Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.

Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like my buddy Michael Monterastelli, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a glorious showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. His passion for VHS is such that I thought it would be fun to talk him into sharing his vast collection with us. My only rule for him? The movies can’t be available on DVD.

Take it away, Mike!

Title: The Wild Beasts
Genre: When Animals Attack
Year: 1984
Tagline: A trip to the zoo will never be the same!
Released by: Lightning Video
Director: Franco Prosperi

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Plot: The water supply for a zoo in a northern European city becomes contaminated with PCP, causing the animals to break loose and go on a gory murder spree through the streets!

Thoughts: Following the incredible box office success of Steven Spielberg’s epic sharksploitation masterpiece Jaws, there was an explosion of movies featuring every single creature on god’s green earth coming at man with a vengeance. It made sense. We’ve always treated animals rather shabbily. We hunt them, eat them, wear them, cage them and occasionally humiliate them for our own amusement. Now it was our turn and before you could say Siegfried and Roy there was a deluge of movies featuring killer fish, reptiles, insects and other mammals with a score to settle, that included: Piranha, Alligator, Grizzly, The Swarm, Kingdom of the Spiders, Squirm, The Pack and the amazing Day of the Animals, in which the whole damn kingdom takes us on and a shirtless, driven-mad-by-nature Leslie Nielsen fights a bear with his hands. No shit.

I think this must’ve inspired the Italians who made The Wild Beasts, which begins with the foreboding quote from Francis Thrive: “Our madness engulfs everything and infects innocent victims such as children or animals.”  The “madness” being an enormous amount of discarded drug needles filled with PCP that somehow get mixed in with the water supply and cause hundreds of rats to attack and devour a couple making out in a parked car. Then all the animals at the local zoo drink a big dose and escape when a charging elephant crashes into a power conductor, causing an electrical malfunction. By the way, this zoo has the worst fucking security I’ve ever seen.

Soon the streets are under siege with the psychotically tripping beasts. Guards are devoured by tigers and lions; a seeing eye dog kills its blind master; a cheetah chases a woman in a car causing her to crash and burn to death; a polar bear mauls a children’s ballet teacher in front of her students; stampeding elephants crush a couple in a car to death and make an airplane crash into a power plant causing a mass blackout. In short, things get pretty apocalyptic!

The Wild Beasts is not really a good film, but it’s definitely an entertaining one. The kind that’s great to pop into the VCR late at night with a bunch of pals after an evening of extensive libations consumption. It plays perfectly under those conditions, but I wouldn’t suggest getting as high as the animals in the movie do. The tone feels at times like a cheesy zombie flick from that era (ala Nightmare City), except it’s crazy drugged-up zoo animals instead of the undead. The dubbing is very bad, the story is incredibly silly and I’ve always thought that PCP was an animal tranquilizer, which causes psychotic behavior in humans, but has the opposite effect on four legged beasts. Oh, well. There’s a lot of great footage of real animals attacking people and tons of blood and gore. I’ve read that the filmmakers actually got into a bit of trouble for getting a little too real with some of the scenes. It also has an extremely twisted ending where the kids ballet class drinks the PCP contaminated water and… well you can just guess what happens. Nobody pushed exploitation movies to the limits further than the Italians did and here’s further proof of that. Ciao!

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