up as one and begin attacking humans. There have even been movies in which every kind of animal strikes back, usually because of environmental factors; I’m talking about your Long Weekend and your Day of the Animals. But the 1984 Italian production Wild Beasts (aka Belve Feroci), now available on Blu-ray for the first time from Severin Films, is the first and only killer animal movie I can think of in which the epidemic is caused by angel dust.
Yes, PCP somehow gets into the water supply in the movie’s unnamed city, causing all of the animals to go berserk and kill everyone in sight. It starts with a couple of rats eating a couple in a car, but by the time the movie has finished there will have been a herd of stampeding elephants, killer cheetahs, a tiger on a subway car and, my personal favorite, a polar bear attacking a dance studio full of children. A zoologist (played by Lorraine de Selle, veteran of Italian horror films like House on the Edge of the Park and Cannibal Ferox) is investigating the epidemic…sort of. Mostly she’s trying to reach her young daughter and get her to safety.
That’s pretty much the whole movie: the premise is established early on (and by “premise,” I mean that the animals begin to attack. We don’t find out why until very late in the film, which then helps to explain the shots the open the movie of needles littering the streets.) and the remainder of the movie consists of animal attack after animal attack. Every single one has some sort of gory, bloody ending, usually when the victims’ ravaged bodies are lingered on after the fact. As a plot, there’s not much going on here. That doesn’t matter. We come to a movie like Wild Beasts to see some beasts go wild, and Wild Beasts offers plenty of that.
Director Franco Prosperi is no stranger to controversy, having previously collaborated on and co-directed titles like Mondo Cane, Africa Blood and Guts and Goodbye Uncle Tom, all movies that caused an uproar at the time of their release. Wild Beasts isn’t quite as controversial as those, though Prosperi does carry on the unfortunate Italian horror tradition of committing animal cruelty for the sake of a movie (in this case involving some rats). It’s inexcusable behavior and casts a pall over the rest of the film, which is otherwise insane and insanely entertaining, particularly for the way that it uses real live animals to achieve its crazy stunt sequences. There is a sense of danger over the whole thing because it feels like Prosperi could easily lose control of the situation at any given moment. That he doesn’t might just be blind luck more than anything else, though reportedly there were circus trainers on set to work with the animals and ensure the safety of both the beasts and the actors.
Severin’s new Blu-ray of Wild Beasts is a treasure, first because I suspect it’s going to be the way that a whole new audience discovers the movie and second because it’s the kind of loving treatment that some of these boutique labels have gotten so good at lavishing on oddball cult titles like this one in recent years. The 1.66:1-framed image is in full 1080p HD and looks quite good, with very little signs of age or wear and a considerable amount of natural color balance and detail considering the source; any softness is a function of the way that the movie was shot and not a faulty transfer. Two audio tracks are offered: a lossless English dub (recommended) and a stereo track in Italian, though I can’t really say “original” Italian because so much of the movie’s dialogue was spoken and recorded in English. Both tracks are unremarkable but serviceable. English subtitles have been included for those who want to watch the film with the Italian audio.
A number of interviews have been included, kicking off with a good talk with director Franco Prosperi (“Altered Beasts”). Also included is an interview with star Tony Di Leo (“Wild Tony”), editor and mondo filmmaker Mario Morra (“Cut After Cut”), Carlo Tiberti, the son of animal wrangler Roberto Tiberti (“The Circus is in Town”) and a tour of Prosperi’s home (“House of Wild Beasts”). The original international trailer is also included.
As a lover of crazy exploitation movies — especially of the Italian variety — Wild Beasts is a glorious assembly of insane writing, over the top gore and reckless endangerment. It’s not the kind of movie I’m recommending for camp value (because I don’t really watch movies for that reason), but rather for the extent to which it commits to the bit. There are a whole lot of killer animal movies. There is only one Wild Beasts.
More fun than a herd of elephants on PCP.