Monday, June 22, 2015

The Wild Beasts (1984)


This is the film that Gavcrimson mentioned in the comments a couple of posts ago:  The Wild Beasts (or Belve Feroci, to give the movies its original Italian title).  I managed to watch the film in Italian over the weekend.  Now, my Italian is non-existent, but believe me, this isn't the sort of movie where you need to understand the dialogue in order to grasp what is going on.  The scenario is simple - dangerous levels of PCP somehow get into Frankfurt's water supply and the zoo animals that drink it go berserk, break out of their cages and run amok on the city streets.  That's it.  The characters are all stock: heroic moustachioued zoo keeper, dogged cop, lady reporter, imperilled daughter of said reporter.  But none of this matters.  It is the execution of this set-up which is, to be frank, astounding.

Made in the early eighties, Wild Beasts predates the kind of CGI technology which would be used nowadays to send hordes of slightly unconvincing wild animals stampeding through the streets.  Instead, the film makers staged it all for real.  So we have incredible shots of a herd of elephants careering down a main street in Frankfurt, causing motoring mayhem, a polar bear terrorising children at a dance class and a tiger rampaging around on a commuter train.  Perhaps most amazing of all these sequences is that which sees a drug crazed cheetah chasing a car down what looks like a main thoroughfare, itself pursued by a police car from which our heroic zoo keeper tries to shoot it with a pistol.  Watching this kind of thing makes you wonder if you yourself might have inadvertently ingested some kind of hallucinogenic substance.

That these sequences should have a certain cinema verite, or even documentary, feel to them should come as no surprise, as the film's director was none other than Frederico Prosperi, co-director of Mondo Cane and several other mondo movies.  The film's quick cutting between unrelated animal attack sequences in different parts of the city is reminiscent of the editing style used to segue between sequences in mondo movies, for instance, as the use of recurring motifs which underline and emphasise the film's themes: attacks on humans often occur under the unblinking gaze of stuffed animals, and mounted animal specimens feature in the background of several scenes, for instance.  More negatively, the film also features plenty of the animal cruelty characteristic of mondo movies: when a horde of rats are destroyed with a flame thrower, for instance, it is clear that real rodents have been incinerated - a disturbing number can be seen trying to escape the inferno, their fur ablaze.  In a later sequence, several escaped big cats make their way into the local slaughterhouse, where they terrorise the pigs, horses and cattle awaiting their fate - the terror of these animals is evident and one lion is allowed to maul and kill a cow trapped in a holding pen.  Again, this sequence is clearly real and not faked.

For sensitive UK and US audiences, (the film never received a theatrical release in either country and English-language VHS and DVD releases have been sparse), the film commits another, possibly even more heinous crime than showing scenes of animal cruelty: it climaxes with the murderous antics of drug addled pre-pubescent children, who cut their teacher to ribbons whilst under the influence.  The spirit of Prosperi's mondo days clearly lives on in his apparent determination to shock in Wild Beasts. On a lighter note, one of the animal set pieces topples over into such utter, surreal, ludicrousness that it made me laugh out loud.  The elephants eventually crash through the perimeter fence of the local airport, giving us truly surreal images of them wandering past hangars full of Jumbo jets, before wandering onto the runway, where they cause an airliner to crash as it comes into land.  Utterly insane, completely over the top and laugh out loud funny - it is a sequence which wouldn't have looked out of place in one of the Airplane movies.

Ultimately, whilst no masterpiece, The Wild Beasts is surprisingly effective in turning its titular creatures into truly monstrous presences.  Prosperi succeeds in making these familiar zoo animals into terrifying alien presences, apparently hell-bent on destroying the human race.  Sure, the film is full of lapses in logic - if the water supply is contaminated, surely the human inhabitants of the city would also all be high as kites, whereas only a small group of children seen to be affected, for example - and a lot of it is in poor taste, but it is hugely entertaining and full of 'what he fuck?' moments.  The fact is that The Wild Beasts could never have been made in the UK or US, (the animal cruelty involved in the making alone would have ensured it was still-born), and, as such, stands as another reminder that there is a whole world of non-English speaking film-making out there which seems completely alien to our eyes.  Sadly, most people in the UK are so parochial that they'll never expose themselves to the experience of watching foreign films which don't espouse the same narrow range of values and attitudes embodied by UK and US films.  I'd happily recommend The Wild Beasts to anyone wanting to broaden their cinematic horizons - it's far more entertaining than a dozen sub-titled continental art house movies.

Finally, kudos to Gavcrimson for putting me onto this film in the first place.  Go visit his site.

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