Thursday, January 8, 2015

Les mémés cannibales (1988)

... aka: Rabid Grannies

Directed by:
Emmanuel Kervyn

Granny's serving up something special for dinner... YOU! Elderly, wealthy, borderline-senile spinster siblings Victoria (Anne-Marie Fox) and Elizabeth (Danielle Daven) Remington are turning 90-something and have decided to throw a weekend birthday party at their secluded mansion to celebrate. Many relatives - cousins, nieces and nephews mostly - have been invited and they're all so ridiculously greedy, snobby and unpleasant the cook (Paule Herreman) likens them to vultures, parasites and even "maggot-infested rotting flesh." Everyone shows up on a stormy weekend to try to make a good case for them being generously remembered in the obligatory upcoming will (these old bats can't live forever, right?), but all the backstabbing and bickering must briefly be put on the back burner when a creepy old woman arrives at the front gate to deliver a mysterious package from bitter no-show nephew Christopher. You see, Christopher has been disowned and written out of the will for being the leader of a Satanic cult... and if you think he's trying to make amends for his evil ways with a nice gift, you'd be mistaken.

After dinner, the matriarchs of the clan open their present and inside is an old, empty wooden box. Some smoke rolls out of it, contaminates their wine and quickly transforms that genteel geriatrics into bald-domed, razor-clawed mutant cannibalistic killers; one of whom immediately dislocates her jaw wide enough to bite off a head in just one chomp at the dinner table. Everyone else scurries around the house looking for a place to hide as the newly-transformed demons hunt them down and kill them one by one. The meek maid (Patricia Davia) is thrown through a window, a head is twisted around backwards, a woman is smashed against a metal gate with a car, a child has their leg ripped off and thrown down a flight of stairs, an eye gets poked out with a cross, fingers and legs are hacked off and sometimes eaten and someone's even conned into committing suicide. Mixed in with all the gore is a lot of comedy (like one of the 'grannies' donning a suit of armor to protect herself from machine gun fire!) and even some social satire.

The characters are a varied and pretty amusing group and are made even funnier via stuffy British dubbing. There's fat factory owner Fred (Guy Van Riet) and his new wife Jessica (Françoise Lamoureux), a wanna-be opera singer he plucked out of a seedy nightclub and is thirty years his junior. Then there's unhappily married couple Helen (Catherine Aymerie) and John (Elie Lison) and their two obnoxious kids, Gilbert (Richard Cotica) and Suzy (Caroline Braeckman). Middle-aged lesbian magazine editor Erika (Bobette Jouret) drags along her much younger girlfriend Rachel (Françoise Moens), who she's been "collaborating" with, and finds her opportunistic lover almost jumping ship for conceited Playboy Roger (Michel Lombet). Throw in arm's manufacturer Harvey (Jacques Mayar), who wouldn't mind if World War III broke out if it increased his sales, cowardly, hypocritical, child-hating priest Father Percival (Robert Du Bois), virginal, neurotic spinster Bertha
(Florine Elslande) and flustered butler / chauffeur Radu (Sébastien Radovitch) and the roster of victims is complete. It's quite the tasty menu and each character adds something special to the works.

Sure, the title is misleading as no one is rabid and there aren't even any grannies - though I guess 'Cannibal Mutant Demon Aunts' doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nicely - but this is enjoyable
nonetheless. The dialogue is often hilarious and it's done in such an over-the-top / camp fashion and is so fast paced it's never boring. The biggest problem is that the American and British releases have been hacked to smithereens to reduce gore so it could acquire an R (or equivalent) rating. Numerous cuts are so bad that several scenes are nearly incomprehensible. Missing entirely are a scene in the basement when a leg is eaten, a scene where a guy has both of his legs hacked off with an axe and lots of additional gorier moments (like brains splattering on a wall, bitten-off finger stumps squirting blood and guts pouring out of a stomach and being eaten). None of those scenes have been restored in the U.S., even in the DVD currently being distributed by Troma, who offer some of this footage as a special feature but have never bothered to edit them back in. Troma's release is also too dark and in full screen so the actors are frequently partially off-screen when they're talking.

I found a widescreen version of the film on Youtube which has the English dub with Dutch subtitles and all of the missing gore. This version is actually about four minutes shorter than the Troma release (85 minutes vs. 89 minutes) because some of the dialogue has been removed. The following screens are only seen on the gorier version...

Either way, the fact this is entertaining enough in spite of the butcher job it received I suppose is a testament to the film itself. It's worth a look in either form.

