Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
As two gay men, we have opted to use the moniker “Horror Queers” for this series of articles. It is a word that has a complicated history due to its derogatory use by bullies and hateful people, but has increasingly been adopted as a term of empowerment and a unifying term that recognizes the many complex identities that make up the LGBTIQQ community. Queer has become commonplace in academia, politics and pop culture over the past three decades. We understand and recognize that the term is still very hurtful for some people, but we believe that the more people that proudly reclaim it, the more the wounds and stigma surrounding the term are reduced. Using the word “queer” is intensely personal, but it is a decision that we are committed to. Please don’t be an asshole when using it and we’ll get along fine.
***SPOILERS for Rabid Grannies to follow.***
Synopsis for Rabid Grannies: When given a demonic present by their black sheep nephew, two kindly old grannies are transformed into demons who proceed to gorily knock-off their greedy relatives.
Queer Aspect: Surprisingly enough there is one! Eldest niece Erika (Bobette Jouret) is a lesbian…which just means that she literally dies first.
Trace, of all of the “off-cycle” picks on our list, Rabid Grannies is probably the oddest of the bunch. This film first came to my attention when I was watching the 2016 documentary Forgotten Scares: An In-depth Look at Flemish Horror Cinema last year; Rabid Grannies is featured prominently in both the trailer and the promotional stills for its practical effects and gory execution. Part of the attraction, for me at least, is that it looks like a Flemish version of Peter Jackson’s Dead/Alive, which is one of my all time favourite horror films.
It looked absolutely insane and immediately vaulted up my “Must See” list. I knew — despite the fact that it isn’t a queer cult film per se — that I wanted to check it out for this series.
Now that we’ve screened it, I have to say that I’m a little sad because it’s much more of a mixed bag than I had hoped.
The opening of the film actually reminds a bit of your last pick, Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives, because it’s essentially just an extended bitch session. The frenzied series of car rides featuring a diverse group of relatives jockeying for position en route to Grannies Elizabeth (Danielle Daven) and Victoria (Anne-Marie Fox)’s mansion has a kinetic energy, even if it is also confusing as hell. The fact that every single one of these people is reprehensible and money-grubbing establishes an odd relationship with the audience: you either find them comedically amusing in a terrible way or you abhor them and just have to wait patiently for them to start dropping like flies.
Rabid Grannies feels like it was inspired by a deep appreciation of low-budget American horror films, particularly Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. There’s also a Clue-esque vibe in the gathering of a group of characters who don’t particularly care for each other who are separated in a desolate mansion and picked off. While Rabid Grannies can’t quite replicate or sustain the high camp energy of Rami’s or Lynn’s films, it does share a similar madcap sensibility that, particularly early on, makes it a strong horror-comedy entry.
Part of where the film begins to falter for me is its unorthodox choice of survivors. I will confess that I was delighted to see a sharp-tongued older lesbian among the relatives, particularly since her barbs are among the best aside from rotund Fred (Guy Van Riet). I was looking forward to watching Erika fall apart or leer at Fred’s new wife Jessica (Françoise Lamoureux), so it was extremely disappointing when Erika was the first to go. Sure her death is one of the best of the film — dragged (literally!) across the table and straight into the unhinged jaws of Grannie Elizabeth — but why kill her and leave dull as dishwater father John (Elie Lison), warmonger Harvey (Jacques Mayar) or, worst of all, family virgin Bertha (Florine Elslande)? There really is no rhyme or reason why someone survives longer than anyone else, but it feels like the more outlandish and entertaining the personality, the sooner they perish. Perhaps this says more about my appetite for drama and bitchy one-liners, but I’ll admit that I was perplexed by some of these narrative decisions.
The screenplay is arguably the film’s weakest link. While it hardly takes any time to transform the Grannies into their rabid demonic state, there’s not much narrative ground left to explore afterwards. The guest list is extensive enough that there are plenty of bodies to pile up, but everything after the dinner is a variation of the same repetitive development: a small group of survivors hide, the Grannies discover them and at least one person is attacked, mutilated or killed. It’s not dissimilar to a slasher film, but Rabid Grannies also feels more slight (possibly due to the comedy, which lands more often than not, but still makes parts of the film read as shallow).
Perhaps this is a good point to turn it over to you, Trace: did you like Rabid Grannies? Which characters did you prefer? Were you surprised by any of the deaths or gore? And is this film a perfect acquisition for Troma, who wound up releasing the film to cult status in North America?
