Friday, October 1, 2010

Short Film: Live Life (Israel, 2007)

One of my favorite songs is an easy listening classic entitled Enjoy Yourself, which was written by Carl Sigman and Herb Magidson and first made popular by the great Guy Lombardo. Back in the days when I was till spinning discs (under the moniker DJ Otto Normalverbraucher, a “name” that would roughly translate into “John Doe" or “Joe Blow” and that has since appropriated by an electro DJ) — I played songs, not a music — I’d sometimes end my set with it. The lyrics are great (if slightly sexist) and relevant, though perhaps not to die-hard scenesters still hanging around a club at 4 in the morning. It is not the song playing in the background of this pleasant little film entitled Live Life, but the ditty sung here very much echoes the same sentiments — as does film.

Live Life is the second short film to be featured here on A Wasted Life after Smile that comes from Israel, and like the earlier film, it too is a product of a former student of the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in Jerusalem: Jonathan Pasternak. There is relatively little information about him on the web, but according to a pdf of the exground filmfest of Weisbaden, he was born in 1982 in Kfar Sabba, Israel, graduated from Bezalel in 2007, and puts his bacon on the table (NOT!) as a graphic designer, animator and director. The spoken-word song that underscores Live Life, entitled You’ll Have Time, was written by Ben Folds and is “sung” by William Shatner; it comes from Capt. Kirk’s second album Has Been from 2004.

Live Life is about a monk coming to terms with death as people drop around him during the Black Death, and is loosely inspired by an allegedly "true" story: that of a half-blind monk supposedly put in charge of exhuming and stacking the bones at the world famous and wonderfully bizarre Sedlec Ossuary at the beginning of the 16th century. (Much of the truly bizarre creations found there, however, including the coat-of-arms, the chandelier and skull garlands were actually created in 1870 by the woodcarver František Rint.) The roughly 6-minute short serves to remind us that life may be short, so we should take advantage of it; and if death does indeed surround you, fear it not but be inspired.

By the way, the Ossuary, filled and decorated with over 40,000 human bones, is an easy and worthwhile day trip from Prague by train, if you happen to be going there anytime soon. As an added visual attraction, and to give you an idea about what you would find there, here is the 1970 film Ossuary by the great Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer.

The Reflecting Skin (Great Britain, 1990)

The Reflecting Skin is one of those films that, although it made huge (but critically divided) waves when it came out, has since fallen into total but thoroughly unjustifiable obscurity. An independent film, it’s been unavailable for years (but for a VHS version that can occasionally be found in thrift shops but is hardly worth watching since its bad cropping rapes the film's wonderful framing and beautiful visuals), but it has since been released in Germany on a Region 2 Blu-Ray—which is better than nothing if you happen to have a region-free Blu-Ray machine or live in Germany.
On screen and in full glory, The Reflecting Skin is probably one of the most beautiful and most seriously disturbing films of the latter quarter of the last century, a film that seriously defies expectations and description, a film that must be seen to be truly appreciated—or, possibly, truly rejected. Like the intentionally obscure, genre-bending films of latter-day David Lynch—Lost Highway (1997 / trailer) or Mulholland Dr. (2001 / trailer)—The Reflecting Skin is a film that separates the men from the boys, the blondes from the brunettes, the cats from the dogs: you either love it or hate it, but you definitely won't be indifferent. (In all truth, however, if you’re a reader of this blog, you'll probably find it cowabunga.)
To say that The Reflecting Skin has a traditional plot would be an overstatement; it is more so a film that simply starts and eventually ends, the events in-between achieving a narrative coalescence primarily because they are shown through the eyes of a single character, the eight-year-old Seth Dove (Jeremy Cooper), growing up in a repressive and fundamentalist rural Idaho community of the 1950s. The son of an abusive mother (Sheila Moore) and broken father (Duncan Fraser of Needful Things [1993 / trailer]), Seth becomes convinced that the neighboring albino widow Dolphin Blue (Lindsay Duncan, Alice's mother in the Tim Burton enjoyable trifle Alice in Wonderland [2010, trailer]) is a vampire. Seth's few friends drop one by one, falling prey to four homicidal delinquents in a black car, but his father, stained by a past misdeed (a homosexual pass) is blamed; his solution to the problem is self-incineration—in front of the eyes of his son, wife and an accusing policeman. Soon thereafter, the eldest son Cameron (no less than Arragon himself, a young Viggo Mortensen, fresh from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 [1990 / trailer]) returns home from the military, where he got to watch the atom bomb being tested and play with "snowballs" made from the atomic ash. A romance blossoms between Cameron and the only viable women in the area, Dolphin, and Seth sees Cameron's unexplainable loss of weight and hair as sure sign that the vampire is feeding on him. His warnings to Cameron, however, fall upon deaf ears. Conferring with his only remaining friend—a mummified dead baby that he found in a barn and thinks is an angel—Seth realizes that it is up to him to save his brother....

