This week we get a new M. Night Shyamalan film, The Visit, that I’m sure I will very much enjoy reading the plot synopsis of on Wikipedia over the weekend to confirm I didn’t miss much by not seeing it. Shyamalan hasn’t made a film I enjoyed since The Village, and I don’t even like to admit that one because everyone starts scooting away from me on the bus.
I’m intrigued a little by The Visit, though, and might end up watching it after all because I love gransploitation movies. It’s a pretty small sub-niche of horror involving sinister grannies and grandpas, usually as a joke but not always. They make for some scary flicks sometimes because the specter of aging and death is always terrifying to a young audience. Throw in a few witch metaphors and you have yourself a horror movie.
It’s been awhile since I’ve caught any gransploitation, so I thought I’d hand out a little primer for anyone interested in learning about it in preparation for The Visit.
The Granny (1995)
Thank God for Cinemax because finding a copy of The Granny is usually difficult and results in fierce bidding wars from collectors. It was only ever available on VHS, on TV and in the drive-thrus, which is a shame because it’s one of the most delightfully trashy films ever made. Former Playmate of the Month Stella Stevens is an ailing and insane grandmother being cared for by Shannon Whirry. Thanks to a magic potion Granny comes back from the dead and begins murdering her ungrateful, greedy descendants as they fight over her inheritance. Whirry is the good girl hero.
Scenes from this film have stayed with me my whole life, including Granny castrating a character with garden shears and then laughingly proclaiming, “Now I’m going to cut off your big head.” The acting is so terrible it edges into self-aware satire, and the boobs and blood flow like White Oak Bayou after heavy rains. Here’s hoping one day to see the DVD release it deserves. I would pay good money to hear a commentary track from Whirry and Stevens.
Kill Granny Kill (2014)
A recent indie film I just heard about this year, Kill Granny Kill is the sort of thing you’d expect to be a comedy but actually toes the line to be a serious horror flick. Well, as serious as a killer grandma movie can be. Donna Swensen is Granny this time around, a kindly old woman who is a cannibalistic serial killer with her grandson in secret.
The film follows the basic “punishment for sins” mode in that the prudish Granny murders her live-in nurse and her boyfriend after she breaks her rule of no sex. Granny and her grandson then use their victims’ meat for country vittles. Not original by any means as it is largely a homier version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre mixed with a little Pamela Voorhees, but director Jacob Ennis has a good eye for kills and the acting is actually very solid.
Rabid Grannies (1988)
The only way to really enjoy Rabid Grannies is on the recently released Blu-ray, which restores much of the cut gore that was cut from the original release. This remains one of Troma’s most talked-about horror flicks, and that’s because it’s literally got everything.
This time, the killing is instigated by a devil-worshipping nephew who has been ostracized from his family over his religion and isn’t invited to his elderly and wealthy aunt’s dinner party. Like in The Granny, the other relatives are actually just greedy ghouls waiting for Aunt Helen and Suzie to die and leave them loot, so their nephew casts a spell that turns them into horrid demonic monsters that go on a blood-soaked rampage. That rampage includes lopping the limbs off one relative and hoisting him into the air with a halberd stuck up his Trumphole. Really, Troma just makes the best darned movies.
Grandmother’s House (1989)
This is one of those films that few people really know about, but the people who do always remark at how good it really is. It features an orphaned pair of kids who go to live with their grandparents, only to become involved in a mystery where bodies keep piling up and the kids are stalked by a mysterious woman played by B-movie legend Brinke Stevens.
It’s more suspense film than horror, and the script tries too hard with too little to put it in the kindest terms. That said, it should be part of a course for young directors on how to shoot a low-budget horror film. Director Peter Rader brings every inch of this huge rambling farmhouse and surrounding grove to life, and really got the best out of his cast. It’s a surprisingly beautiful film, and avoids many cheap scare tropes in favor of true tension. Mark my words, this is the film that The Visit most needs comparing to.
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The Wicker Man (2006)
The remake of The Wicker Man has come to be known mostly for how unintentionally funny Nicolas Cage can be wearing a bear suit and punching women in the face before being stung by bees in the eyes. Pretty much that’s all anyone remembers of the film, and it’s hard to blame them.
However, by casting Ellen Burstyn in the role that was previously played by the late Christopher Lee, it also turned The Wicker Man into a gransploitation flick. Burstyn’s performance as the grandmother of Cage’s daughter and the leader of a bee cult was actually pretty terrifying and deserves way more than to be forgotten in the wake of Cage’s antics. There’s no make-up, no camera tricks, and no jokes. She’s just as deep down unsettling as any mad prophet willing to burn a man to death to suit her needs can be. She’s the scariest granny of them all.