Please allow me a moment to regress before getting to the meat of this review for Rabid Grannies. I've been writing on B-Movie Geek, off and on, for more than 10 years now. In this time, I've watched all sorts of films. I've assigned the full range of possible scores, from 1 to 5 stars, and everything in-between. And yet, after all of those other reviews, it was only today that I came to the realization that none of them were produced by Troma Entertainment, that great bastion of B-grade cinema.
I was floored by the realization- flabbergasted, if you will. How could I run a site which calls itself B-Movie Geek and yet have never once mentioned any of the multitudes of Troma productions? A true travesty, if there ever could be one on a website as frivolous as this. Thankfully, I am happy to say that this review of Rabid Grannies is here to rectify this rather unfortunate oversight.
Well, sort of. When I sat down to watch Rabid Grannies, I thought that I was sitting down to watch a Troma film. However, a bit of research afterwards tells me that Troma merely struck a deal to produce and distribute the film in the United States. In other words, Troma wasn't directly involved in the making of the film. Filming for Rabid Grannies occurred on location in Belgium and the production featured French speaking actors that were dubbed over for the English release.
Written and directed by Emmanuel Kervyn, Rabid Grannies is a horror-comedy in the vein of Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981), or Peter Jackson's Bad Taste (1987). There's some competent direction happening behind the camera throughout the film, so it's a bit of a shame that Kervyn never went on to direct any other films. He does have a small part in Kickboxer 2, though, so you can check him out on screen there. Another piece of trivia worth noting, Rabid Grannies and Kervyn went on to be nominated for Best Film at the International Fantasy Film Awards in 1990. Rabid Grannies may not have won, but I'm sure that it was an honor just to be nominated.
While Troma Films did contribute to the budget, the film was a joint venture with Stardust Pictures, Nr 1. The latter company presumably handled international distribution. Interestingly, this business arrangement resulted in Rabid Grannies becoming a piece of Belgian movie history. In Europe, it was common practice for film productions to be subsidized by the government. However, in light of the production and distribution deal with Troma, the Belgian government elected to not subsidize the making of this film. Thus, Rabid Grannies holds the distinction of being the first independent production of the Belgian movie industry.
The basic synopsis is as follows: The Remington family gathers at a lavish, European estate to celebrate the 92nd birthday of their two aunts. The relatives are all horrible people in one way or another. One is a spineless family man, accompanied by his uptight wife and two poorly behaved children. Another is a cowardly priest of clearly low moral integrity. Another still is a war profiteer, relishing in selling small arms to various foreign entities. There's more characters too, but you get the idea. As if these glaring character flaws weren't enough, each of the nieces and nephews makes it clear that they are only present at the birthday party because they hope to remain in the aunts' good graces for the sole purpose of inheriting large sums of money once the aunts pass away. As a result, the family members take every opportunity they can to throw each other under the bus, trying their best to get everyone else written out of the will.
It's a serviceable set up, and one that allows the audience to enjoy themselves once the mayhem begins. There's very little reason to feel any sympathy on behalf of any of these characters. Even the children are pretty awful, presumably so you don't feel badly when they get dismembered -which they do.
If there's one complaint that I have, it's that neither of the aunts actually appear to be grandmothers to any of the characters in the film, all of whom refer to the elderly sisters as "Aunt" or "Auntie." That's right, there are literally no grandmothers in a film titled Rabid Grannies.
As if to make the entire promise of this film a lie, I can also confirm that at no point do either of the elderly sisters become rabid. I was waiting for a bat, or maybe a wolf, to make an appearance at this birthday party, but it never happens. Instead, we get an elderly woman dropping off a birthday gift on behalf of yet another nephew, Christopher. The identity of this third woman is never really addressed, but I speculate that perhaps it is a third sister? Perhaps this is the mother of all of the nieces and nephews that are in attendance at the birthday party, and therefore the only actual grannie to appear in the entire film? Sadly, we may never know.
A scene of cumbersome exposition tells us that the absent Christopher has been disowned by the family due to his role leading a satanic cult. It's established that he was long ago written out of the aunts' wills, and the gift turns out to be a wooden box full of... cursed mist? Once the box is opened, the mist proceeds to somehow contaminate the aunts' wine glasses. The cursed wine is imbibed and the kindly, old aunts quickly undergo a grotesque physical transformation as they are, seemingly, possessed by demons. The demonic aunts then proceed to eat their family members.
To reiterate, in this movie, which is in fact called Rabid Grannies, there are no grannies, and at no point does the rabies virus factor into the plot. I will admit that the title "Demonic Aunties" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, but what is the world coming to when you can't even believe the titles of low budget shlock cinema?
On the positive side of things, the film has plenty of gross, wet special effects, which by my eye were heavily reminiscent of Lamberto Bava’s Demons. The transformation sequences in particular seem to pay homage to that earlier film, featuring similar close up shots of demonic talons growing out of the aunts’ fingernails. I was particularly fond of the constant dribble of undetermined wetness flowing from the aunts' mouths throughout most of the film, in a manner that might be best described as both disgusting and entirely satisfying. Is it spit? Is it bile? Is it afternoon tea? Once again, the mysteries of the Rabid Grannies plot run deep, and the true answer to this may never be known.
Deaths are similarly fun and entertaining. For example, the gluttonous man literally dies from a giant bite being taken out of his ass. If that's not irony, I don't know what is. A few of the other deaths also take imaginative turns, elevating above the typical, straightforward dismemberment. At one point, the small arms manufacturer goes to the trunk of his car and pulls out some firepower. In a stroke of brilliance, we are treated to a sequence in which one of the demonic aunties dons a suit of armor. Never mind that we already know that the aunts can grow back entire limbs pretty much instantaneously, having been previously established in a scene in which one the aunts loses both hands to a sword. The suit of armor, clearly necessary, makes for a great piece of humor in the middle of the carnage.
Also of note, the film is relatively progressive in one key area. One of the couples in attendance at the family gathering are lesbians. Outside of one remark by the most unlikable character in the movie, and honestly this remark is more insulting due to his tone when saying the word "lesbian" than anything else, the film steers clear of using this as anything other than an additional character trait. That said, Rabid Grannies isn't some sort of shining beacon of progressive thought either. The girlfriend pretty much immediately sleeps with one of the male characters that is pressing her about the man-hating lesbian stereotype, and the family member is the very first victim of the possessed aunts. Nevertheless, the girlfriend does go on to be, more or less, the protagonist or final girl equivalent of the film, so I thought it deserved some mention.
Rabid Grannies isn't high cinema, but you probably knew that coming into this review. What it is, however, is a somewhat lesser known shlock film from the late eighties, with good special effects and a good-enough storyline. The most serious issues with the film are that none of the characters are really likable, and that it takes entirely too long setting up the family dynamics before getting to the demon mayhem. You might also find the action of the film somewhat predictable, as this is one of those movies where the antagonists methodically hunt down and pick off the remaining characters one by one. For me, there was enough humor and imagination spread throughout that I didn't really mind the presence of these genre contrivances. Frankly, this is the sort of film where I welcome them.