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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Wild Beasts (Blu-ray)
Wild Beasts (Blu-ray)
Severin // Unrated // February 7, 2017 // Region Free
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 12, 2017 | E-mail the Author
"Hey, look! She's not crazy; she's being chased by a cheetah!"

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You know what they say about animals behaving strangely in the hours leading up to an earthquake, right? Now take a zooful of these beasts, serve them up water tainted by PCP, and shudder at what horrors await when the ground starts a-rattling and these drug-crazed creatures are unleashed upon a nameless European metropolis.

Wild Beasts doesn't let itself get meaningfully distracted with any plot beyond that. Sure, there's a police inspector (Nightmare City's Ugo Bologna), a vet from the zoo (John Aldrich Tony Di Leo), the lovely assistant (Lorraine De Selle) that Doc Berner cringingly tries to browbeat into marrying him, and her sassy, tweenaged daughter (Louisa Lloyd), but they're essentially only around to help string together one unnerving, dazzlingly staged animal assault after another. Writer/director Franco E. Prosperi's instincts are as sharp as they were when he helped to helm Mondo Cane a couple decades earlier. All killer. No filler. Astonish the audience with images the likes of which they'd never seen before -- that no one else would dare capture.

Lions and hyenas mount a siege on a slaughterhouse, prompting a stampede of steer down Main St. (or I guess Hauptstraße since all the roads here are in German). An army of rats swarm upon a pair of teenage lovers in a parked car and devour them to the bone. A tiger gnawed on by her nursing cub violently convulses. Elephants smash through a brick wall like something out of a Kool-Aid ad. Some slither their serpentine trunks through a car window to torment a hapless family. Another deliberately stomps on some poor woman's head. A pride of lions feed on their prey like something out of a zombie flick. A cheetah takes chase after a young woman in a convertible as she listens to the most eclectic radio station of chart-topping knockoffs the world over. A tiger skulks atop a subway car before smashing his way inside. A class of junior high-aged dance students are chased through the halls of an empty school by a ravenous polar bear. Shades of Suspiria, another blind musician wishes he'd maybe chosen a breed other than a German Shepherd for a seeing eye dog.

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What makes Wild Beasts so extraordinary is that these really are elephants and big cats. A gaggle of twelve year olds genuinely are just a couple dozen feet away from an unrestrained polar bear. These pachyderms truly are parading past planes at an airport. Doc Berner really is that up close and personal with a tiger. An alley cat fends on scores of rats. A lion has its claws digging into a cow. That hyena is gnawing on an all-too-alive pig's ear. That's not to say that real animals are used in every shot: that's clearly a stuffed polar bear shattering through a floor-to-ceiling mirror, for instance. The frantic juxtaposition of actual creatures with actors flailing at oversized stuffed animals is remarkably effective. This is heightened further by the trainers who worked with these big cats at the circus, pulling double duty as blood-drenched victims these big cats are able to wrestle with. Much the same as Tim League said about Roar, this infuses Wild Beasts with a pervasive sense of "holy fucking shit" that genuinely must be seen to be believed. That's not even getting into the pyrotechnics, extensive vehicular stuntwork, or a sequence that answers the questions you may have about why only animals are affected by the tainted water supply.

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Wild Beasts refuses to ease upon the throttle. Though there's borderline-nothing in the way of plot or characterization, the film is so breathlessly screaming from one dazzling, blood-drenched setpiece to another that the audience never has a chance to get bored. Even its underlying messages about addiction, political ecology, and overreliance on technology don't manage get in the way. I mean, sure, I can't rightly say that Wild Beasts is a great movie. It doesn't come to an end so much as abruptly stop, the performances are no great shakes, a number of key questions are never addressed, and it's riddled with lapses in logic. Like, why does Dr. Berman say he can't possibly hit a cheetah with a trank gun but reaches for a police-issue pistol instead? When he knows these zoo animals are strung out on PCP, why does he nuzzle right up to a polar bear saying "oh, he's okay"? Totally doesn't matter. I came in hoping for some spectacular nature-run-amok footage, and Wild Beasts wholly and completely exceeds anything I could ever have expected. Highly Recommended.


Video
The traditional sort of high definition eye candy it's not so much, but Wild Beasts still looks terrific on Blu-ray. Though not razor-sharp to some sort of gleaming edge, the image is still respectably crisp and well-defined. I have no complaints about the level of fine detail on display here. With the overwhelming majority of Wild Beasts set during the dead of night -- and much of it in the middle of a city-wide blackout -- a bright, vividly saturated palette isn't exactly on the menu. The colors offered here very much reflect the transition from dusk to evening to night, popping in all the right ways when they have plenty of light to play with. Severin's presentation is every bit as filmic as I'd hoped to see, with no concerns about excessive filtering or hiccups in its AVC encode. A very strong showing all around.

