‘Wild Beasts’ (1984) Review

A short one, as I’d spent all day in a migraine haze and with power tools in the background as our doors were replaced/fixed. Good times.

“she’s not crazy, she’s being chased by a cheetah!”

Since I’ve been doing 31 Days I’ve always watched a few Creature Feature’s that (mostly) consist of 70’s era ‘animal attack’ movies, like Piranha, Frogs and Kingdom of the Spiders. There’s a particular style to these things that I enjoy (and enjoy making fun of) and they feel like a spiritual successor to the giant bug movies of the 1950’s – replacing radiation with pollution/destruction of the environment. (And being much cheaper, as the animals are generally life-sized – except for Burt I. Gordon flicks.)

It also seems like a very American genre. (Although Australia makes a play with The Long Weekend and any number of killer croc movies.) I’m not sure why that is, beyond the widespread cultural awareness of pollution and the environment that the 70’s had. I still remember the ‘crying Indian’ ads, for instance. For whatever the reason, most – if not all – of the 70’s ‘nature rebels’ films I’ve seen so far have been American. Wild Beasts is NOT American, though. It’s an Italian entry, and though it’s a little late- it’s from 1984 – it absolutely fits into the category. It makes me wish the Italians had jumped on the bandwagon during the heydey – I imagine a Lucio Fulci ‘animal attack’ film would have been particularly crazy.

Fair warningWild Beasts was directed by Franco Prosperi of Mondo Cane fame. There are several scenes of real animal deaths/attacks that are disturbing (particularly a sequence of rats burning alive). These are legit horrifying and if you think that those will bother you in any way, I urge you to avoid watching the film. (They’re still bothering me now.) It was also pointed out in the comments that there is a moment of an underage girl without a top, which I don’t remember, but is – as they said – gross.

The Medium
Wild Beasts can be found on streaming YouTube, and can be rented or purchased from Amazon, Vudu and iTunes. There’s also a Blu-ray release from Severin

The Movie
The opening sequences of Wild Beasts treat us to a wailing 80’s sax on the soundtrack and alternating visuals of a big European city, sewage and gray water running through open channels, and animals at a local zoo. It’s cut like an 80’s music video and does the job of conflating all of those elements into your expectations. Animals will be affected by pollution and get loose in the big city. The film does not disappoint on that front.

PCP gets into the water supply, animals go crazy, technology fails and suddenly roaming gangs of elephants are strangling people with their trunks and stomping on their heads. I’m not kidding. That happens.

If it wasn’t for the real animal deaths/woundings I think this would end up being one of my favorite ‘guilty pleasure’ films. It’s terrible and awesome in equal measure. You get scenes of a cheetah chasing a convertible, rats eating a couple in a car, a tiger eating a priest in a subway car full of screaming people and a polar bear calmly stalking two children down a school hallway. It’s just full of stuff that makes you go “did I really just see elephants cause a plane crash?” Yes, yes you did.

You also get to hear lines like, “What do you mean you can’t find elephants? You know what elephants are? They’re elephants, not lice!” And “She’s not crazy, she’s being chased by a cheetah!”

There is a nominal plot line involving a zookeeper and his cop buddy/chauffer and a reporter who happens to be the worst parent on earth, but really it’s just so we have a few recognizable faces to give us plot details while the animals run through a street fair or attack a dance class.

The animal attacks are all at night and are staged and shot in a way that makes them far more effective than most films in the genre. There is something amazing about seeing a cheetah just roaming the streets of a shopping district. (You get the sense the cat is just as freaked out by all the mannequins as I would be.) The actors are also often in the same shot with the animals, which adds a sense of danger that the quick-cut or racked focus shot doesn’t accomplish in other films.

In most American animal attack films the intransigence and incompetence of the authorities is what allows the attacks to propagate, but in Italy the police station is futuristic (for the 80’s), including a glass wall with calculations.( Apparently police cars are organized via complex orbital mechanics in Italy.) This allows them to get the warning out pretty quickly and the authorities in general seem competent – albeit stretched thin in the face of attacks and a power outage (caused by those elephants and the plane crash earlier).

In addition to the animal attacks there are car chases, plane crashes, explosions and knife attacks. It’s like a weird combination of animal attack film and disaster movie. The plot point about the PCP comes late in the film and is followed immediately by… it wearing off. The animals start to go docile just as most animal attack films are gearing up. But don’t worry, things aren’t over quite yet.

You see, the children in the dance class have all been drinking the water as well.

Bottom Line
Wild Beasts alternates between being hilarious, effective and disturbing. I really wish the filmmakers hadn’t killed real animals or used them in such disturbing situations, because the film doesn’t need it, and their inclusion means I can’t really recommend or enjoy it without severe caveats.

Author: Bob Cram

Would like to be mysterious but is instead, at best, slightly ambiguous.