Rabid Grannies (1988)

(Les Memes Cannibales)

Directed by Emmanuel Kervyn

Produced by Jonathan Rambert

Starring Danielle Daven, Anne Marie Fox, Catherine Aymerie, Caroline Braeckman, Richard Cotica, Patricia Davia, Robert Du Bois, Florine Elslande, Bobette Jouret, Francoise Lamoureux, Raymond Lescot

Rabid Grannies (1988)

Film Review

I suspect that the average horror fan would not expect Belgium to be a direct port of call when it comes to wacky, gore-laden horror comedies. Surprising then that one of the better low budget romps of the genre should originate there, as Emmanuel Kervyn's "Les Memes Cannibales" (Rabid Grannies) proves to be a frightfully mad-cap slice of lowbrow black comedy mirth. Seemingly lifting its premise from the much imitated 'family gathering' drawing room murder mysteries that Agatha Christie made her name with, coupled with the gleefully gruesome possession antics of Lamberto Bava's "Demoni" (1985), the end result makes for an enjoyably silly hour and a half of B-grade horror fluff. Spawned from the collapse of another (action) film project, Kervyn's film hits its marks well and is far less offensive than the mantle of execrable US distributor Troma might lead you to believe. Indeed, although hysterically overplayed, and filled with jokes that fall flat, "Memes" is far more entertaining and polished than most anything from the Kaufman stable.

So, Elisabeth and Victoria Remington (Daven & Fox) are two elderly matriarchs, who organise a vast family reunion of their individual displaced offspring to celebrate their joint 92nd birthday. The family members travel from afar, with the zealous collective desire that this shall be the aging pair's last birthday, and that they all might glean a share of their amassed fortune. From virginal spinster Helen (Aymerie) to priestly Father Percival (Du Bois), the entire family harbour the intent of winning their aunts favour so that they become the sole inheritor of the Remington riches. But a mysterious, and creepy, party guest leaves a foreboding parcel from familial black sheep (and ordained Satanist) Christopher that swiftly puts paid to their ulterior motives. The elderly dears are possessed by the demons unleashed once the package is opened and the evening rapidly descends into a delirious game of 'crime and punishment' as the monstrous pensioners dish out justice for their relative sins. As the forces of darkness overwhelm the dinner guests, escape seems impossible unless one of the surviving family members can unlock the key to the relentless evil.

From appearances, Kervyn's film plays as just another rudimentary "Ten Little Indians" carbon-copy dressed up with a strong supernatural element. But its insanely over-acting cast, coupled with a ludicrous post-synch ADR job by the British American Society of Antwerp elevate it beyond its cheesy origins. Obviously set in Belgium, but with a cast that sport hilariously British (and Cockney) accents, the overall effect meshes to one of laughably fruity, albeit gory, British sitcom. The crime and punishment theme sets the mechanics of the plot apart from the gratuitous violence of the senseless kill generation as, with the progression of the evening, no single family member proves to be entirely 'innocent'. The character of the 'family arms dealer' may seem even more poignant now (trading with an 'Islamic nation') than he was when initially conceived. Indeed, every character appears possessive of a fatal moral flaw that becomes abhorrent to the possessed sisters' old-fashioned virtues and values. Even though a number of the actors woefully overplay their parts, there is much rib-tickling hilarity to be derived from their untimely comeuppance's at the taloned hands of their almost-centenarian aunts.

Hugo Labye's cinematography affords the proceedings a number of luridly well composed images, lending that uniquely European visual style to the film's imagery. In fact, there are a wealth of sequences that wouldn't be out of place in any of the post-"Demons" genre cinema of Italy, which certainly helps the digestibility of the maddening excesses of the 'acting' on display. French bothers Bertrand and Sebastian Fernandez deliver a plethora of first class gore effects that, although sometimes crudely executed, always manage to enliven the sometimes risible plot-line. Filled with grotesque transformations, gory dismemberment, and lashings of quivering entrails, "Cannibales" benefits immensely from the spirited input of the Fernandez brothers (well, it does in its uncensored Dutch variant anyway). Adding to the playful sense of high-spirited fun is a quirky electro-rock score by Jean-Bruno & Pierre-Damien Castelain, whose catchy end title theme should kick around your head for days.

All up, Kervyn's film, in its uncut form, is a delightful Belgian-French-Dutch treat that squashes laughs, shocks, and terribly bad acting into one enjoyable 88 minute sitting. Although it's easy to see why the dopey heads of acquisition at Troma picked this one up on the back of the previously mentioned hokey acting, and even hokier dubbing, Kervyn's film offers a bit more spit and polish than one would anticipate of the Hell's Kitchen grind-house crowd. It's also a lot less sensationalist and offensive than much of Messrs. Kaufman's output, which ain't a bad thing as far as this reviewer is concerned. Sure, it's certainly a film that will never be hailed a classic of the genre, but as a slice of cornball, Euro-styled high camp gore & guffaws it's a more than agreeable time-waster, and a fair degree of 'armless entrail-dripping fun to boot. Take that as a warning or recommendation, but either way I found it a gruesomely entertaining diversion that easily filled a slow evening…J

Disc Review

European (Japan) Shock presents Kervyn's film in its original theatrical aspect ratio of European standard 1.66 in a non-anamorphically enhanced edition. The film overall does not however majorly suffer from this decision. As Troma themselves did not possess an uncut print of the film, Japan Shock have sourced the only available uncensored version (a Dutch video master). The issue with this print that may cause some derision in the ranks is the small matter of non-removable video-generated Dutch subtitles being present on the print. This may irk some viewers, but remember that the film is finally being made available uncut and accordingly that immediately sets this version apart from its modified US counterpart (that was previously released in virtually all English language territories). The print has seen better days (hairs, scratches, and damage abound), but generally the colours are good, the image consistently sharp, and then there's the added bonus of it being completely uncut. Shadows are a tad lacking, and there's a smattering of film grain present, but if you're prepared to overlook the (rather minor) issues with the print, then realistically this is a fairly pleasing representation of a relatively low budget goofball.

Extras consist of the original Theatrical trailer, a brief interview with supervising producer James Desert (Johan Vandewoestijne) (who was responsible for cult shocker "Lucker") that features some rare behind the scenes FX footage, an animated Stills Gallery, and of course, the prerequisite Troma tripe (in this case, some foul-mouthed cretin conducting a short insult-laden 'interview' with a 'rabid granny' that winds up in perfunctory Troma female assault fashion. More senseless violence towards women? Troma, I hate to say it, but you're starting to become deadeningly B-O-R-I-N-G!). Per the other Troma title release by Shock, this release also includes the hysterically funny bonus disc "Staplerfahrer Klaus - Der este Arbeistag" which, even at an all too brief 10 minutes, almost completely upstages the feature presentation. Nevertheless, it's good to see "Rabid Grannies" finally uncut, non-removable Dutch subtitles or not, and Shock Entertainment deserve some sort of plaudits for their (well appreciated) efforts alone.

Review by Mike Thomason

Released by European Shock DVD Entertainment
Classified 16 - Region 0 (PAL)
Running time - 88m
Ratio - Widescreen 1.66
Audio - Dolby digital mono
Extras :
Theatrical trailer, Interview with James Desert, Interview with a Rabid Granny + bonus DVD featurette "Staplerfahrer Klaus"

© 2001, Icon In Black Media