‘Anyab’: Egypt’s Answer to ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’
Egyptian cinema has “borrowed” more than a few ideas from its Western counterparts. There’s an Egyptian version of Night at the Museum (World War III), Shallow Hal (Habibi Na’iman), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. You read that last sentence right. The Egyptian take on Rocky Horror, Anyab (or Fangs in English), features a disco-loving Dracula, jazzercise wear, and a lengthy subplot regarding the social and economic politics of Egypt in the 1980s. It is by far one of the weirdest films ever made that somehow lacks a cult following.
As an Egyptian-American, I know some Egyptian fare (my stepmother loves sappy soap operas) but Anyab was a new one for me. My husband has a penchant for finding the strangest films ever made, and one dark, stormy night, he came across it. The film’s beginning mimics Rocky Horror’s as a pair of lush black lips serenade us. Except this opening includes a chicken sacrifice and vampires dancing in a circle because they’re vampires? (This is never made clear.) We then segue into our Egyptian Brad and Janet counterparts: Ali and Mona, who sing a delightfully campy song about how much they love each other. Their love song, “Really?!” is far more Bollywood than Hollywood and is downright bouncy. While on their way to a New Year’s Eve party, they get a flat tire and stumble in the rain to Dracula’s mansion.
The film shifts to our first political lesson of the night. The narrator (yes, just like the one in Rocky Horror) considers how much of today’s youth think that “life is really colored pink.” It’s clear that Ali and Mona, the aforementioned “youth” of the film, are about to get their dreams dashed, but it’s not stated exactly how. This will be a key theme later in the film. But first: Dracula.
Upon reaching Dracula’s manor, a hunchback greets our weary lovers. He spins around in a circle, inexplicably yelling “Dracula!” for a solid minute. From there, we’re treated to a tubular 80s dance scene, complete with neon tights and demon masks. While Rocky Horror is known as a queer masterpiece, this is the first hint of Anyab having some not-so-thinly-vieled queer undertones. Since Anyab was made in Egypt, director Mohammed Shebl couldn’t be as forthright regarding sexuality, which is partly why the second half of the film is so drastically different from its counterpart. Still, it’s admirable how Shebl incorporates such camp, even including cartoon thought bubbles and Batman-esque sound cues.
Dracula himself puts on quite a number, dancing with Mona in a glittering gold shirt and matching boots. He boasts an afro that puts my Baba’s 80s afro to shame (according to my father, it was the style at the time). He and the other vampires lead Mona and Ali up to dinner to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance”. It is a truly head-scratching scene, but the kind of glorious camp that makes Anyab so fun. After a dinner involving “tomato juice”, Shebl dives straight into social commentary.
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The narrator reminds us that vampires are everywhere, metaphorically speaking. A series of scenes follow of Mona and Ali, now married, facing a series of everyday nuisances: plumbing problems, trying to hail a cab, medical bills, and more. Every time they are “helped” by Dracula, who overcharges them. The narrator finds this hilarious, perhaps because of his theory that the government and social hierarchy are the real bloodsuckers.
The idea of capitalism being vampiric isn’t exactly a new one, but seeing it so literally played out does speak volumes about Egypt’s economy in the 1980s. Granted, the scene is randomly placed and goes on too long (especially because the film shifts back to the vampire mansion), but offers a satirical look at the struggles everyday Egyptians faced in the 1980s. As my father often reminds me, Egypt is not a wealthy country, and periods of economic strife have become commonplace. Ironically, Egypt is currently facing outrageous inflation (eggs have become a luxury), so the blood or money-sucking themes of Anyab still run rampant today.
Shebl himself had a deep love for pop culture, and Anyab was his passion project. Throughout Anyab, musical interludes from The Pink Panther, The Munsters, and Jaws are included. The film was not a success (if it had been, Shebl would have been hit with a lawsuit) and still remains relatively unknown, which is a shame considering how pointed Anyab’s satire is. Interestingly, Rocky Horror also started as a passion project. Writer Richard O’Brien worked on the script to keep himself busy during the evenings. Meant to be an homage to the sci-fi and B horror movies O’Brien grew up in, Rocky Horror, much like Anyab, ended up being a hodgepodge of genres. While Rocky Horror was a hit in England, but not on Broadway.
Yet Rocky Horror went on to become a cult classic. Years later, Anyab still hasn’t received the same amount of love. Considering how bold and utterly wild Anyab is, Shebl’s disco Dracula deserves the same kind of cult following its source inspiration has. I want to see shadow casts of Shebl’s Dracula and friends in their fabulous 80s aerobic wear. And just think of the costumes we can all wear! While I love a great Franeknfurter, I would love to see more disco Draculas this Halloween.