Nature strikes back (again) when Mondo auteur Franco Prosperi's WILD BEASTS busts loose on Severin Films' Blu-ray.
When the water supply of "A Northern European City" is contaminated, the animals of the Frankfurt Zoo start behaving more aggressively. When a necking couple are devoured by thousands of rats that come up from the sewers, police inspector Braun (Ugo Bologna, NIGHTMARE CITY) calls in zoologist Rip (Tony DiLeo) for answers. Rip does not make a connection to the animals in the zoo until the elephants bust out of their enclosure and cause the computerized security system to malfunction, letting the animals loose from their electrified cages. As Rip dissects some of the rats in his lab, elephants stomp skulls, cheetahs chase motorists, lions and tigers tear apart guards, and the populace run in fear of being stampeded by bulls. Meanwhile, Rip's schoolteacher girlfriend Laura (Lorraine de Selle, HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK) tries to get across the city to her adolescent daughter Suzy (Louisa Lloyd) whose evening dance class is crashed by a polar bear.
The sole narrative and wholly fictional effort of documentarian Franco Prosperi – who helped usher in the Mondo craze with partners Gualtiero Jacopetti (MONDO CANDIDO) and Paolo Cavara (THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA) with MONDO CANE – WILD BEASTS is certainly one of the goriest nature strikes back films that is entertaining but as much of a car wreck as the many auto stunts onscreen (one of which includes a cameo by Prosperi). Points about our treatment of the planet and waste of its resources are tossed in with facile observations about man's animal nature, but the filmmakers get around budgetary issues by plunging the city into darkness and staging the action as a series of attack vignettes on anonymous streets (including an entertaining bit where a hapless motorist's VW bug is pursued by a speeding cheetah). While there is considerably more "animal violence" against humans than animals than one encounters in Italian cannibal films, there are still some disturbing bits with rats set on fire, a cat set upon by rats, and lions and hyenas attacking a slaughterhouse pen (although the people interviewed in the disc's extras say that only the rats came to real harm). What should have been a disturbing twist at the end is made risible by the dubbing without actually detracting from the film's entertainment value. The sax-heavy scoring of Daniele Patucchi (MAN FROM DEEP RIVER) is actually quite fitting under the opening titles as editor Mario Morra (CUT AND RUN) intercuts shots of gleaming metropolitan architecture and sparkling fountains with pollution, discarded needles, and foamy discolored water at the treatment center. The film was produced by Prosperi's nephew Frederico who would later helm the mutant snakes film THE BITE (released stateside as CURSE II: THE BITE).
Unreleased theatrically stateside, WILD BEASTS arrived on tape from Lightning Video in 1985. Preceding Severin's Blu-ray was a barebones but English-friendly widescreen transfer from the Scandinavian company Another World Entertainment followed by a special edition DVD from Germany's Camera Obscura with German, English, and Italian tracks and English and German subtitles, as well as an interview with Prosperi and critic Antonio Bruschini. Transferred from a new 2K scan of the interpositive, Severin's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen version will be a revelation to those of us familiar with the film from the murky Lighting Video tape or the equally unsatisfying Dutch-subtitled tape rip once available on YouTube. Apart from some white specs in a couple shots and a brief bump at the start that suggests that English-language quotation was spliced in, the transfer is crisp and colorful, calling attention not only to the artificiality of the claws, stomping feet, and toothsome mouths that make contact with the human actors, but also some gnarly prosthetic flesh wounds (as well as a particularly grisly rat-munched dummy stand-in for one of the victims) courtesy of Maurizio Trani (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY). One of the few early 1980s Italian exploitation film recorded in Dolby Stereo (Bruno Mattei's HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD was not, despite the claims of the trailer), WILD BEASTS' stereo presence makes itself felt from the start with Patucchi's score, some pop music selections (including "Across the Sky" by Douglas Meakin who would later sing "Head Over Heals" for Lucio Fulci's AENIGMA), and more playfully with animal roars, squealing vehicles, and breaking glass. The International Recording dubbing voices are all familiar on the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track. The Italian dub is included in Dolby Digital 2.0 but the optional English subtitles appear to be dubtitles.
Freak-O-Rama in concert with Severn Films has produced a handful of new video featurettes. In "Altered Beasts" (15:33), director Prosperi discusses the film's production difficulties. The film was intended to be shot in Rhodesia but civil war erupted. When production switched to South Africa, Prosperi's Mondo reputation preceded him and they were attacked by the press and production moved to Rome after shooting the scene with the elephants at the airport and the cheetah chase. He also humorously recalls how the production incurred the wrath of Roman commuters when the tiger got loose in the EUR subway station. In "Wild Tony" (12:54), actor DiLeo reveals that he had been trained as a circus animal tamer and became involved with the production through composer Patucchi. He is uneasy in speaking about the treatment of the animals, expressing his distaste for seeing them "treated like beasts" on camera and is also quick to emphasize that only some of the rats (white farm rats painted black) were harmed. He reveals that Prosperi rechristened him "John Aldrich" and Italian viewers actually believed him to be American when they spotted him at a screening. He attributes the film's poor theatrical play to being overshadowed by the release of THE DAY AFTER (which was apparently a success in Italy).
In "Cut After Cut" (34:54), editor Morra spends very little time on WILD BEASTS but the interview is still of interest since his career began with Prosperi and Jacopetti as music editor on WOMEN IN THE WORLD and editor on MONDO CANE 2. His career continued in partnership with Mondo series DP Antonio Climati as they spent years trying to complete their own two-part Mondo documentary THIS VIOLENT WORLD and SWEET AND SAVAGE in between editing assignments on productions ranging from the likes SHORT NIGHT OF THE GLASS DOLLS and DEATH OCCURRED LAST NIGHT to CINEMA PARADISO and EVERYBODY 'S FINE. In "The Circus is in Town" (10:25), late animal wrangler Roberto Tiberti's son Carlo discusses his family's long-running circus that supplied the animals for the Rome scenes, the contributions of his father, uncles (Giancarlo Tiberti served as one of the trainers but also did stuntwork as the priest on the train who gets mauled by the tiger), and aunt (who played the dance teacher mauled by the polar bear). "House of Wild Beasts" (12:42) is actually composed of material shot in 2007 for a follow-up visit to Prosperi's nature reserve in an attempt to reunite estranged Prosperi and Jacopetti (cut short by Prosperi's health problems). What we get is a tour of Prosperi's property, a look at his African artifacts and other souvenirs of this travels, and some candid discussion of his partnership with Jacopetti. The very satisfying package closes out with the film's international trailer (2:23). (Eric Cotenas)
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