Jesus, Joe. I know you weren’t crazy about Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives but did I really deserve this? I’m glad you brought up Dead Alive, though, because all I could think of the entire time was that Rabid Grannies was a mixture of that and Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. I dislike one of those things, and it isn’t Faerie Tale Theatre. I imagine it must come as a shock to you that I am not a fan of Dead Alive, but I’ve just never been able to get behind the film. Other than the outstanding gore, nothing in that film works for me. Some laughs throughout, but I roll my eyes. The poor production value (and terrible dubbing) didn’t make this experience any less painful. So to answer your question: no, I did not like Rabid Grannies.
I actually found the first 30 minutes of the film pretty difficult to sit through. It draaaaaaaaagged. Not only were none of the characters interesting (or likeable), but none of their jokes were funny! For a first act that goes through the motions of setting up the characters and their relationships, none of it was particularly memorable. Seriously, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you any of their names (the only one that stuck with me was Robert Du Bois’ Percival). So put me in the “abhor them and just have to wait patiently for them to start dropping like flies” camp.
Alas, you are correct in that Erika was the most fun to watch, so I suppose she would be my “favorite” character. That’s sort of like picking the prettiest turd in the pile, though. Making a lesbian one of the protagonists is a progressive move, especially for a film made in 1988. I was shocked that there was only one joke made at her expense, and it was from the odious Fred. But of course, Erika dies first. Does the good cancel out the bad here?
The one bright spot in the film, much like Dead Alive, is the gore and make-up effects. They are pretty outstanding, especially for a Troma film. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Troma (this is actually the first film of the studio’s that I’ve seen), but to my understanding they specialize in low-budget films (usually horror) that feature lots of jokes made in poor taste. Nevertheless, all of the money clearly went to the effects, because they certainly didn’t go to the actors. The design of the “grannies” (aunties?) reminded me a lot of Anjelica Huston’s makeup in The Witches (though The Witches was released a full two years after Rabid Grannies).
As you mentioned, the script is the weakest link and because of that none of the jokes really land. The gallows humor present in most of the death scenes are played for laughs, the funniest of which is that woman (again, I couldn’t even tell you her name) getting hit by the car before crashing face-first into a wrought iron fence. The bit right before her death scene in which she is forced to sing “Happy Birthday To You” is one of the film’s few highlights. Rabid Grannies really embraces its ridiculousness so I’ve got to give it that.
Joe, why do you think this film was such a hit in North America? Which version of the film did you watch? Upon doing some research, it seems that the Blu-Ray cut has additional gore scenes that the Troma DVD had removed (they were relegated to the deleted scenes in the special features). The version I watched (on Amazon Prime) was 88 minutes, and it looks like there is a 91-minute cut, so maybe I saw the edited version. Would I have liked it more had I seen the uncut version? I doubt it, but one can hope.
Oh Trace, I can’t believe you didn’t find some of those ridiculous line readings and sight gags funny! Yes, Jessica’s vehicular/gate crashing death is delightful, but didn’t you find some humour in Fred getting a bite taken out of his ass? Or cringe when John yells at Erika’s younger lover, “Listen lesbian, shut the hell up!” Or when distraught mother Helen (Catherine Aymerie) threatens Percival with a blade to the balls and the line: “I’ll knife those two holy orbs you have so little use for”?
Bueller? Bueller? No, just me?
Your point about the different versions prompted me to investigate which edit I watched. Looks like I also watched the 88 min version – not that I think any additional amount of gore would change your opinion of this film if it’s not up your alley.
Circling back: the question of why it was a hit for Troma is interesting. I imagine that the short answer is because it’s a silly, ridiculous film with some pretty decent special effects. The larger question, however, is what I’d rather we discuss: the appeal of “bad” horror films. I find this topic fascinating because – as we’ve discussed over the past two installments of this series – films that fall into these categories are very polarizing.
Did we disagree on Sorority Row? Yes, but there’s no denying that that film has merit. Contrast that with a film like Rabid Grannies, which is pretty threadbare in terms of plot, acting, direction, etc and there’s a huge distinction. I bet that if we look at the numbers for this post and the Trannies post, they’ll be among our lowest because there is a whole population of horror fans who will simply never watch horror movies that are quote/unquote “this bad”.
