(Italy - 1984; US release 1985)
Written and directed by Franco E. Prosperi. Cast: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich (Tony DeLeo), Ugo Bologna, Louisa Lloyd, John Stacy, Enzo Pizzu, Monica Nickel, Stefania Pinna, Frederico Volocia, Leslie Thomas. (Unrated, 92 mins)
Back in the day, Italian exploitation filmmakers were always quick to pounce on a Hollywood trend and milk it for all it was worth. Whether it was the torrent of exorcism movies that spewed forth following THE EXORCIST, the endless zombie gutmunchers that came after DAWN OF THE DEAD, the truckload of post-nukes after MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR, and the countless barbarian adventures that resulted from CONAN THE BARBARIAN, the Italians were the undisputed kings of the shameless ripoff. Though you could go back as far as FROGS and NIGHT OF THE LEPUS from 1972, the late 1970s saw a brief ecological, "nature-run-amok" craze with films like 1976's THE FOOD OF THE GODS, 1977's DAY OF THE ANIMALS, 1977's KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, 1978's THE SWARM, and 1979's PROPHECY, among many others.There were a few stragglers over the years, like three different rat movies coming out from 1982-83 with DEADLY EYES, OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN, and the final segment of the anthology film NIGHTMARES, but generally the fad, arguably popularized by JAWS in 1975, quickly passed. The Italians were fashionably late to the party when it came to the nature-run-amok subgenre. 1982 saw the release of Enzo G. Castellari's JAWS ripoff GREAT WHITE and the Ovidio G. Assonitis-produced PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING, which debuting director and future King of the World James Cameron still insists is "the greatest flying piranha movie ever made," and in 1984, Bruno Mattei directed the incredible RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR, a bizarre fusion of post-nuke and nature-runs-amok made unforgettable by one of the most ridiculous closing shots in all of Italian exploitation. 1984 also gave us WILD BEASTS, directed by Franco E. Prosperi, one of two Franco Prosperis known to Italian exploitation enthusiasts. One was a journeyman genre-hopper (MEET HIM AND DIE, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE BEACH), while the WILD BEASTS Prosperi, along with Gualtiero Jacopetti, was one of the leading figures in the "Mondo" documentary scene that began with 1963's MONDO CANE. Prosperi and Jacopetti made several Mondo films over the next decade, ending with 1971's revolting ADDIO ZIO TOM, released in the US as FAREWELL, UNCLE TOM, an exploitative, shock value re-enactment of the slave trade in which the pair essentially function as the early 1970s drive-in equivalent of trolls in a comments section.
CANNIBAL FEROX's Lorraine De Selle) is desperately trying to get to her daughter Suzy (Louisa Lloyd), who's trapped at dance class with other kids as a hungry polar bear wanders the halls.
ROAR, and it would seem that some of the animals might be slightly sedated at times (that polar bear in the school is moving, but he doesn't look like he's at 100%), but it's still representative of the kind of jaw-dropping risk-taking that no producer would sign off on today. Severin's new Blu-ray is packed with extras, including interviews with a still-vibrant Prosperi (who retired from directing after this film), an affable DeLeo, and editor Mario Morra. It's a nice package for such a relatively obscure film that was on the shelf of every video store in America back in the '80s (with a Lightning Video box that erroneously credited score composer Daniele Patucchi as the director), but has fallen off the radar in the decades since. It's a little clunky at times and the story calls for a Ruggero Deodato or an Umberto Lenzi to keep it focused, but flaws and all, it's Prosperi's, for better or worse, devotion to realism and his willingness to put his actors in harm's way that gives WILD BEASTS its cult appeal.