Friday, October 1, 2010

Les mémés cannibales / Rabid Grannies (Belgium, 1988)

Rabid Grannies has got to be one of the more memorable titles picked up and released by Troma, and a lot more people have probably heard of the name than seen the film. But as catchy and fun as the title is, it has nothing to do with what the film is about. Les mémés cannibales—its original title—features no grannies with rabies, but rather involves rich, elderly aunties and demon possession. And, at least in the uncut German version, it is high-gore splatter flick; for the English-language dub, it seems that Troma cut out most of the visceral—an odd decision, to say the least, considering the intended audience. What is missing? Dunno for sure, but all the stuff shown here as having been cut from the film is in the version being discussed here.
Rabid Grannies is a rarity, a horror film from Belgium, a country not exactly renowned for horror films. Indeed, though there may be others, the only other Belgium horror film that promptly comes to mind is Harry Kümel's classic vampire film Daughters of Darkness from 1971 (trailer). But Rabid Grannies is a far cry from Kümel’s classy act, even if it does also have a thoroughly European feel and look to it. Daughters of Darkness is a mesmerizing and arty study of corruption and emotional sadism, whereas Rabid Grannies is really just a gory splatter film with more than an occasional splat of campy black and/or tasteless humor. Which isn’t to say that Rabid Grannies ain’t good, for it is in its own peculiar way—it just ain’t art (but then, unlike Kümel's film, it doesn't aim to be).
The plot is remarkably simple: a bunch of brown-nosing relatives out to stay in the running for the future inheritance come together for the annual birthday party of their rich, spinster aunties Victoria (Ann Marie Fox) and Elizabeth (Danielle Daven) at the aunties' spacious countryside castle. Cousin Christopher, a Satanist long disinherited and no longer invited, sends a present as an offer of peace. When the aunties open it, out wafts some magical smoke and the two are transformed into bloodthirsty, shape-shifting demons and then proceed to decimate the rest of the family and house staff. Is there any hope of escape for anyone? What do you think?
Rabid Grannies is the only directorial effort of the director and scriptwriter Emmanuel Kervyn, who seems to have fallen off the earth after his last and only other film credit (as an actor) in Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991 / trailer), in which he got to toss a few punches before dying. That he never directed another film is a bit of a surprise, for as generic as the story here might be, and as much as the budget sometimes shows, his direction is rather good and often evidences some above-average creativity in its catchy angles, compositions and blocking. And if the editing is occasionally a little haphazard, the cinematography is at least surprisingly pleasing.
Though clearly made with a tongue in cheek and as a showcase of gore, Rabid Grannies nonetheless also has some truly scary scenes to it. As funny as the concept of a terrorized woman being forced to sing "Happy Birthday" to a demonic auntie (sounding as breathy as Marilyn singing to JFK), for example, the scene is also highly unsettling and horrific; and the scene of the unsuspecting daughter, who was on the pot when the shit hit the fan, climbing into the lap of her normal-looking auntie is also rather dreadful—needless to say, Rabid Grannies does not share the Spielbergian and Hollywood attitude that children are not to be killed (but then, the Belgium do have an odd way of treating children).
The horror, however, is noticeable outweighed by the humorous elements, be they of the facetious, visual or tasteless sort. The scene is which a man can’t stop puking as he watches a possessed auntie chew away at the fat man’s leg is funny but tasteless ala vintage no-budget Peter Jackson, and many of the deaths are as comical as they are excessive. The sight of a demon hand gliding through the waters of a flooded cellar like the shark's fin in Jaws (1975 / trailer) is pleasantly funny, as is the later sight of a demon wearing and attacking in a full coat of medieval armor. There are, of course, many another scene that raises anything from guffaws to giggles, if not due to the humor then at least due to the gore.
Rabid Grannies may not be as consistent or creative as, say, Evil Dead II (1987 / trailer) or Dead Alive (1992 / trailer), but if you liked those two films, then Rabid Grannies will be right up your alley. The three would make an excellent triple feature...
Anyone out there know the story behind the director? How did it happen that he could do a film as good as this one and then simply fall off the face of the earth?

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