“Although, there are a few variations, this is basically a scene-for-scene Egyptian remake of A&C Meet Frankenstein. Yep...you get Frankenstein (Karloffian makeup), Dracula, the Wolfman...they’re all here waiting for you. Well, believe it or not, this is probably the worst comedy-horror film ever made! We are hard-pressed to think of another movie so amazingly bad. In the final lab scene the film’s music director just put on a recording of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and let it play. The acting is atrocious with a capital A. Just shows how lack of talent can butcher even the most beloved of concepts. Abdel and Ismael are the worst comedy team EVER. The monsters look so clumsy and stupid. They stumble around in pitiful makeup trying to look scary but it just makes you want to barf. We are proud to give this film our highest bad movie recommendation. Our video master was made from an Egyptian cable system video master that had its logo burned into the very upper left corner of the picture. Believe us…you won’t care. Argh.”
Review Date: October 26, 2010
Released by: Sinister Cinema
Release date: ?
Region 0, NTSC
– Official Sinister Cinema plot summary
Meet Ismail (Ismail Yasseen
) and Abdul (Abdul Fattah
), two bumbling, lowly clerks at an antiques store in Cairo. Though the two men are roommates, they fight and argue almost constantly, with the more serious Abdul constantly losing patience with his goofy friend. Ismail has lately taken a liking to a woman named Samya, who frequents the store and flirts with him. On this particular day she comes in right as Ismail makes a mess of a whole shelf of ancient artifacts. Fortunately for him the store owner has other concerns at that moment, mentioning that an important delivery will be coming in that day. Samya overhears this and takes note of it. She telephones the house of Professor Aasim, an evil scientist with grand plans. Working with Aasim is handsome young Dr. Mourad, who is engaged to Aasim’s niece Afaff. Unfortunately the poor young lady doesn’t realize that her uncle has turned her lover into a werewolf in order to control him, and that he changes into the beast whenever he hears the howl of a wolf.
Professor Aasim wants what is soon to be delivered and knows just how to get it. That night, in the storeroom underneath the antique shop, Ismail and Abdul have been tasked with opening the delivery, which is an enormous coffin-sized box. Abdul goes to make a telephone call to the store owner while Ismail reads the documentation which came with the shipment, indicating that what’s in the box is the immortal mummy of Farfour, a scientist who discovered the secret of eternal life. Poor Ismail doesn’t realize that Professor Aasim has sneaked into the storeroom and is hiding in a coffin, and after several false alarms where Ismail hears him rising from the coffin and is so frightened he shouts to Abdul for help (who of course comes back and doesn’t believe him) Aasim manages to hypnotize the poor man and revive the mummy, sneaking out of the building with the lumbering creature. Ismail and Abdul’s boss arrives to inspect the delivery and, discovering the mummy to be gone, fires both of them on the spot.
After examining the mummy, Aasim determines that to get it running back at a hundred percent they are going to need to transplant a fresh human brain into it. But it needs to be the brain of somebody who is weak-willed and easy to control so that the creature will not turn on them. Samya says she knows just the potential donor, and goes to Ismail and Abdul’s apartment and offers them jobs serving guests at Afaff’s birthday party the next day. They gladly accept, not realizing that Samya has picked Ismail to be the brain donor! But with these two bumbling fools under his roof, and with the mummy’s unpredictable behavior and Dr. Mourad’s periodic transformations into a werewolf, Professor Aasim is going to get way more than he bargained for in his attempt to learn the secrets of eternal life...
The title Ismail and Abdel Meet Frankenstein
is somewhat of a misnomer since, as you’ll already have figured out from reading the plot summary, technically there is no Frankenstein in the film, even though the mummy of Farfour looks like the Frankenstein monster and fulfills the same plot function. The proper Arabic title of the film is Haram alek
, which the subtitles on this release translate to Have Mercy
. And yes, Sinister Cinema is telling the truth when they say it is an Egyptian remake of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
, even though the names of Frankenstein and Dracula are never used, nor is the term werewolf ever brought into play. The character of Professor Aasim – who fulfills the Dracula role here – is not even a vampire. But for anyone who grew up watching Bud and Lou’s immortal meeting of the monsters, Have Mercy
will feel like a strange fever dream, locked in its own little world of bad comedy and strange locations tied to oddly reassuring comedy set pieces and monster costumes.
As a westerner watching the film in 2010, it is impossible not to wonder whether Islamic cultural sensitivities played a role in the decision not to use the real monsters. The record would almost invite such an interpretation, considering events over the past ten years, and such recent controversies as the South Park
episodes featuring the Prophet Mohammed. The American news media, which has neither the resources nor the desire to cover the Muslim world in depth, tends to portray Islamic culture as very bland, boring and conservative, where religious dogma dominates all and where even simple cultural activities like dancing and the playing of music are frowned upon or even forbidden. While such cultural dead zones do exist in places like Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, the modern state of Egypt has always been much more liberal and cosmopolitan compared to many other nations in the Muslim world. In the 1950’s, when secular Arab nationalism ruled and organizations like the growing but banned Muslim Brotherhood were being brutally suppressed by the state, the upper reaches of Egyptian society – those who could afford to attend movies – were far removed from the Islamic radicalism that spread like wildfire in the 70’s and 80’s. While I concede that the idea of an undead vampire who feasts on human blood could have easily been seen as sacrilegious, I suspect that the main reason the real Universal monsters were not used in Have Mercy
was that Egyptian audiences simply did not have the same familiarity with these characters that western audiences did, as well as possible fears of copyright infringement if the Egyptian film was seen to be copying the American one too closely.