★★ (cut) / ★★1/2 (uncut)

La venganza de la momia (1973)

... aka: Mummy's Revenge, The
... aka: Vengeance of the Mummy

Directed by:
Carlos Aured

The mummy film. There really aren't very many good ones out there, are there?. Of course, there's the classic Universal version from 1932 starring Boris Karloff and some lesser but passable sequels throughout the 1940s starring Lon Chaney Jr. And there was a solid 1959 version from Britain's Hammer Studios with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, which itself spawned some fair follow-ups like Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971). Many people seem to enjoy Stephen Sommers' 1999 summer blockbuster version and its sequels, though I'm not too keen on them myself. Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-tep (2002) was an unexpected gem and mummies were used relatively well in a couple of comedies like The Monster Squad (1957). In other films, like Waxwork (1988), a mummy makes an appearance but isn't the focal point of the entire film. There are a handful of other mummy movies that aren't exactly good, but are enjoyable as camp. The impossible-to-hate WRESTLING WOMEN VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (1964) fits that bill. Yet for the most part, sadly, mummy movies almost always fall into two camps: "awful and unwatchable" or "mediocre and forgettable." While Vengeance falls squarely in the latter category, it does enough right to be reasonably entertaining if the expectations aren't too lofty.

Psychopathic pharaoh Amenhotep (Paul Naschy) has made an unholy pact with "42 evil spirits of the unknown" and, as a result, has a insatiable appetite for virgin's blood and human flesh. With his faithful and equally sadistic concubine Amarna (Rina Ottolina) by his side, Amenhotep has his henchmen drag beautiful young women to his lair just to be tortured and killed for his amusement. But High Priest Anchaff (Fernando Sánchez Polack, looking great in wrinkly make-up) has had enough of his reign of terror. He has servant girl Aja (Celia Cruz) slip poison into Amenhotep's drink, then has his guards stab and slit the throat of Amarna. With both now dead, Anchaff decides Amenhotep deserves further punishment, so he places him in a sarcophagus in a hidden room and places a curse on him so his spirit will wander for all eternity in limbo. Thousands of years pass, and Professor Nathan Stern (Jack Taylor) and his assistant Abigail (María Silva) are about to make "one of the most important discoveries in archaeological history." I'm sure you can guess what that is. After locating Amenhotep's tomb, the coffin containing his corpse and all of the artifacts inside are shipped off to the British Museum of Natural History.

The papyrus scroll containing the curse is soon translated by widowed, crippled Egyptologist Dr. Douglas Carter (Eduardo Calvo), who runs the museum where the mummy is being housed. Not long after, the mysterious Assad Bey (also Naschy), claiming to be a professor working on a book, shows up there with his sultry female companion Zanufer (Helga Liné). The two learn the grisly instructions for resurrecting the long-dead pharaoh from the scroll and get to work bringing him back to life. First, they must sacrifice three young virgins on a full moon and make a potion from their blood to sprinkle over the sarcophagus. Three young ladies named Ann, Mary and Peggy out for a late night stroll end up fitting the bill nicely. Now resurrected, the mummy needs to claim seven additional female victims to obtain his full freedom. He gets to work on that, as well as trying to obtain an acceptable female body to house Amarna's wandering spirit in. And wouldn't ya know it, Douglas' half-Egyptian daughter Helen (also played by Ottolina) just so happens to be a dead ringer for her. For his assistance, Assad is promised power, riches and eternal life himself. Zanufer, on the other hand, may end up getting the short end of the stick when the mummy discovers she has grown quite fond of Helen and senses she may betray him.

Naschy's script (which he wrote under his real name Jacinto Molina) does nothing new with the mummy concept and the characters, blood sacrifices and reincarnation angle have all been carried over from the classic versions. The dialogue ("That's absurd... and incredible! It's impossible for a mummy to return to life!") and characters are also quite bland. Still, this manages to be entertaining almost in spite of itself. It's nicely photographed, the art direction is surprisingly handsome, the mummy makeup is very decent and the film is fast-paced; zipping along from one scene to the next. Best of all, there's an extremely high body count (20+) and plenty of blood, gore and action. The mummy, who possesses superhuman strength, squashes a security guard's head with its bare hands, skewers a guy with a pitchfork, axes an old man, roasts a face in a fireplace, ruins a newlywed couple's honeymoon (in a scene missing from most prints of the film) and kills three cops in the sewers. Numerous women are either immediately killed or dragged back to Assad's rented villa, where they are chained, whipped and sliced up by Assad and Zanufer. When Amenhotep disapproves of them as potential host bodies for his lover's spirit, he angrily crushes their heads with his fist, leaving behind only eyeballs, brain matter, bone fragments and blood.

The primary cast acquit themselves well enough and there are other small roles played by Luis Dávila (police inspector), José Yepes (deputy) and Pilar Bardem (concerned mother). A cut version of the film removing all of the gore and nudity was all that was on the market for some time (the main VHS distributor in the U.S. was Unicorn Video), but now there's a restored widescreen version on DVD in Spain. While it retains all of the blood and violence, the nudity is still missing from this print. It was the fourth and final collaboration between Aured and Naschy. The other films were BLUE EYES OF THE BROKEN DOLL (1973; also with Calvo and Bardem), CURSE OF THE DEVIL (1973; also with Calvo, Polack, Silva and Yepes) and HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB (1973; also with Liné paired up as Naschy's accomplice).

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