Franco Prosperi, 1984
Starring: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Ugo Bologna, Louisa Lloyd
Franco Prosperi made a career for himself with mondo documentaries like the famous Mondo Cane (1962) and Africa Addio (1966). His early ‘80s animals attack film, Wild Beasts aka Belve feroci follows a similar pattern. It is less a narrative film and more a series of vignettes where enraged animals stalk, attack and kill hapless humans. And it is absolutely wonderful.
In an undisclosed city (Frankfurt, I think), the water supply is contaminated with PCP. This affects the local zoo. All the animals freak out, demolish the zoo, and then proceed to tear their way through the city and the human population. Laura, a reporter, and her zoo keeper/scientist boyfriend Rupert try to get to the bottom of the mystery. They also have to rescue Laura’s daughter from her ballet school, which is under siege from an enormous, hungry polar bear.
The lack of plot or characterization might bother some people, but most of the time it just slows animal disaster films down. In this case, Prosperi gives almost all the screen time to total animal massacre. Nearly everything you can think of is in this film. A young couple making out in the car is eaten by a horde of insane rats. A blind man is killed and eaten by his service dog (a German Shepherd a la The Beyond and Suspiria). Elephants break out of the zoo (literally, by tearing down brick walls) and rampage through traffic, smashing cars and killing people, occasionally with the cunning use of their trunks. A cheetah chases down cars on the highway and terrifies motorists. A tiger breaks into a subway car and eats a bunch of hapless passengers. A hyena finds a meat packaging plant and causes a herd of bulls and cows to stampede. And then there is the very real polar bear that terrorizes a dance class full of children. And so on.
What is really insane about this film, aside from all the animal action, is just how many real animals are used and how close the actors get to a number of large mammalian predators. This film absolutely could not be made today. The male lead, John Aldrich, is even shown with one arm around the polar bear, who takes an irritated swat at him. Aldrich doesn’t seem to care or notice, but that is potentially very dangerous, as polar bears are not as easy to train as their cousins in the black or brown bear families. They are also my favorite.
Animal lovers (of which I am one), may be uncomfortable with this film. At the beginning, there is a disclaimer that says no animals were harmed, which I seriously doubt. There are obviously some rats set on fire, pigs are attacked by big cats, and a poor cow is molested by a hyena. Sadly, this isn’t out of place in ‘70s or ‘80s Italian horror. If you can get past all that and hope that it’s fake, this is an incredibly fun film. Wild Beasts doesn’t try to be much more than a film about zoo animals ramping, but there are some nods to Italian horror. Star Lorraine De Selle was in Cannibal Ferox and the police inspector was played by Ugo Bologna (best name ever), who appeared in Zombie, Nightmare City and some Italian crime films. And the surprise ending of the film is pretty horrific. It turns out that the children have also been affected by PCP...
Wild Beasts will probably only appeal to a certain kind of audience, but I enthusiastically recommend it anyway. It suffers from some clunky, dark cinematography, but that’s probably the only bad thing about it. It’s worlds above other berserk zoo trash like The Beasts Are on the Streets and must be seen to be believed. Unfortunately it’s a little hard to get ahold of, but there’s a region 2 PAL DVD from Camera Obscura that my friends over at Diabolik DVD have in stock.