WILD BEASTS, shot in 1983 and released in 1984, was a late arrival in the cycle of nature-runs-amuck films which were predominantly popular in the 1970s. DOGS, THE FOOD OF THE GODS, JAWS, PIRANHA, GRIZZLY, THE DAY OF THE ANIMALS, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, PHASE IV ... that decade was rife with such fodder. By the 1980s, we had precious little to write home about: a couple of JAWS sequels, James Cameron's PIRANHA 2: FLYING KILLERS, ALLIGATOR, CUJO. Not much else of note.

But the Italians were always great at jumping onto a bandwagon, even if it was somewhat belatedly. In this instance, we got WILD BEASTS - a curious proposition from Franco Prosperi, co-director of such notorious shockumentaries as MONDO CANE and GOODBYE UNCLE TOM. WILD BEASTS was his last film as a director, and it's a glorious slice of trash cinema with added "they don't make 'em like this anymore" shock factor thrown in for good measure.

The plot itself is perfunctory. We open to scenes of animals such as lions and tigers getting fed raw, bloody pieces of meat in their cages at a Frankfurt zoo (or "a northern European city" as the introductory text has us informed) - including some arguably needless footage of fresh horse and cow cadavers getting hacked apart as an early eye-opener, of course. Note how these creatures are all thirstily lapping at their respective water bowls post-feed. This will be the catalyst for all of the madness about to ensue.

But first we meet journalist Laura (Lorraine De Selle). She's a better professional woman than she is a mother to her wise-talking, disco-loving teen daughter Suzy (Louisa Lloyd). Indeed, Laura spends most of her time following animal scientist boyfriend Rupert (Toni De Leo, appearing under his English name John Aldrich) around. He even treats her to a tour of the zoo at feeding time, where he demonstrates his masculinity by sedating an adult tiger.

One thing that's noticed during this excursion is the odd, aggressive behaviour of some of the animals. Especially the tiger cub that has taken to biting its own mother's teats during feeding. Thank goodness, then, that the zoo employs a "new-fangled" electronic security system to keep the beasts caged at all times...

Back at Rupert's lab, he busies himself investigating the cause of the animals' behaviour while Laura lurks in the background excitedly dreaming up titles for the sensational story she's already planning on writing about the phenomena.

In the meantime, pretty young Faye (Tiziana Tannozzini) and her amorous beau Karl (Alessandro Freyberger) have taken the awful decision to make out near the zoo that evening, in the latter's car. This is not a wise move, as they soon discover when the vehicle becomes infested by hordes of demented rats.

Later that night, the zoo's security guards - who, in-between reading porno mags and playing cards, aren't the most conscientious of employees - are alarmed when the zoo's larger beasts finally go off their tits and forcibly escape from their respective cages. Lions, elephants, tigers ... spelling bad news for anyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity, of course.

While environmental inspector Braun (Ugo Bologna) alerts Rupert to the rats attack, prompting the animal scientist to start linking their erratic behaviour to that of the infant tiger earlier in the day, the zoo's beasts run amuck - causing havoc and bloodshed everywhere they go.

Can Laura and Rupert discover the root cause of the animals' madness and bring their reign of terror to an end?

WILD BEASTS is a fairly singular film. It's not exactly stylish nor has there been a great deal of care put into either Prosperi's pulpy script or the rather clumsily theatrical performances. This is all about the spectacle: it's all about delivering on the promises of outrageous animal attacks with agreeable regularity.

With this in mind, and at the expense of seeking finesse in any other area of production, Prosperi delivers in spades. The early rats scene is gloriously gory, a combination of trained beasts scurrying over petrified actors and bloody prosthetic effects working towards grossing out viewers.

Later, we get full-sized lions and tigers leaping onto frantic actors and mauling them. Albeit the animals were apparently trained to do so, and many of the actors in these scenes were the circus performers who'd trained them, but ... fuck, it all still looks incredibly dangerous and raw. And Prosperi, naturally, throws a lot of stage blood around to heighten the impact of each and every attack.

There are a lot of quirky characters in the film though none of the actors are graced with much in the way of charisma. It hardly matters; this is all about the wacky premise, the breakneck pace and the outlandish set-piece scenes. Oh, and the production history, which just serves to make what you're seeing on screen all the more remarkable.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, they really don't make films like this anymore. In fact, I'd imagine there are laws against making films in these manners nowadays. Not all of the animals survived the shoot, and more than a couple of the human participants were injured along the way. The end results are undeniably invigorating in a film that's never boring, always entertaining and bolstered further by a memorably melodramatic score from Daniele Patucchi.

Severin Films bring WILD BEASTS to US blu-ray on a region-free disc. It presents the film fully uncensored - 91 minutes and 48 seconds in length.

Presented as an MPEG4-AVC file, the film benefits from a new digital restoration which utilises original negative materials and gives them the benefit of a full 1080p HD overhaul. Correctly framed at 1.66:1, the picture quality here is clean and imbued with much more detail than ever before. A healthy sheen of grain remains, reassuring purists with an authentic filmic look and feel which allays any fears of unnecessary noise reduction. True of its time, some scenes are darker and softer than others - but this is a great transfer, pure and simple. The bulk of the action is bright, sharp and impressively detailed.

Audio is proffered in options of an English-dubbed 2.0 DTS-HD soundtrack, or the original Italian track in Dolby 2.0. Both are clean, reliable propositions. Optional English subtitles are well-written and shadowed to ensure they're readable against all backgrounds.

The disc opens to an excitable animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 10 chapters.

There are a lot more bonus features than I'd expected:

"Altered States" is a fascinating 15-minute video interview with Prosperi. This finds the fast-talking director smiling a lot as he races through tales of shooting on location, the perils of the film's making, how he felt about drugging animals, and even why he considers genetically modified foods to be better than natural products.

In "Wild Tony", De Leo is afforded an enjoyable 13 minutes in which he addresses the screen, telling us about how he fell into acting before going on to share his own experiences from the WILD BEASTS shoot.

Editor Mario Morra is on hand next to share his own recollections during the well-edited "Cut after Cut". Running at a whopping 35 minutes in length, this is detailed and hugely informative piece, a tad slow in parts, but always welcomingly bolstered by choice clips from the main feature along the way.

"The Circus is in Town" is a 10-minute affair in which Carlo Tiberti, son of the film's animal wrangler, speaks of his circus family's involvement in providing the tame animals used on the film, training them and supervising much of their action scenes.

The above featurettes are all presented in HD, in Italian with easily readable English subtitles.

What follows is 13 minutes of rough footage from an abandoned documentary Severin Films had begun to film back in 2007. Shooting in Naples, their idea had been to reunite Prosperi with Jacopetti on camera - but the latter's ailing health put paid to such notions. What exists in this featurette, entitled "House of the Wild Beasts", is engrossing and sincere.

Finally, we get the film's original high-octane theatrical trailer. It's as barmy as the main feature, and is presented here in Italian with English subtitles.

WILD BEASTS may just be the ultimate nature-runs-amuck movie, by virtue of its undiluted plot and those jaw-dropping set-piece scenes of real animals posing real threats to real people. It looks great here, fully uncut, and has been furnished with an unexpectedly great array of bonus features. This is a sterling release from Severin Films.


Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Severin Films