Wild Beasts (1984)

Every airport bookstore and magazine stand has a special section just for James Patterson’s oeuvre. We’re talking Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, the Alex Cross series, etc. He has written over 100 books and has sold over 300 million copies, mostly to dads. He is a highly commercial, mass-market fiction writer whose easily consumable books get turned into easily forgettable movies. From what I understand, James Patterson is an intolerable diva (or is that divo?). Case and point: A blurb for one of his books came from himself:

“This book would make a terrific movie!”
–-James Patterson.

I’m telling you this because of the quote that opens Wild Beasts:

“Our madness engulfs everything and infects innocent victims such as children or animals.”
–Francis Thrive

Who is Francis Thrive, exactly? Is he a writer? Philosopher? Professor of something fancy? Google has no trace of him, so maybe he doesn’t exist in space-time. Or maybe, just maybe, Francis Thrive is actually Franco Prosperi—in Italian, prosperare means “thrive.” In other words, the director wrote a quote for his own movie.

So now you know this movie is going to be good. Except it’s not good at all.

It’s amazing.

The movie opens on a “northern European city.” There are skyscrapers, trains, parks, public fountains, and piles and piles of syringes. Also, saxophone music. The city is actually Berlin, which, if Earth is correct, not in northern Europe.

It’s feeding time at what might be the most depressing zoo in northern Europe. A horse is hacked up and fed to the large cats. Meanwhile, Dr. Rip Berner corners a tiger named Gladys, a young girl leaves a recording for her negligent mother, and a German Shepherd leads a blind man past a necking couple.

But soon something changes. The zoo animals get ornery, the German Shepherd starts barking, and a mischief of rats comes up from the sewers. Seriously that’s what they’re called. A mischief. Like a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, a business of ferrets, a lodge of beavers, a congress of baboons—I seriously can do this forever. The rats attack and eat a couple alive—it’s my fucking nightmare. This is what I think about whenever I walk the streets of New York City and a rat saunters up to me and demands my wallet and phone.

Firefighters hose the mischief down to no avail, so they break out the flamethrowers. Meaning guns that throw flames. The rats scramble and squeal in terror as they are lit on fire. And this is the part where some people will squirm because the footage feels so real, probably because it is. It’s not nearly as bad as Cannibal Ferox or Cannibal Holocaust (aka the movie where we learn what the inside of a turtle looks like), but there are animals being tortured for the sake of entertainment. So consider yourself warned.

Soon the zoo animals become increasingly aggressive and elephants break through a brick wall. Yes. Elephants. They attack an airport. A tiger roams the subway, a polar bear terrorizes a ballet studio, and a cheetah strolls down a street of boutiques. Then hyenas and lions run amok in a slaughterhouse, which is really more like a food court for them.

Wild Beasts is a romp in every sense of the word. There’s carnage and havoc and the kill scenes are exactly what you want from a movie about escaped zoo animals, which is to say that there’s a stampede. It’s impressive that Prosperi managed to coordinate and film such a menagerie—polar bears aren’t exactly the most cooperative bunch. There’s some memorable dialogue (“Children are extraterrestrials that come from outer space to destroy their parents”) and the characters that provide comic relief are charming in a drunk uncle kind of way. Explosions, sexism in the workplace, abuse of slow motion, and a touch of sleaze make this film molto Italiano. This might be the best movie I’ve seen all year, but I will love anything that stars a lion named Blair.

The final sequence is what makes Wild Beasts stand out from all the other movies where animals raise hell (Cujo, Rats, Devil Dog: The Hound from Hell, We Bought a Zoo, etc.). It makes no sense, but you just accept it and enjoy it. There’s a lot to be happy about.

From the Archives