Released by: Camera Obscura
Released on: November, 2011.
Director: Franco Prosperi
Cast: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Ugo Bologna, Louisa Lloyd
Originally released by Lightning Video (a subsidiary of Vestron) back in the VHS days, Franco Prosperi’s cinematic swansong, 1983’s Wild Beasts, lives again on DVD thanks to the restorative efforts of German’s Camera Obscura. Set in an unnamed city in Northern Europe (which turns out to be a mix of footage shot in Rome and Hamburg), the film follows a veterinarian named Rupert Berner (John Aldrich) who works at the local zoo feeding and caring for the animals. After we watch some guy hack up a horse’s head and feed it to some tigers, we learn that one of the tiger’s cubs got a little overzealous when mom was feeding him and gave her a nasty bite. Not thinking much of it, he heads home for the night but while he’s gone, something happens to the animals and once the elephants break through the walls of the zoo, chaos erupts and the wild animals begin to roam the streets.
Meanwhile, a woman named Laura Schwarz (Lorraine De Selle) who works with Berner is on her way to pick up her obnoxious daughter, Suzy (Louisa Lloyd) from dance school. Of course, as she’s on her way there on the train a tiger attacks and wreaks havoc. While all of this is going on rats are attacking amorous couples and unfortunate kitty cats, elephants are destroying airports, cheetahs are chasing Volkswagen Beetles, lions are running amuck and chowing down on cows at a slaughterhouse, wildebeests are stampeding and polar bears are harassing irritating young dance students. Only Berner and a lone cop seem to be taking any of this seriously and so they decide to try to figure out what happened to cause all of this and more importantly how to stop it.
Not particularly concerned with plot so much as it is with bombarding the viewer with one set piece of animal attacks after another, you can’t fault Wild Beasts in the pacing department. Once the animals get their fur up and are on the attack the film moves at an impressive speed right through to its completely screwy conclusion. With that said, there’s some content here sure to make some folks question just what it is exactly that they’re watching – if all too real shots of a cat being attacked by rats and or lions tearing into the throats of cows or of rats being torched with a flamethrower don’t sit well with you, be prepared going into this one. The movie also has a strange, albeit completely nonsexual, topless scene involving prepubescent Louisa Lloyd that lingers just a little bit longer than you might feel comfortable with.
Those odd qualities aside, Wild Beasts is a pretty solid ‘when animals attack’ film filled with some pretty memorable sequences. Prosperi and his crew have done a pretty solid job of editing the film, working in some effects and props alongside actual footage of the animals themselves to give you the impression that, yeah, they are messing up those humans in particularly nasty ways. The rat attack sequence is probably the most ridiculous, as our two young lovers seem somehow oblivious to all of the squeaking and squealing going on outside their car, but it’s also amazingly gross with its vivid depictions of grubby rodents tearing into human flesh. Also be on the lookout for that aforementioned chase scene in which a cheetah runs down a blonde in a Volkswagen through some eerily empty streets lit by neon business signs. The sequence in which the elephants lay waste to the airport just as a plane is to land is also memorable, if not for the chaos that erupts, then for the awesome Antonio Margheriti style miniature work, and be on the lookout for a nod to either Suspira or The Beyond in a scene where a blind man is attacked by his seeing eye dog, a German Sheppard named Brek!
Buried somewhere under all of this zaniness there’s supposedly a message of sorts, probably some sort of statement about humanity’s mistreatment of animals, but the actual animal violence in the movie completely contradicts whatever good intentions might have been there in that regard. What we’re left with is prime exploitation movie material. The acting leans heavily towards wooden, the script is a mess, and the movie doesn’t really always make sense but you’ve got to admire the way it just goes for the throat and delivers pretty much exactly what it promises.
Camera Obscura’s anamorphic widescreen transfer is an impressive one, boasting nice, lifelike colors and realistic skin tones throughout. Compression artifacts are non-existent and there are no issues with edge enhancement. Print damage is kept to the bare minimum with only some minor specks to note. Black levels are generally pretty strong, though some of the night time scenes aren’t quite as inky as you might get from a more modern feature. Regardless, overall the image here is very strong – sharp, colorful, detailed and film-like.
Dolby Digital 2.0 audio options are provided in German, Italian and English with subtitles provided in German and English. For review purposes, we watched the movie with the English track, though the other tracks were sampled and sound fine. The score is nice and strong here, plenty powerful without burying the dialogue. The English dubbing is a bit goofy at times but it’s perfectly audible. Levels are properly balanced through and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to note. The English subtitles translate the Italian track, not the English language track.
The biggest and best of the extras on this disc is a half hour interview with Prosperi who talks about initially filming this movie in Africa but having to relocate it back to Europe after terrorists shot up the hotel he and his crew were staying in. From there he talks about working with the animals, most of whom were fairly tame and from an acquaintances zoo, and discusses some interesting problems that took place while trying to shoot the scene in which the tiger attacks the subway car. Quite candid and honest, Prosperi also discusses the staging of a scene in one of his mondo movies and how his mondo movie experiences helped him on this movie. He also discusses the producer and the film’s success in Japan.
A second featurette finds an Italian genre film journalist named Antonio Bruschini discussing this picture for a few minutes, followed by a ten minute memorial segment put together by the man who made the extras for this disc. Rounding out the extras are the film’s original Italian language trailer, a still gallery and animated menus and chapter stops (available in English or German options). Inside the fancy slipcase packaging is a booklet of liner notes discussing the ‘nature run amuck’ genre and Wild Beasts’ place within it.
The Final Word:
This is one that nobody probably expected to see get a special edition release, but here it is, completely uncut and presented in excellent condition with some choice supplements as well. Wild Beasts might not always make the most sense but it moves at a fantastic pace and offers up some pretty impressive and memorably bizarre scenes making Franco Prosperi’s final film one to watch for.