Reviews

Anyab (1981)

Dracula gazes sexily into the camera and into your eyes. His gleaming white fangs catch the light just right. He’s got a full head of luxurious black hair, perfectly conditioned and coiffed. He’s wearing a puffy white blouse under a sparkling gold vest and matching gold go-go boots. He’s in full disco attire, and it is glorious. He stares through your soul and says, “Everything looks like everything—a Russian salad!”

Dracula, TELL ME, WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE SO WRONG?

Anyab aka Fangs does not look like a Russian salad, which, if you’ve never had it, is a giant pile of room-temperature mayonnaise with an over-boiled potato in it. Anyab is not a bowl of listless, beige food; it is a buffet of a thousand different flavors, textures, and colors. It is sweet. It is savory. It is sour. It is bitter. It is creamy. It is a feast for the eyes. It is also a feast for the ears because it is a musical.

Yes, a musical.

I hate musicals more than you. I know it’s not a competition, but I definitely win. I truly, deeply despise musicals with the fire of a thousand suns. My entire personal brand is built on the fact that I hate musicals (and also sandwiches—yeah, you heard me.) But even I, the world’s foremost hater of musicals, can enjoy Anyab, which is the Egyptian version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Ali and Mona’s car breaks down during a rainstorm and they end up in a castle where ostentatiously dressed vampires have gathered for a gala. They writhe around in capes and rubber monster masks and perform a modern dance (pronounced dahnse) in front of giant obelisks that look like Easter Island statues with crewcuts. There’s a ridiculous amount of stage fog—so much that you start worrying that it might be carcinogenic. There’s also a hunchback who’s clearly just a dude kneeling with a soccer ball taped to his back. And of course, there’s Dracula himself, who looks less like a transvestite Tim Curry and more like an Egyptian John Travolta. He’s got swag. You know this because he enters the room to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Quickly Ali and Mona figure out that something’s amiss in the castle—it’s a dead giveaway when they see vampires stick straws in their victims’ necks to sip on blood. Panicked, the couple tries to leave but end up in the grasp of Dracula and his undeniably catchy songs. If his songs were a disease, you would have it. You would be OK with this. I would be OK with this.

Throughout the film, a grouchy old man who is somehow not my father talks to the camera and explains what vampires are by reading angrily from a large dusty book. Like my father, he goes on and on and doesn’t care that you actually know a ton about vampires. And just in case you wanted to know more information, there’s a lengthy exploration of Dracula’s history. “His name was used to create commercial meaningless films.” Like my father, the narrator halts all the momentum and contributes greatly to the runtime. These scenes are clearly filler and completely unnecessary to all life matters. Still, there’s a hilarious sequence where we learn that Dracula has been around us this entire time—at the grocery store, the dentist’s office, the gas station, and much, much, much more.

Anyab was the passion project of director Mohammed Shebl, who poured his heart and significant savings into this project. Unfortunately it never caught cult status in Egypt, though in our hearts, it certainly has. This is a low-budget film with lofty ambitions and incredible production design, which includes hand-drawn speech bubbles and opulent sets. The costumes are a mix of a Halloween store and 80s Jazzercise wear. And while it does lull and lag during its 100-minute runtime, it electrifies during the musical numbers. The original songs are toe-tapping fist-pumpers that incorporate modern and traditional instruments. If the soundtrack were on vinyl, hipsters from Portland to Brooklyn would spin it at their DJ nights. But I should mention that there are plenty of familiar songs in the film too, including The Pink Panther and The Munsters theme songs.

At one point Dracula and the couple sit on an overstuffed couch and watch a movie together. Dracula is agitated and frustrated. He is bored. “I want a film that I can understand! This film is full of riddles and pieces from here and there!”

Ali stares at the camera. “If someone can think a little, he can understand everything.”

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