... aka: Savage Beasts
... aka: Wild Beast
... aka: Wild Beasts
... aka: Wild Beasts Will Get You!, The
... aka: Zoológico del Terror, El (Zoo Terror)
The first ten minutes open with a quote from "Francis Thrive" (who?), a horrible song, smokestacks, foamy water, a bunch of used hypodermic needles lying around all over the place, zookeepers chopping up a (real) dead horse with a cleaver and then feeding the parts to a bunch of big cats, a tiger having a seizure after being drugged and a creepy topless scene featuring a girl who looks to be about 10-11 years old at the most. That should pretty much prepare everyone for what's to follow in this late-issue Euro-trash riff on all those popular killer animals flicks of the 1970s. This one is actually extremely similar to an earlier made-for-American-TV-movie called THE BEASTS ARE ON THE STREETS (1978), only with the added attraction of gore, a little bit of nudity and a flagrant disregard for the safety of the animal participants, none of which should come as a surprise considering who made this. Franco Prosperi had burst onto the scene decades earlier with the international box office hit Mondo cane (1962); a documentary featuring several scenes of real animal slaughter that shocked audiences of the day. It not only ended up being nominated for numerous major awards (including the Palme d'Or at Cannes and Grammy and Oscar nominations for its soundtrack) but also single-handedly invented a new sub-genre called the "mondo film" (documentaries made for the sole purpose of shocking viewers). Prosperi, along with his co-directors on the film; Gualtiero Jacopetti and Paolo Cavaro, continued on in that subgenre for a number of years, churning out such titles as Women of the World (1963), Mondo pazzo aka Mondo Cane No. 2 (1963) and Africa addio aka Africa Blood and Guts (1966). Many of those featured scenes of violence toward animals, a trend that continues here in what turned out to be Prosperi's final film.
Set in an unnamed "Northern European City;" one of the first things we actually see is a sign for the "Frankfurt Zoo" (that they poorly attempt to hide behind a tree branch!), which puts us in Germany. There's not much in the way of plot in this one. Industrial waste containing the hallucinogen phencyclidine (improperly labeled "phenol acids" on a title card at the end) has infiltrated parts of the city water supply system, contaminating it. At a zoo, veterinarian Dr. Rupert Berner (John Aldrich) and his partner / sort-of love interest Laura Schwarz (Lorraine De Selle) begin noticing that the animals - who've been drinking the water, of course - are behaving rather strangely. Before they can get to the bottom of things, malfunctioning security at the zoo unleashes a horde of beasts from their cages, who then hit the streets at night and begin killing. The first victims are a pair of teenagers having sex in a car, who are ambushed by an army of flesh-eating rats that chew them both up (including the woman's breasts in glorious close-up). Lions, tigers and hyenas rip apart a couple of zookeepers and a security guard. A blind man's canine companion turns on him. A cheetah chases after a woman's Volkswagen bug convertible until she crashes and burns to death. A stampede of cows and horses crash through an arcade. A bunch of elephants break through a brick wall (!), enter onto a highway, cause several car crashes and attack a man and woman in a car; strangling the guy and crushing the woman's head by stomping on it! The elephants also push down a gate and enter onto an airport runway, causing an plane to crash into a power plant, which cuts off all power in the city.
While Rupert and his cop buddy, Inspector Nat Braun (Ugo Bologna, from Fulci's ZOMBIE), are busy trying to humanely hunt down the various animals with a tranquilizer gun, Laura rushes to get to her pre-teen daughter Suzy (Louisa Lloyd), whose dance class has been crashed by a vicious polar bear. I should stop right here and note that this is the exact same plot as the aforementioned Beasts Are on the Streets, which also featured a park worker and cop hunting down the animals with a tranquilizer gun and the mom character / romantic interest rushing to try to get to her young daughter, who's in danger. Both films also feature animals breaking through fences, busting through windows, strolling city streets and causing a bunch of car accidents. Though the animals in BAOTS were just regular animals on the loose and the ones here have been made extra-violent by drug contamination, it's quite obvious Prosperi saw the earlier movie and decided to turn that tame, modest film into a gory exploitation flick. Only one of these movies was supervised by the American Humane Society... and it wasn't this one.
While Wild Beasts does muster up a few good horror sequences and a surprise ending I didn't see coming at all, the amount of actual violence committed against living animals puts a damper on the fun and the fact they attempt to justify it by hiding behind a flagrantly hypocritical message is pretty pathetic. The opening quote warns us that "Our madness engulfs everything and infects innocent victims such as children or animals." The filmmakers then go on to prove that quote true by covering an "innocent" terrified cat with a swarm of rats, having a guy with a flamethrower set "innocent" rats on fire and entrapping an "innocent" pig and an "innocent" cow in pins and letting a hyena and a lion chew them up. I also have to wonder how warped someone has to be to think it's OK to take a domesticated pet - which is, after all, an animal conditioned to trust us - and then completely violate that trust by turning around and harming the poor animal. I can handle any amount of simulated violence directed toward whoever or whatever and have no issue with any of that, but seeing animals really being hurt and killed for entertainment's sake just isn't my idea of a good time. Some viewers out there aren't going to be the least bit bothered by any of that, but I'm putting it out there as a warning for those who do. That said, the animal violence here is a bit tamer than what you'd see in a lot of other cannibal and mondo films from the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Lead actress De Selle (who now works primarily as a TV producer) was a frequent presence in Euro exploitation films and also no stranger to films featuring animal violence, having already starred in one of the primary offenders in this category: Cannibal ferox (1981). She also had roles in the cult favorites Emanuelle in America (1977), which also exploited an animal... though in a much kinder fashion (*wink*), and The House on the Edge of the Park (1980). Lead actor Aldrich wasn't an actor at all (this is his only known role) and is clearly an animal specialist in real life, as he's asked to interact with and handle tigers, bears, snakes and other wild animals. Most of the rest of the cast are also one-timers, many of whom are likely either circus or zoo workers used to the dangerous animals. In fact, aside from De Selle and Bologna, John Stacy (Zeder aka Revenge of the Dead) and Alessandro Freyberger (Caligula II: The Untold Story) are the only other cast members with other acting credits. Production for Wild Beasts actually began in Africa, but had to be relocated to Europe thanks to a terrorist attack!
The only U.S. video issuing that I'm aware of came in 1985 on the Lightning / Vestron label under the title The Wild Beasts Will Get You! That release was horribly-dubbed, too dark and murky and had terrible English-language dubbing, among other problems. The German company Camera Obscura however released a better-quality DVD in 2011 with German, Italian and English audio options as well as English and German subtitles. This restored print actually looks great and the film has surprisingly glossy production values for a film of this caliber, something you'd never have guessed viewing the Lightning tape. Extras on the DVD include a thirty minute interview with the director and a bonus booklet about the history the "animal attack" subgenre.