Back when I was in university, I did a bunch of research on the subject, which is sometimes captured under the label paracinema (Sidebar: there’s even a magazine based out of Austin entitled Paracinema). It is an umbrella term used to describe exploitation films (like Trannies), as well as cult and camp films. Both of the latter terms have factored into our decision-making process when we’ve been selecting these off-cycle picks.
There’s a fascinating, contentious history of paracinema films being banned or edited by film boards and government censors at various times in history (a lot of the films that were classified as video nasties in the UK that have since been “rescued” would have classified as paracinema back in the day). Part of the claim for shelving, trimming or destroying prints of these films is that they do not have a perceived “value”, which is actually an inappropriate use of the term. What critics and censors are really talking about is a matter of taste.
What does any of this have to do with Rabid Grannies? Well, it’s not hard to make the argument that the Flemish film falls into both cult and camp categories, or that its multiple edits (and release under the Troma brand) reinforces its classification as paracinema. It’s unsurprising that neither of us had seen this because it was deliberately made for a very specific niche audience (which clearly isn’t us!).
While I’m actually more in line with you in that I didn’t really like the film that much (I certainly won’t be strongly recommending it to anyone in the near future), I’m also strangely happy that this weird little oddity exists in the world. If nothing else, I’m glad that Horror Queers has given us an outlet to shine a light on underseen, undervalued and – in this case – strange little outliers of the horror canon. Even more importantly, it has enabled us to have a discussion about these films. We don’t have to like everything we see, but paracinema makes the argument that some people’s trash is other people’s treasure.
Trace: what have you taken away from the low-budget, exploitation, camp films we’ve watched these last two cycles? Will you seek out any other Troma films or has this soured your opinion on the brand? And do you have any final hot takes on Rabid Grannies?
I don’t want to say that Rabid Grannies has soured my opinion on the Troma brand. It pretty much is exactly what I expected it to be; I just didn’t find this particular film to be entertaining. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy bad movies! I think our discussions here have made this very clear. But this was…..not for me (also, how dare you compare something as immaculate as Sorority Row to this trash). And no, none of those “jokes” landed for me. Truthfully, I probably won’t seek out any Troma films in the future, but if someone brings one to movie night I’ll give it a chance. I’ve had a friend who has tried to make me watch Luther the Geek for almost a full year now and I keep avoiding it.
I would love to get into what exactly constitutes a “hit” for Troma though. I had never heard of this movie before you forced me to watch it so I just wonder what measurements we’re looking at, here. This is simply going off of the film’s Wikipedia page, but the exact quote reads “Due to its unusual subject and title and its graphic scenes of gore, Rabid Grannies is one of the most infamous titles in the Troma library.” Yes, I am a journalist referencing Wikipedia as a legitimate source, but there aren’t a lot of articles that have been written about this movie!
Like you said, we probably won’t get a lot of readers on this article because some people just aren’t going to watch this movie, even if it’s free (which it is)! One of our goals as journalists (besides inspiring lively discussions) is to help the site we write for get clicks, but I don’t think this will accomplish that particular goal (and to be quite honest, I thought our Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives piece would get clicks if only because of the word “tranny” but I was wrong about that). That being said, I am thankful you introduced me to the world of Troma and that we have a platform like Bloody-Disgusting to bring attention to films like this one.
Even after having a few days to sit on it, I just don’t have a ton to say about Rabid Grannies. I can certainly see why some people enjoy it, but other than the impressive practical effects it doesn’t have much going for it. It’s just an incredibly off-putting film. It’s a shame that Emmanuel Kervyn never went on to direct anything else (though he did have a small role in Kickboxer 2: The Road Back). He shows some talent behind the camera that could have been honed into something a bit better than Rabid Grannies.
So no, Joe, Rabid Grannies was not to my liking. I’m glad you got some enjoyment out of it, though! Maybe we can cover the sequel when it gets released next year (God help me). One of my favorite things about these articles is that A) not only are we becoming closer friends despite not having met in person but B) we’re also learning so much about the different things people find funny. I realize this is a bit odd considering this is a horror column on a horror website, but you get what I mean. What people find funny and what people find scary are both extremely subjective, so it’s enjoyable to read why you find parts of this doo-doo feces movie so funny. I’ll get you back for this one, Joe!
Next time on Horror Queers: We are giving you what you’ve been clamouring for nearly a year: A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (aka the gayest horror film ever made!)
And don’t forget to catch up on our previous Horror Queers articles right here!