Franco Prosperi had one of the more amaz­ing and con­tro­ver­sial careers in the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma.  He col­lab­o­rat­ed with Gualterio Jacopetti in the 1960’s on a string of shock­ing pseudo-doc­u­men­taries that inspired the scan­dalous but pop­u­lar “mon­do” gen­re.  The two also cre­at­ed a few neo-his­tor­i­cal fic­tion­al shock­ers in the ear­ly 1970’s with Goodbye Uncle Tom and Mondo Candido.  Once he and Jacopetti end­ed their co-direct­ing career, he con­tribut­ed to a few oth­er mon­do shock­ers like This Violent World.  That said, his most mem­o­rable and impres­sive solo work was his finale as a film­mak­er, the jaw-drop­ping “revenge of nature” opus Wild Beasts.

This hybrid of ani­mal-attack film and dis­as­ter movie is hung upon a beau­ti­ful exploita­tion-movie hook: when a quan­ti­ty of PCP acci­den­tal­ly ends up in the water sup­ply of a north­ern European city, it makes its way into the water sys­tem of the city’s zoo.  The dope-crazed ani­mals bust out and head off in dif­fer­ent direc­tions as they cre­ate chaos through­out the city.  It falls to zoo vet­eri­nar­i­an Rupert (John Aldrich) and police inspec­tor Nat Braun (Ugo Bologna) to fig­ure out what has hap­pened and put an end to the chao.  Also involved is Rupert’s girl­friend, Laura (Lorraine De Selle), who has a daugh­ter in a class across town to wor­ry about.

In oth­er words, Wild Beasts is a piece of trashy hor­ror pulp — and it goes for broke in that dis­tinct­ly Italian over-the-top way.  Prosperi is savvy enough to keep the plot sim­ple and the char­ac­ter­i­za­tions famil­iar so he can max­i­mize the amount of ani­mal-dri­ven may­hem on dis­play.  Thankfully, he gets real­ly cre­ative with the lat­ter area: in addi­tion to the expect­ed ani­mal-on-man attacks, there are some unique set­pieces like a tiger attack­ing a strand­ed sub­way car full of peo­ple and a tru­ly amaz­ing sequence in which a chee­tah chas­es a wom­an dri­ving a Volkswagen.  Juxtapositions like those lat­ter two exam­ples real­ly give this move a sur­re­al­is­tic charge.

It also helps that Prosperi invests the project with a cer­tain kind of b-movie delir­i­um.  It’s full of odd lit­tle details like a blind man who is record­ing ani­mal sounds at the zoo to use in cre­at­ing in a sym­pho­ny and how Rupert man­ages to remain odd­ly chip­per no mat­ter what kind of may­hem he’s con­front­ed with.  These bits weird­ness by design are jux­ta­posed with acci­den­tal bits of weird­ness, like a police phone cen­ter where all the men have ear­ly 1980’s perms.  The mix­ture of odd­ball cre­ativ­i­ty and indif­fer­ence to real­ism often makes the movie feel like a cin­e­mat­ic ver­sion of the kind of ani­mal-attack paper­back nov­els that lit­tered book­store shelves in the wake of James Herbert’s The Rats (there’s even a rat attack sequence that sug­gests the film­mak­ers were famil­iar with Herbert’s work).

That said, the b-movie nature of Wild Beasts doesn’t mean it isn’t well-made.  In fact, one of the best aspects of the film is that is reflects the sense of crafts­man­ship that Prosperi had picked in his career as a film­mak­er.  Though the spe­cial effects often reflect that Italian indif­fer­ence to real­ism, Prosperi uses his set­tings (Frankfurt and Africa both served as loca­tions) to pack in an impres­sive amount of pro­duc­tion val­ue.  The major­i­ty of the set­pieces were filmed on real loca­tions, which enhance their over­all effect.  There are also some impres­sive stunts: not only the hair-rais­ing animal-vs.-man attacks but also a few car stunt sce­nes with calami­ties that rival those of a Hal Needham movie.  In a few sce­nes, par­tic­u­lar­ly the cheetah/car chase, you won’t believe what Prosperi man­aged to get away with.

Better yet, Prosperi and edi­tor Mario Morra, both col­lab­o­ra­tors since the days of Mondo Cane, also use their mon­do-derived style of edit­ing to great effect here.  When the ani­mals pounce on their human prey, the fren­zied, almost ellip­ti­cal cut­ting style and iron­ic use of sooth­ing music get around any dodgy effects work to give the­se sce­nes a ver­tig­i­nous qual­i­ty that makes them as unnerv­ing as they are bizarre.

While the attack sce­nes are being dis­cussed, a warn­ing should be offered to prospec­tive view­ers: as is often the case in Italian gen­re fare with ani­mals, there are also a few queasy moments of ani­mals actu­al­ly attack­ing oth­er ani­mals.  These sce­nes are mer­ci­ful­ly brief but if you’re both­ered by that kind of thing you might want to place this film in the do-not-watch pile alongside all those Italian can­ni­bal flicks.

That said, if you can get past the queasy mon­do ele­ments of Wild Beasts, it’s a true mind­blow­er in the vin­tage exploita­tion film sense of the world.  Love it or revile it, one view­ing of this film will reveal that Prosperi end­ed his direct­ing career in a man­ner as out­ra­geous as it began.