Cameron Dove: Why don't you go play with your friends?
Seth Dove: They're all dead.

The debut film of Philip Ridley, a British artist who works in a variety of media (author, painter, filmmaker, playwright) who that very same year also supplied the script to Peter Medek’s artsy “true crime” gangster drama The Krays (1990 / trailer), much of the visual beauty of The Reflecting Skin is definitely due to the films cinematographer Dick Pope (Vera Drake [2004 / trailer] and The Illusionist [2006 / trailer]). Though filmed in Alberta, Canada, the wide-open spaces, vast grasslands and endless skies pass well for its supposed setting of 1950s sun-burnt rural Idaho. The bright sun and beauty of the setting are a strong contrast to the events of the film, which are universally bleak and appalling and offer absolutely no hope of a tolerable future, much less any sort of happiness.
Imagine if Grant Wood had been a psychopathic, death-obsessed filmmaker instead of the gifted Regionalist painter he was; he probably would have made films like The Reflecting Skin. Search this film and give it a go—you’ll either be blown away by it or thoroughly regret having bothered to watch it, but in no way will you be apathetic by the time the final credits roll.

Vampire Hunter D: Boodlust (Japan, 2000)

The internet is bitchin', ain't it? Absolutely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Thanks to the world wide web, you can grab a film from the bargain bin somewhere that you know absolutely nothing about and then, after being totally blown away by what you have seen, you can get the full background story with but a few tips on the keyboard.
The flick being spoken of here is Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, pulled from a pile of second hand DVD flotsam because it appeared to be an animated horror film, a genre of which there is hardly a surfeit. Finally finding its way into the DVD player one rainy Berlin day (of which there are sooooo many), the anime that flickered across the TV screen is nothing less than total wowsville. Totally ridiculous, but totally wowsville—and it sent me straight to the web to find out the what, where, when, why, who and how.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a sequel to the 1985 anime Vampire Hunter D (trailer). The two films, in turn, are based on a Japanese franchise comprising of some 21 novels (some of which consist of 4 volumes each) augmented by a short-story collection, manga adaptations, audio releases and the aforementioned two anime flicks. If mostly unknown to the western world (outside of a limited cult circle), the character is indeed extremely popular in the land whence it comes. And if the quality of the franchise can be inferred by this film, then it must be pretty awesome.
Going by the film Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust at least, the series is a sci-fi western steampunk horror fantasy. In approximately 12,090 AD, long after a nuclear war in which the vampires came out on top, the world is a place where science and magic reside side by side and in which people drive fortified trucks (or one-wheel motorcycles) but fight with swords or ninja stars (or magic or guns). The world, co-inhabited by humans, vampires and an endless number of diverse magical creatures and demons, is one in which the biggest problem faced when it comes to something like crossing the sand dunes of a broad dessert, for example, is not a lack of water or the merciless sun, but the gargantuan carnivorous sand mantas gliding through the expanse of dunes in endless schools. Within this world, the "Nobles" (vampires) of yesterday are now on decline due to their own decadence, the continual persistence of humanity, and the appearance of vampire hunters, mercenaries for hire that eliminate supernatural threats.
Vampire Hunter D is one such mercenary, though he seems driven by personal reasons as much as he is by gold: He is a "dhampir", a half-breed son of a human mother and fanged father, looking a handsome 20-something at his tender 5,000 years of age, but as a child of both races he is accepted by neither. Pale skinned and lithe, he has long flowing black hair and is partial to wearing a broad-brimmed and black clothing that is reminiscent of the puritans (and Solomon Kane [2009 / trailer] in particular); his favored mode of transport is bionic black horses and his only true constant companion is his left hand. No, not in the way you might think: The palm of his hand is symbiont, a verbally adroit face of unimaginable magical powers that assists Dunpeal (as D is occasionally called) in his activities as much as it does offer snide and witty banter.
Yep, sounds pretty ridiculous all things considered, and it is, but luckily all the ludicrousness adds up to an engrossing and visually exciting whole. Whatever flaws the narrative itself might have, it never bores and often amazes, and the animation itself is often breathtaking. That director Yoshiaki Kawajiri is considered one of the best anime directors around is not surprising, for his detailed style is amazingly fluid and detailed—from the opening scene of crucifixes melting and water freezing as a demon coach rushes by to the grand final in the majestic castle of the über-vamp Carmilla, the film never stops being a visual amazement.
The plot of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust revolves around D being hired by a rich family to locate their beautiful and beloved daughter Charlotte, who has been kidnapped by the powerful vampire Meier Link. His competition is a quintet of other hunters, and their paths continue to cross throughout the film as they battle a wild array of shape-shifting demons and other powerful monsters. D’s competition ends up being startlingly incompetent considering the power and effectiveness they display in the first two clashes, and by the end of the film the legitimacy of their task becomes highly questionable for what started out as the pursuit of a kidnapped young girl turns out to be the hunting down of a fleeing couple deeply in love. But then, the lines of what or who is good and evil are often less than clear in the movie...
Needless to say, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is not the type of film to be shown in a double feature with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937 / trailer) or Toy Story (1995 / trailer) or any other Walt Disney, Pixel or kiddy animation film. It is very much an adult film—or at least adolescent—and was even saddled with an R-rating during its extremely short cinematic release. So pop this one in after you’ve given the kiddies their nightly sleeping pill and enjoy it for what it is: a beautiful, action-packed, violent, and engrossing ocular treat—a film truly worth watching.

Lonely Hearts (USA, 2006)

