Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Anyab (1981)

... aka: انياب
... aka: Aniab
... aka: Anyaab
... aka: Fangs
... aka: Tusks

Directed by:
Mohammed Shebl

A bunch of men in leotards and capes do loops around a white circle while chanting. And then we see a close-up of the bottom half of a man's face that's painted black but with bright red lips. And then those lips reveal some vampire fangs and start singing, the men around the circle start dancing and singing and then a chicken (really) has its throat cut, twitches around and bleeds to death (!!) Well, at least the song ("Fangs! Fangs everywhere! Fangs!") is pretty catchy. We then meet a guy standing by his car tapping his fingers. A bunch of teenagers in workout clothes walk up the road nearby and they start dancing and clapping. And then the man starts singing a love song. A woman steps out on her balcony and starts singing with him ("Really?") as he promises to buy her a TV and phone while an animated heart with wings flutters above his car (!!) Wait, so this is a musical? Why yes, yes it is. An Egyptian vampire musical to be exact. This outta be interesting.

After the first two numbers, we then sit down with a stern looking older man (Hassan Al Imam) who breaks the fourth wall and explains to us that today's youth "think that life is really colored pink." In other words, they're idealistic. As he yaps on, we're treated to animated blood dripping down the screen, a flash of white and some other hazy pixel effect applied over his face. He then introduces the young couple we met on the street. He is Ali Mostafa Mohamed (Ali El-Haggar), a college graduate with a history degree and a dreamer who's looking for an apartment. She is Mona Magdi Kabi ("Mounna Gbbr" / Mona Gabr), a college graduate with a literature degree who's ambitious and hopes to have a happy life with fiance Ali. The narrator then decides to crush their simple hopes and dreams by reminding us in a threatening voice that life isn't so simple.

While heading to a party during a rain storm, Ali and Mona take a back road. They get a flat tire and he doesn't have a spare so they decide to walk to the nearest home. On the way, Ali breaks into another song as they pass a skeleton-faced grim reaper holding a scythe. Upon reaching the castle-like home, they're greeted by a hunchback named Shalaf (Haddey Saddekk) and then find out they're just in time for a masquerade party at the "Palace of the Count Dracula." We then immediately cut back to the narrator as he reads from a book explaining the character. He notes Dracula has been "over-used" in British, U.S. and Italian films (ha!) but is also present in Far East and Middle Eastern cinema. The movies are then described as "commercial meaningless films" (!!)

Back in the palace, the hunchback repeats "Dracula! Dracula! Dracula!" while spinning around on the floor. Because they're stuck there and the phone isn't working, Ali and Mona are invited to join the masquerade and reluctantly agree. A bunch of dancers in demon masks do a routine in front of white face statues as Dracula's part dragon / part snake casket opens. The Count (Ahmed Adawiyya) then shows up to sing a song while spinning Mona around in a circle. The young couple are walked down a foggy hallway to a staircase as "Pomp and Circumstance" plays (!!) After a change of wardrobe, it's off to a lavish candlelit banquet of rabbit and "tomato juice." There, the Count shows off his ability to pause and mute his followers and can't keep his eyes off of Mona's neck. After the vampires drink from each other, they run outside, turn into bats and fly off.

We jump to a series of bizarre fantasy vignettes with the narrator chirping in (mostly laughing) every once in awhile. In these, the young couple are married and have kids and encounter all kinds of problems in the adult world. They're taken to the cleaners by virtually everyone they meet, including a plumber, a butcher, a car mechanic, a shop owner, a taxi driver, a tutor, a landlord and a doctor... all the way up until the wife is on her death bed. Yep, sounds about like real life! The narrator points out vampires do indeed exist in human form and that there are plenty of people out there more than willing to re-direct all of your resources and money their way and suck away your will to live. Egyptian culture falling prey to the ills of unbridled capitalism and obsession with social stature are just two of the numerous topics this film tries comments upon.

Returning to the main story, Dracula gives Ali and Mona a tour of the rest of the palace. He shows them portraits of his ancestors like Vlad the Impaler, Duke Nosferatu and even Christopher Lee's Count Dracula ("He is a drop out from school. He became an actor.") and then they sit down to watch a boring art film featuring clips of Hitler and discussions of the British occupation of Egypt and how self-interested Americans are. The Count shouts "I want a film I can understand!" and shuts it off. Ultimately he wants to turn Mona into his vampire bride (she resembles a descendant) but he faces opposition from a dissenter among his followers (played by Tal'tt Zean) as well as the mistreated and much-abused hunchback.

While heavily inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), this is the kind of film that doesn't hesitate to wear its inspirations on its sleeve... literally in this case with a character even wearing a Rocky Horror t-shirt at one point. There's brief use of animation, title cards, hand-drawn bits edited in and even thought bubbles, plus flashes of comic book action like "Boom!" and "Bam!" during a fight scene. The visual approach here is best described as pop culture kitchen sink. That also extends to the soundtrack with bits of music swiped from sources as wide ranging as The Pink Panther, James Bond, The Omen, Jaws, A Clockwork Orange and The Munsters. However, the original music and songs (from the El-Eman Brothers) are pretty good, as well.

Sets and make-up are fairly well-done but what's most surprising is that much of the satirical humor is pointed, intelligent, clever and very, very funny. The only thing that really drags this down a notch is just how relentlessly overdone the whole thing is. Half of the narrator scenes could have been cut with nothing lost in the process and the painfully over-long fantasy interlude that breaks up the vampire palace story could have made its point in less than 2 minutes but for some reason drags on for over 15. Though not a deal breaker, a faint air of self-importance also creeps into a few of the scenes and feels a bit out of place. That said, this wacky but well-made film really deserves some kind of cult following.

Director Shebl, who passed away in 1996, was the son of an Ambassador and partially grew up in Japan. He was Egypt's foremost expert on The Beatles and worked as a journalist, film and music critic and a radio show host. He sunk his life savings and a large hunk of his family's money into Fangs, which ended up being a financial bomb and left him broke. Even the casting of popular singers Adawiyya (who had a number of hits in Egypt in the 70s) and El-Haggar didn't help matters. Still, that didn't discourage Shebl from making a few other horror films like Al Ta'awitha (1987; "The Talisman"), Kaboos (1989; aka "Nightmare") and Gharam Wa-Intiqam... Bis-Satur (1992; aka "Love and Revenge... with a Cleaver"). None of these were released in America and I'm not even sure if they're officially available on home video anywhere. The version of Fangs I watched was recorded off of the Canadian Arabic-language specialty channel Melody Aflam.

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