RABID GRANNIES (1988) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Emmanuel Kervyn
Troma Entertainment

It's over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house… where they "love their grandchildren… well done!" in Troma's Blu-ray/DVD combo of its eighties Belgian gore pick-up RABID GRANNIES!

It's the shared birthday of sweet old aunts Elizabeth (Dany Daven) and Victoria Remington (Anne-Marie Fox) who are, sadly, not long for this world. Eager to get into their aunts' good graces are a pack of avaricious relatives including child-hating Catholic schoolteacher Father Percival (Robert Du Bois), war profiteer Harvey (Jacques Mayar, LE MANS), embittered spinster Bertha (Florine Elslande), wastrel playboy Roger (Michel Lombet), aristocratic Helen (Catherine Aymerie), her blue collar husband John (Elie Lison) and obnoxious children Suzie (Caroline Braeckman) and Gilbert (Richard Cotica), fat factory owner Fred (Guy Van Riet, LA FEMME NIKITA) and his much younger stripper second wife Jessica (Françoise Lamoureux), and caustic lesbian magazine editor Erika (Bobette Jouret) and her new "collaborator" Rachel (Françoise Moens).Black sheep Christopher – disinherited because of the damage his involvement with a Satanic cult has done to the Remington family name – had the good graces not to show up uninvited, but he has sent along a special gift that transforms the old biddies into demonic hags who set about chomping their way down their already rotten family tree.

A low budget Belgian production, RABID GRANNIES benefits from authentic stately locations – imagine the same concept in suburban America – and over-the-top grue that is more comical than disturbing (especially considering some of the violence inflicted upon children in the film).In spite of the gusto of the filmmakers and effects technicians, the film really cannot live up to audience expectations in terms of transgression or irreverence for the scenario. Had the skewering of upper class hypocrisy been a bit more pointed, the audience might have better relished the fates of the characters; but they really are just a bunch of chickens running around with their heads already cut off. The film remains an entertaining romp, but the look and feel really is more sub-Eurocine than Troma with its castle locations, stilted dubbing (of already stilted performances), and mostly flat-looking photography (this and cruddy processing probably made the film look aged even when new). Producer Johan Vandewoestijne had previously helmed the gory serial slasher film LUCKER THE NECROPHAGOUS and would produce to more Troma pick-ups MANIAC NURSES FIND ECSTASY and PARTS OF THE FAMILY.

Released directly to video by Media Home Entertainment, RABID GRANNIES was subject to cuts for an R-rating and that cut version prevailed on home video when Troma reissued it on tape in 1998and disc in 2000 which included the gore snippets as extras (even though THE TOXIC AVENGER was made available unrated as soon as the rights reverted to Troma).Subsequent overseas DVD releases from Germany and the Netherlands sported cuts that restored the gore but lost some dialogue, and one cut running approximately seventy-five minutes (shorter than the eighty-eight minute US release) was apparently director Emmanuel Kervyn's director's cut. Although the loss of gore and the recycled tape master on the US release did the film no favors, or at least that was the feeling before the Blu-ray remastering.

The Blu-ray ostensibly features two cuts of the film: he director's cut runs 68:27 while the producer's cut runs 69:45, and the difference seems to be solely comprised of the differing amounts of black screen in between the Troma logo and bland new computer-generated credits. The new end credits mention that this is a 2011 recut, but we are not sure just how it differs from the overseas director's cut. The gore is indeed restored, although only Fred's fate comes across as truly unpleasant. Lost is about twenty minutes of character development (as well as some fleeting nudity) during the first act with extensions to all of the character introductions during their drives to the castle and getting ready for dinner (the transformation occurs at roughly 16 minutes in the director's cut and thirty-six minutes in the R-rated cut).Admittedly, the soon-to-be-victims are paper-thin in characterization, but the padding of resentments, intrigues, and general bitchiness moves along more smoothly than the pruned director's cut where the abrupt jumps seem like the work of a filmmaker just trying to get the film under seventy minutes with little time (and perhaps no original unmixed materials) instead of a refined edit.