Some film are beautifully made and well acted but nonetheless cause the viewer to think, "Why did I bother?" Lonely Hearts, the feature-film debut of documentary filmmaker and scriptwriter Todd Robinson, is such a film. The film has seven recognizable actors (the four with possible drawing power being on the poster) doing their thespian best, decked out in perfect period costumes and circulating within perfect period sets, bathed in perfect lighting and framed wonderfully in well-shot scenes that are excellently edited, but nonetheless the whole project leaves the viewer about as satisfied as a lonesome nympho with a battery-operated dildo without batteries. How could the film go so wrong?
The plot itself is an interesting one: it tells the tale of a murderous couple feeding off of lonely spinsters, based on the true-life exploits of the infamous "Lonely Hearts Killers" Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, who are believed to have killed some twenty lonesome ladies before going to the chair on March 8th, 1951. The infamous pair have inspired at least two other film versions of their exploits, both of which are much better than Lonely Hearts—despite probably having a smaller budget combined and absolutely no star power.
Both the Mexican version from 1996, Arturo Ripstein's Profundo carmesí, and The Honeymoon Killers (1969 / trailer), the low-budget masterpiece directed by the opera composer Leonard Kastle (his only film to date), stick closer to the true story and the killers themselves, and are much better films for doing so. Todd Robinson not only makes a variety of unneeded dramaturgical changes in the actions of the killers (as in: invents events that never happened), but he moves the focus of the film away from the Fernandez and Beck and onto the detectives on the case, Det. Charles Hilderbrandt (James Gandolfini of Perdita Durango [1997 / trailer]) and, in particular, Det. Elmer Robinson (John Travolta of Moment by Moment [1978 / abridged version of the film]).
That Robinson did so is perhaps understandable since the real Det. Robinson was Todd Robinson’s grandfather, but the problem is that the whole story involving Det. Robinson never seems to be much more than a well-acted, well-shot period soap opera, and is much better suited for some late night television mini-series than a feature film. That the filmmakers decided to change Martha Beck from a fat and unattractive psychotic woman (see the photo of the real Martha Beck and Fernandez at the left) to a psychotic hot tamale is typically Hollywood, but at least Salma Hayek (as the hot tamale) does manage to sometimes come across as “damaged goods” (as she is described at one point in the voiceover by Det. Hilderbrandt)—and really, she and her cleavage are also some of the most captivating aspects of the film. Much to everyone’s regret, she never has a nude scene, but in all truth, though such a scene is sorely missed it is doubtful that it would've made the film any better. On the other hand, what would’ve possible made the film better would’ve been to retain the bizarre aspect of the attraction between a diminutive Latin lothario and an immense glandular disorder by casting someone like, say, Rosie O'Donnell or Kirstie Alley.
Speaking of bizarre, was the true story not already both bizarre, tragic and sordid enough not to need the (fabricated) sudden conversion of Raymond Fernandez (well-played by a bald Jared Leto of Urban Legend [1998 / trailer] and Lord of War [2005 / trailer]) into a gun-happy cop killer and murderer of defenseless old men? The only thing bizarre about those two additions to the story is that they were even added, as unnecessary as they are. And how did the cop killing suddenly lead the two detectives to Minnesota? It's another unnecessary plot device that does little but incite a big "Huh?" from the viewer—rather unlike the relatively mundane turn of events that happened in real life: the two killers simply hung around too long after murdering lonely Delphine Downing and her child and were caught when a suspicious neighbor called the cops.
Lonely Hearts is a beautiful but dissatisfying film, a good example of how a few wrong decisions can cause even the best ingredients to make crap. Want a good film about the same story? No, let me correct myself: Want an excellent film about the same story? Go rent a copy of Leonard Kastle’s low budget and extremely disturbing take on the tale, The Honeymoon Killers. For whatever flaws Kastle’s film might have (and it has some), it is nonetheless an artistic success in every sense of the word—totally unlike Todd Robinson's Lonely Hearts.

Mahler (Great Britain, 1974)

