In a busy Frankfurt zoo, veterinarian Rupert Berner (Aldrich) is noticing some unusually aggressive behavior among some of the animals, including a newborn lion. When the zoo's security system goes down that night, some elephants lead the charge through the walls and unleash a stampeding horde of crazed beasts upon the city. Rupert's co-worker, Laura (De Selle, an Italian exploitation veteran from Cannibal Ferox and House on the Edge of the Park) has a nasty run-in with a ferocious big kitty and offers her aid, while a concerned cop and buddy of Rupert's (Nightmare City's Bologna) tries to hold back the tide of clawed pandemonium sweeping across the city. A cheetah's high speed chase with a VW Bug results in a fiery crash (possibly one of the greatest scenes in movie history), hordes of rats swarm into a necking couple in their car, a polar bear slowly plods up the steps of a dance academy to terrorize the students, and other animal mayhem erupts as the film reveals the reason for the animal's behavior (involving PCP and their corrupted water supply), then careens straight into a delirious twist ending.
Given the subject matter, most viewers might expect another avalanche of animal violence in the vein of filmmakers like Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi, and, uh, Prosperi himself. While this film contains a few moments of gratuitous furry sadism (mostly involving the rats ganging up on an unfortunate feline and a subsequent immolation on a car windshield), it's mostly concerned with delivering ridiculous, pulpy thrills involving big zoo animals tearing up everything in their path in a major European city. The opening text about man's madness infecting simpler life forms like animals and kids seems to set up some more queasy attempts at justification like many of Prosperi's past films, but this is basically a trash cinema offering at heart with an eye trained far more carefully on the horror box office than any sort of public education.
The mid-'80s VHS release of Wild Beasts from Lightning Video was no great shakes and looked far too murky for comfort throughout, but at least it blindsided a few viewers expecting a more traditional "when animals attack" offering. For some reason it sat out a huge chunk of the DVD era and only made its official debut in 2011, first as a no-frills Swedish disc and then courtesy of the good folks at Camera Obscura as a special edition following hot on their astonishing release of Prosperi and Jacopetti's Mondo Candido. The transfer is quite good for SD and on par with their strongest previous outings; it's much cleaner and fresher than the old tape master by a long shot, and the 1.66:1 framing looks comfortable throughout. This appears to be sourced from an English language version as well, given the occasional burned-in English title cards superimposed for a few location signs. The English audio track is typical for the time, dubbed throughout and only occasionally syncing up with a random actor speaking that language on the set. It's one of the rare non-Argento Italian horror films shot in genuine Dolby Stereo, and that's carried over here with some surprisingly ambitious separation effects in some of the attack scenes on the two-channel track. The Italian and German tracks are provided as well, with optional German and English subtitles provided. The English subs are not dubtitles and adhere closely to the Italian version, which is a bit more serious and professionally recorded than the English one. However, it's also a lot less fun.
Prosperi himself contributes the biggest extra here, a new video interview clocking in at nearly half an hour in which he talks about the film's compromised production situation when it had to switch locations after a few days shooting in what is now Zimbabwe. He spends much time discussing his animal stars, including stories about their trainers and owners, the fatigue levels of the more memorable players, and the way you can film a cheetah chasing a car. (Hint: it involves tying a chicken to the bumper.) Late Italian film critic Antonio Buschini discusses the film in separate video piece (which also includes a sad testimonial from one of the DVD's special features guys), including a useful differentiation between the two Italian directors named Franco Prosperi (both of whom had some pretty crazy genre credits). The Italian trailer is also included, and the nifty newspaper-style menus make use of the strange, jazzy theme music by Daniele Patucchi (who also recorded a ludicrous vocal version of it called "Remember Tomorrow" only released on the rare-ish vinyl soundtrack). The packaging also includes a fairly exhaustive overview of killer animal cinema in both English and German by Marcus Stiglegger.
In 2017, Severin Films finally brought the film back into circulation for the first time in decades in North America with separate Blu-ray and DVD releases. It looks pretty terrific all things considered, especially with most of the running time taking place in the dark; colors are appropriately vivid with reds nearly popping out of the screen at times, and though the quality of the film stock seems to veer all over the place at times (ranging from reasonably clear to overlit and soft depending on the scene), this is a nice upgrade all around and should make fans happy. Audio is presented in English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo (once again with very aggressive separation effects) and Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, with optional English subtitles (this time dubtitles taken straight from the English track). Extras here are almost entirely different from the Camera Obscura release and make for a welcome, extensive look at how the film came together. The 15-minute "Altered Beasts" offers a completely different interview with Prosperi covering the Zimbabwe shoot, terrorism, pollution, and an errant tiger performer wreaking havoc with a train, as well as the (presumably pleasant) fates of all the animal actors, including the thespian rats. In the 10-minute "The Circus Is in Town," circus worker Carlo Tiberti (son of the film's animal wrangler, Carlo Tiberti) explains how his family's circus business was instrumental in providing many of the tame animals for the production with his family supervising their treatment on the set even under dangerously dark conditions at times. (He also offers his own take on the tiger story.) In the 34-minute "Cut After Cut," editor Mario Morra (a mondo filmmaker in his own right) goes into the daunting task of dealing with "whole rooms full of film" on Jacopetti and Prosperi projects and how this particular "colossal" production became difficult when its budget was slashed. The 13-minute "Wild Tony" features actor Tony Di Leo recalling his time on the set, his appraisal of his own performance, slipping a tiger cub home with him for a few days, and being nervous about the big cat and rats scene. One particularly fascinating extra is the 12-minute "House of Wild Beasts," which salvages footage of a visit to Prosperi's home outside of Naples intended as part of a follow up to David Gregory's Godfathers of Mondo (which was scuttled after Jacopetti's death since the project was intended to reunite the directing pair). The disc rounds out with the Italian trailer, this time with burned-in English subtitles. A singularly stupefying and highly recommended viewing experience.
Updated review on February 1, 2017.