The HD transfers are encoded MPEG-4 AVC 1080i60 at reframed at 2.35:1 and, while it appears to be a different transfer than the 1999 Troma DVD – revealing information previously cropped from both sides of the frame – it does not seem to be a new transfer (the ragged overscan mattes are visible on the sides, slightly grayer than the black vertical mattes).The scope framing works for the most part since there is more picture information horizontally than the older master, but jaws sometimes drop below the lower matte while characters speak in close-up. The recoloring of the image is meant to be more atmospheric but is generally ruinous. Since most of the castle is supposed to be without electricity, some of the scenes have been treated to a yellow tint (where once they were lit by movie lights without gels) that gives the actors a sallow complexion. The night exteriors and some dark interiors have been given a bluer tint that obscures what detail was once visible (Roger and Jessica in the basement are now just a pair of silhouettes walking through dark corridors).The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is louder with a hollow echo occasionally apparent.

In terms of the extras, the Blu-ray has ported over the deleted gore scenes (8:27) – redundant since they have been reincorporated into the feature in better (if not great) quality if not for the additional bloopers and outtakes interspersed throughout – the interview with producer Vandewoestijne (3:05), who himself helmed the Belgian serial killer movie LUCKER THE NECROPHAGOUS, who discusses how the film was greenlighted to make use of the crew of an action film that stalled just after pre-production. The disc also ports over the "What the Hell Happened to You?" (2:21) jokey interview with a "real rabid granny", as well as trailers for RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH: VOL. 1, RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH: VOL. 2, THE TOXIC AVENGER, and SGT. KABUKIMAN N.Y.P.D.

The DVD side of the combo package is the same 2000 DVD of the R-rated version (literally the same disc with internal video files dated 1999) in a fullscreen, progressive encode running 88:24.Aside from the cut gore scenes and cropped sides, it is actually the preferable version in terms of picture quality – not remastered but generally clearer – and pacing. Not ported over to the Blu-ray because of the difference in running time and re-editing is a lively and humorous English-language commentary recorded by director Kervyn. He reiterates producer Vandewoestijne about how the project was greenlighted and his concept for the film. Of the cast, he reveals that Jouret was his drama teacher, and that the actress who played the ill-fated maid (Patricia Davia) would end up working as his first assistant director after the first week of shooting while du Bois served as his second assistant. He also discusses the location shooting with authentically antique set décor and the creative liberties taken by the effects artists (which partially motivated the move towards a more comedic tone since he liked the demon masks but felt that they were not scary).He also reveals his reasons for shooting the film in English, the difficulties of translating and the script and interpreting on the set (especially when he wanted to change dialogue during the shooting), finding English-speaking actors in Belgium (especially ones that would work cheap), and the dubbing of most of the cast (his feelings about the dialogue during the set-up probably motivated the heavy pruning of this section in the director's cut).

In addition to the aforementioned extras – the deleted gore scenes are viewable separately or with the aforementioned outtakes and bloopers (8:27) – as well as all of the usual tiresome interactive Troma featurettes (along with some cross promotion in the form of an interview with Dario Argento on THE STENDHAL SYNDROME which Troma released on DVD in 2000), the R-rated cut itself can be considered a substantial extra (along with the commentary) since the Blu-ray itself is lacking. The DVD also includes the original video trailer for the film (2:03) which I believe I first saw on the Media tape of Troma's FEROCIOUS FEMALE FREEDOM FIGHTERS. After the work Vinegar Syndrome has done on other Troma properties bound for Blu-ray (or at least remastered Blu-ray), RABID GRANNIES is a real letdown. One can only assume that Troma does not have suitable materials (or just did not bother).By the looks of the director's cut here, Kervyn may not have had suitable materials either. One can only hope Troma's Italian gorefest pick-up EVIL CLUTCH fares better in remastering if they get around to it. (Eric Cotenas)