Ah, Ken Russell, the self-but-rightly described "English Federico Fellini", how we miss him. Having nailed shut the coffin of his mainstream directorial career with his 1991 film Whore (trailer), but for a rare A-film acting job (good), he has been relegated to the realm of inconsequential television movies (bad) and experimental independent projects (good) that almost no one ever sees (bad). But for a long while, say from his adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love (1969), with its famed full frontal nude wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed, to the aforementioned career-killer about the world’s oldest profession, the man created one wildly ingenious, mind-blowing filmic excess after the other, all of which, though often of variable quality and usually way too pretentious, always held some visual stunner or out-and-out mindblower. Even today, many of his films are still jaw-droppers—which makes it all the more un-understandable that he enjoys such little respect amongst fans of mondo cinema. But then, he work is also often a bit on the pretentious side, a tad too serious, to be truly enjoyable. Be sure, as superfluous or pointless as any given visual excessive (or non-excessive) scene might be, Russell himself surely knew exactly what it should symbolize or say.
Mahler is one of his many artist’s biographies films, a direction that he was forever partial to, eventually doing films on creative personalities ranging from Isadora Duncan (in the early TV project Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World [1966]) to Tchaikovsky (The Music Lovers [1970]) to the mostly forgotten French painter Henri Gaudier (Savage Messiah [1972]) to the silent film star Rudolf Valentino (Valentino [1977]) to a variety of Romantics on the night Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein was born (Gothic [1986 / trailer]); of them all, the most outrageous, mind-blowing and fun, despite the in-part absolutely miserable performances, is his infamous Liszt biography Lisztomania (1975 / trailer), a film that—like those of Alejandro Jodorowsky—truly has to be seen to be believed.
Mahler, while hardly celibate when it comes to ocular assaults, is for the most part hardly as excessively baroque as Lisztomania (but for a scene or two), but a viewer willing to sit the film out will be rewarded with an excellently filmed, well acted and interesting if occasionally alienating "biography" interspersed with some wild interludes. Though Russell does reveal a few tidbits about the life of Mahler—the family situation, his later position as supporter of the family—the film is anything but a sequential narrative of his life and times. Instead, Russell goes for a more interpretive approach in which Mahler—played as an egotistical, sickly and whining twit by Robert Powell (of Asylum [1972 / trailer], Harlequin [1980 / trailer] and The Survivor [1981 / trailer]—reminisces or dreams about stages in his past as he and his wife Alma (Georgina Hale of The Devils [1971 / trailer] and The Watcher in the Woods [1980 / trailer]) return home by train after a canceled tour. The dialog is always portentous, but all the ponderous aspects of the film are always quickly balanced by a something playful, mind-boggling or simply intriguing. Among the highpoints: an interlude that spoofs A Death in Venice (1971 / trailer), probably only included because the main character of Thomas Mann’s book is loosely modeled after Mahler; a symbolic scene in which Alma literally buries her creativity, killed by Mahler; a visit to the Kaiser in which Mahler and "Mrs Mahler" waltz endlessly through the royal gardens before all expectations suddenly get flipped; an outrageous cremation scene inspired by Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent masterpiece Vampyr (1932) in which Mahler, imprisoned in a coffin with a window, watches the song and dance celebration of his wife and Nazi pallbearers up until (and, symbolically, after) he is cremated; an outrageous and hilarious take-off of Wagner’s Siegried representing Mahler’s unwanted (but career-intelligent) decision to convert from Judaism in which he hops through flaming hoops and obeys the beck and call of Cosima Wagner (Antonia Ellis)—who, as someone mentions on imdb, "Never met a Nazi she didn't like"—decked out like a sex-starved Nazi Goth; another scene in which…
Hell, what’s the point to list them all? Mahler, like so many of Russell's films, is just one memorable and impressive scene after the other. In the end, it is neither the occasional factoid nor Russell’s portentous statements about creativity or the composer that really makes the film interesting, it's the vivid and memorable intemperance that keeps you glued to the screen. The occasional thing or two that you might also glean about Mahler's life, or maybe even about the man himself, that’s definitely secondary in this film—as it is in all Russell’s “biographical” films.
We miss you, Ken. You were really a filmmaker with balls.

The Gravedancers (USA, 2006)

