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, thereâs 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 âHorror Queersâ 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 âqueerâ is intensely personal, but it is a decision that we are committed to. Please donât be an asshole when using it and weâll get along fine.
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 lesbianâŠwhich just means that she literally dies first.
Trace, of all of the âoff-cycleâ 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 Jacksonâs Dead/Alive, which is one of my all time favourite horror films.
It looked absolutely insane and immediately vaulted up my âMust Seeâ list. I knew â despite the fact that it isnât a queer cult film per se â that I wanted to check it out for this series.
Now that weâve screened it, I have to say that Iâm a little sad because itâs muchÂ 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 itâs 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)âs 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 Raimiâs Evil Dead films. Thereâs also a Clue-esque vibe in the gathering of a group of characters who donât particularly care for each other who are separated in a desolate mansion and picked off. While Rabid Grannies canât quite replicate or sustain the high camp energy of Ramiâs or Lynnâs 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 Fredâs new wife Jessica (FranĂ§oise Lamoureux), so it was extremely disappointing when Erika was the first to go. Sure her death is one of the best of the film â dragged (literally!) across the table and straight into the unhinged jaws of Grannie Elizabeth â 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 Iâll admit that I was perplexed by some of these narrative decisions.
The screenplay is arguably the filmâs weakest link. While it hardly takes any time to transform the Grannies into their rabid demonic state, thereâs 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. Itâs 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 werenât crazy about Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives but did I really deserve this? Iâm 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 Duvallâs Faerie Tale Theatre. I dislike one of those things, and it isnât Faerie Tale Theatre. I imagine it must come as a shock to you that I am not a fan of Dead Alive, but Iâve 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) didnât 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, Iâd be hard-pressed to tell you any of their names (the only one that stuck with me was Robert Du Boisâ Percival). So put me in the âabhor them and just have to wait patiently for them to start dropping like fliesâ camp.
Alas, you are correct in that Erika was the most fun to watch, so I suppose she would be my âfavoriteâ character. Thatâs 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 donât know much about Troma (this is actually the first film of the studioâs that Iâve 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 didnât go to the actors. The design of the âgranniesâ (aunties?) reminded me a lot of Anjelica Hustonâs 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 couldnât 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 âHappy Birthday To Youâ is one of the filmâs few highlights. Rabid Grannies really embraces its ridiculousness so Iâve 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 canât believe you didnât find some of those ridiculous line readings and sight gags funny! Yes, Jessicaâs vehicular/gate crashing death is delightful, but didnât you find some humour in Fred getting a bite taken out of his ass? Or cringe when John yells at Erikaâs younger lover, âListen lesbian, shut the hell up!â Or when distraught mother Helen (Catherine Aymerie) threatens Percival with a blade to the balls and the line: âIâll knife those two holy orbs you have so little use forâ?
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 â not that I think any additional amount of gore would change your opinion of this film if itâs 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 itâs a silly, ridiculous film with some pretty decent special effects. The larger question, however, is what Iâd rather we discuss: the appeal of âbadâ horror films. I find this topic fascinating because â as weâve discussed over the past two installments of this series â films that fall into these categories are very polarizing.
Did we disagree on Sorority Row? Yes, but thereâs no denying that that film has merit.Â Contrast that with a film like Rabid Grannies, which is pretty threadbare in terms of plot, acting, direction, etc and thereâs a huge distinction. I bet that if we look at the numbers for this post and the Trannies post, theyâll be among our lowest because there is a whole population of horror fans who will simply never watchÂ horror movies that are quote/unquote âthis badâ.
Back when I was in university, I did a bunch of research on the subject, which is sometimes captured under the label paracinema (Sidebar: thereâs 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 weâve been selecting these off-cycle picks.
Thereâs 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 ârescuedâ 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 âvalueâ, 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, itâs 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. Itâs unsurprising that neither of us had seen this because it was deliberately made for a very specific niche audience (which clearly isnât us!).
While Iâm actually more in line with you in that I didnât really like the film that much (I certainly wonât be strongly recommending it to anyone in the near future), Iâm also strangely happy that this weird little oddity exists in the world. If nothing else, Iâm glad that Horror Queers has given us an outlet to shine a light on underseen, undervalued and â in this case â strange little outliers of the horror canon. Even more importantly, it has enabled us to have a discussion about these films. We donât have to like everything we see, but paracinema makes the argument that some peopleâs trash is other peopleâs treasure.
Trace: what have you taken away from the low-budget, exploitation, camp films weâve 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 donât want to say that Rabid GranniesÂ has soured my opinion on the Troma brand. It pretty much is exactly what I expected it to be; I just didnât find this particular film to be entertaining. Donât get me wrong, I enjoy bad movies! I think our discussions here have made this very clear. But this wasâŠ..not for me (also, how dare you compare something as immaculate as Sorority Row to this trash). And no, none of those âjokesâ landed for me. Truthfully, I probably wonât seek out any Troma films in the future, but if someone brings one to movie night Iâll give it a chance. Iâve 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 âhitâ for Troma though. I had never heard of this movie before you forced me to watch it so I just wonder what measurements weâre looking at, here. This is simply going off of the filmâs Wikipedia page, but the exact quote reads âDue 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.â Yes, I am a journalist referencing Wikipedia as a legitimate source, but there arenât a lot of articles that have been written about this movie!
Like you said, we probably wonât get a lot of readers on this article because some people just arenât going to watch this movie, even if itâs 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 donât 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 âtrannyâ 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 donât 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 doesnât have much going for it. Itâs just an incredibly off-putting film. Itâs 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,Â Rabid Grannies was not to my liking. Iâm 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) weâre 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 itâs enjoyable to read why you find parts of this doo-doo feces movie so funny. Iâll get you back for this one, Joe!
Next time on Horror Queers: We are giving you what youâve been clamouring for nearly a year: A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddyâs Revenge (aka the gayest horror film ever made!)
And donât forget to catch up on our previous Horror Queers articles right here!