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Wild Beasts and its extras devour most every last byte available on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc. This presentation has been pillarboxed to preserve the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1.


Audio
Wild Beasts' English dub is served up in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio stereo, while the Italian track is limited to Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kbps). It follows, then, the English track is more technically impressive all around. The synth-centric score by Daniele Patucchi is punchier and more expansive in DTS-HD Master Audio. I love the strong stereo separation in the English track: cars screaming across the screen, the roars of different animals being spread across each of the front mains, and heavy reverb helping to establish these beasts' looming presence even when they're not in front of the camera. The audio is so clean that the artifice of the Foley work can't help but shine through. The more gutteral growls are reinforced by some substantial bass as well. Despite the very different ways they sound, the dialogue in both the English and Italian tracks are rendered well enough, not showing their age to any greater an extent than expected. I found myself preferring the English recording overall, and even though the performances can be kind of ridiculous, that gels remarkably well Wild Beasts' ferociously over-the-top premise.

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Also along for the ride is a set of English subtitles. This looks like a transcription of the English track rather than a translation of the Italian dialogue. I noticed one spot early on, for instance, when the Italian track was dead silent, but the subtitles were still chattering away, reflecting some off-screen dialogue exclusive to the English language soundtrack. Take that into consideration if you're mulling over which language to fire up first.


Extras
  • Altered Beasts (16 min.; SD): The making of Wild Beasts could easily make for a hell of a movie in its own right. Director Franco E. Prosperi opens this interview by noting the havoc wrought on production by wars and terrorism in South Africa and the newly-minted Republic of Zimbabwe. Tell me any other interview you've ever come across where its subject talks about angel dust influencing the Salem witch trials, elephants delaying a parade of flights after running loose on the tarmac, and a panicked tiger on the loose in the subway. "Altered Beasts" is essential viewing, and honestly, that goes for all of the outstanding interviews on this disc.

  • Wild Tony (13 min.; HD): Leading man Tony Di Leo has more than his share of fantastic stories as well, such a bringing a tiger cub home as a pet for a couple of weeks, revealing that the army of rats were actually white rodents painted black, and nearly getting his head slashed open by the swipe of a polar bear's paw. Di Leo charts his transition from circus performer to a proper screen actor (complete with a deceptively American stage name!), and working under a director whose background in documentaries meant he didn't really understand why actors would have body doubles when inches away from such dangerous beasts.

  • Cut After Cut (35 min.; HD): This career retrospective with legendary editor Mario Morra may only mention Wild Beasts in passing, but it's engrossing just the same. Morra speaks at length about so many of the extraordinary films he's helped take shape, among them The Battle of Algiers and Savage Man Savage Beast. Morra also delves into what a physical job editing was in the Mondo days, what it was like to work alongside such profoundly different personalities in Prosperi, Gualtiero Jacopetti, and Paolo Cavara, and feuding with Prosperi in their approaches to cutting. The interview draws to a close with Morra showing off one of his still-gorgeous moviolas.
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  • The Circus Is in Town (10 min.; HD): Rounding out the interviews is a conversation with Carlo Tiberti, whose family's circus supplied so many of the exotic creatures showcased in Wild Beasts and whose father, uncle, and aunt were "mauled" by them on-camera. He speaks about what a family adventure this production clearly proved to be, the danger of working with such powerful beasts in the dark, struggling with a fair number of escapes (and now I know where to look for a polar bear if one ever gets loose!), and even noting how the role of animals has changed in circuses the world over in the several decades since.

  • House of Wild Beasts (13 min.; HD): The last of Wild Beasts' extras dates back to Severin's never-completed followup to The Godfathers of Mondo. The intention was to document the long-feuding Prosperi and Jacopetti meeting for the first time in ages, but Jacopetti's ailing health sadly made that unfeasible. This leg of production does include a very length conversation with Prosperi, who delights in showing off his collection of artifacts accumulated from all corners of the globe, including shelffuls of awards, voodoo dolls, fertility dolls, and even a fossilized triceratops egg.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): Last up is an international trailer in standard definition.

Oh, and this is an all-region release, so import away!

The Final Word
I get that "It's exactly what you think it is!" is already the tagline for Pieces, but it fits like a glove for Wild Beasts too. Escaped zoo animals whacked out on PCP wreak havoc throughout Frankfurt or wherever: it's exactly what you think it is! Wild Beasts delivers all the gruesome makeup effects work and up-close-an'-personal ferocious beasts you're aching for and then some. Better still, Severin Films has assembled a spectacular special edition for one of my new favorite animals-run-amok cautionary tales. Highly Recommended.
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