"I’m not going anywhere unless something is chasing me."
Sid Vance

The Gravedancers, written by Chris Skinner and Brad Keene (the latter who went on to help scribe The Grudge 3 [2009 / trailer] and From Within [2008 / trailer]), is the third and inexplicitly to-date last horror film by the oddly under-appreciated director Mike Mendez, a more-than-competent and visually creative director who previously brought us the over-the-top and incongruously unsatisfying but still interesting bloodbath Real Killers (1996) and the flawed but highly appealing and absolutely hilarious, over-the-top comic bloodbath The Convent (2000 / trailer). This time around, Mendez obviously decided to try something new and dumped most of the blood and guts in favor of (Good!) a mostly believable storyline with slowly increasing horror and good old fashion scares that all build towards (Bad!) an over-the-top special effects extravaganza and thus only partially satisfying ending. Still, up until where Mendez pulls out the CGI stops and the big head pops up and the viewers start making raspberries, The Gravedancers is some scary shit—too bad about the crappy ending, though the last lines of dialogue are funny.
Three old college friends—Harris (an unbelievably stiff Dominic Purcell, also seen in Blood Creek [2009 / trailer], Primeval [2007 / trailer] and Blade: Trinity [2004 / trailer]), the sexy Kira (Josie Maran, seen previously somewhere in the unbearable filmic disaster Van Helsing [2004 / trailer]) and Sid (Marcus Thomas of Drowning Mona [2000 / trailer], who has most of the good lines)—re-gather at the funeral of their old college buddy, dead of car accident. But this ain’t no Big Chill (1983 / trailer), so instead of moping about and talking boring shit, that very night they break into the cemetery where their pal is buried to get drunk at his grave. Discovering a card that holds a verse they assume to be a call for the celebration of life, they follow the verse’s suggestion and proceed to drunkenly dance across the graves in one last celebration with their dead friend. The following day, they have more than just hangovers to deal with: Harris and his delectable wife Allison (Clare Kramer, a former regular on Buffy as Glory, the vain hell-goddess) suffer odd sounds and bumps in the night, Sid has flaming footprints walking across his living-room floor, and Kira is being sexually assaulted and having the shit beaten out of her by an invisible assailant. They enlist the help of the pair of paranormal investigators Vincent (Tchéky Karyo of Crying Freeman [1995 / trailer], Kiss of the Dragon [2001 / trailer] and the ridiculous but fun flop The Core [2003 / trailer]) and Frances Culpepper (Megahn Perry, the hot goth in The Convent, looking like a thinner, bonkable Velma from the Scooby Doo cartoons) to find out what’s up, and soon learn that the verse they followed was actually an ancient curse that has called up the ghosts of the dead whose graves they danced upon—a female axe murderess, a child pyromaniac and a sadistic rapist—and that by the next full moon the vengeful ghosts will reach their full power and kill them. Is there any hope for them? Well, yes, there is—but an effective plot-twist proves to be a hamper to their safety, and on the final night all six find themselves imprisoned in the paranormal institute as the homicidal ghosts pull out the stops…

"You just can't find good paranormal help, these days."
Sid Vance

As with his earlier two films, The Gravedancers also opens with a violent scene, this time around of a woman violently hung to death by an unseen assailant, but unlike in Mendez’s earlier films, the violence is hardly over-the-top and it is not overlain with some now-iconic pop song (in Real Killers, it was Iron Butterfly’s classic In-A-Godda-Da-Vida, in The Convent, Leslie Gore’s You Don’t Own Me). But then, according to imdb, Mendez didn’t direct the scene, although it does feature his wife Oakley Stevenson. Supposedly, the intro scene was added (and directed) by the producer Al Corley at the insistence of the sales company, who claimed viewers “gotta know it’s a horror viewer”. True or not, the scene is neither essential nor does it harm the film, but is nonetheless effective in foretelling the terror to come. The lead-up to their dancing on the graves is indeed believable, and one could easily imagine doing it oneself—particularly after a few drinks too many. The slow build-up at the home of Harris and Allison is effective due to its mundanity, as is the resulting marital conflict. The first true scare following the dread felt at the discovery of Kira at her home is Allison’s vision at the hospital—it is the stuff that makes a good ghost story, as is a later bedroom scene.
As mentioned, The Gravedancers loses its steam towards the end even as the action of the film substantially increases in explosiveness. For whatever reason, Mendez and his scriptwriters decide to eschew the effective dread and horror that they create the first two thirds for a satirically excessive special-effects spectacular. True, the deaths are hard and horrific enough, and the possessed axe-wielding corpse is the bee’s knees, but the big head and grasping hand are simply too much and seriously detract from the film, mainly because all the laughter they instigate totally destroys all the priorly built tension. True, Mendez handles the events with a sure directorial eye, but the film would have been much more satisfying as a whole (and not have ended with a laughing audience) had it remained a traditional and scary ghost story instead of devolving into high camp. But flawed or not, The Gravedancers delivers more scares than laughs, and as such is fine viewing for a dark night alone at home…
One question that the film can't help but raise, however, is the following: Today, in year 2010, in view of his three horror films to date—three between 1996 and 2006, all of which have their own merits, even if one only has stylistic verve—why doesn’t Mendez have a bigger career? Seriously, if Rob Zombie can make it mainstream after only two flicks of variable quality, why hasn’t Hollywood called Mendez yet? Ya hear, Hollywood? Get yer head out of your ass and give the guy a call—he lives in Pasadena, fer Christ’s sake....

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?