Regrettably, Have Mercy
is not a very funny comedy. I watched it with my girlfriend and two of her roommates, and the only person who laughed was me, and that was only sporadically. For me most of the humor came from the pathetically bad attempts to mimic famous moments from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
and the shoddy, super 8mm home movie quality of the monsters. The mummy of Farfour looks a lot like Herman Munster, and although the mask or make-up used to transform Dr. Mourad into the werewolf is reasonably effective, obvious corners are cut when it comes time show him changing into the beast. In the Universal films featuring Lon Chaney as Larry Talbot we could always expect at least one decent transformation scene. But those elaborate effects took a long time to pull off. Too long for the makers of Have Mercy
. When they need to transform Mourad they simply fade to black and back again, and, abracadabra, he’s a werewolf.
Despite these changes what really does the most to separate Have Mercy
from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
is that the Egyptian film lacks the harmony of its predecessor. That film was the fifth time that Lon Chaney Jr. had played the Wolf Man, the third time that Glenn Strange had played the Frankenstein monster and probably the thousandth time that Bela Lugosi had played Dracula (seeing as he played the role on stage as well as in the 1931 movie). It was also the twenty-second movie that Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made together and the director, Charles Barton, had worked with them before. Watching that film is like watching a well oiled machine. Everything fits together just right and everybody knows exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s very different from Have Mercy
, which often feels like nobody knew what they were going for. The actors who play the monsters obviously had never done anything like this in their entire careers, and Ismail Yassin and Abdul Fattah are not Abbott and Costello. Both Yassin and Fattah were extremely popular comedic actors in Egypt and they appeared in a number of films together, but they weren’t joined at the hip like Bud and Lou were, and they did makes movies independently of each other. In Have Mercy
they lack the hilarious and perfect synergy that is found in the classic routines of Abbott and Costello.
The humor also seems weakened by the English subtitling. The end of the film has a caption that says it was “Translated by ART” in Cairo, Egypt. Exactly how an English subtitled version of this very obscure movie came to exist is a bit of a mystery, but I suspect that the “Egyptian cable system” that Sinister Cinema refers to was actually the film’s licensor, who commissioned an English translation in order to create screeners that would help them sell the movie overseas (which would also explain the watermark at the top left hand corner of the screen). For the most part the subtitles are professionally translated, with only minor grammatical goofs, but they are distinctly inelegant and full of terminology which, although technically correct for the use they are given, are not ideal for communicating information. Case in point comes after Ismail and Abdul are fired from their jobs and Ismail is seen reading a newspaper looking for “vacancies”, which would be more properly referred to as the “help wanted section” for us westerners. English and Arabic are not particularly compatible languages compared to some. The Pentagon, the CIA and the State Department have enormous problems trying to get enough fluent Arabic speakers because of the difficulty in learning the language. I assume that Arabic speakers have similar difficulties learning the nuances of English, and it seems likely that much of the wordplay between Ismail and Abdul may well be funnier for those who count Arabic as their native language.
Like the Turkish remakes of movies like Star Wars
, or the blatant rip-offs of filmmakers like Bruno Mattei, so much of the interest in watching Have Mercy
comes from spotting how foreign filmmakers tried to recreate classic moments in their own productions. At the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
, Bud and Lou find themselves in a rowboat after watching the destruction of the Frankenstein monster, and Bud comments that now that the monsters have been defeated there’s nothing left to scare them. Behind Bud a disembodied cigarette is hanging in the air, and the voice of an unseen person laments that he had been hoping to get in on the excitement. When the boys ask who it is that’s talking, the voice identifies himself as the invisible man, and Bud and Lou jump into the water in a panic. In Have Mercy
, Ismail and Abdul take a magical charm that Professor Aasim had been using to control the mummy and they use it to wish for somebody that will come and relieve them from their poverty. There is a puff of smoke and a disembodied voice identifies itself as the person they wished for, and when they ask who he is, the voice identifies itself as the Angel of Death, and the two men run away screaming “have mercy!” While disappointed audience members may be saying the same thing under their breath as the film ends, it remains a potent curiosity piece for those interested in obscure world cinema. Despite the copying, despite the ripping off of Abbott and Costello, despite the strange feelings of déjà vu that permeate much of the movie, Have Mercy
somehow still manages to be a one of a kind.
This interlaced DVD-R presents the film in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the overall quality is surprisingly pleasing. As mentioned previously, there is a watermark at the top left hand of the frame, and this is present throughout the entire movie, but is not particularly distracting (my girlfriend didn’t even notice it until I pointed it out to her). The film elements used to source the transfer were in very good shape, with only a moderate number of scratches, specks and splices, although there is a reel change point about fifty-three minutes into the film where the quality becomes much rougher for several minutes. The grayscale image features clean whites and deep blacks, although the contrast has been turned up a little too much. The above average quality of this presentation gives me hope that the original negatives have been well cared for and may one day be used for a remastered, mass market release.
The film’s original Arabic language soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0 Mono. Dialogue sounds clear enough for a fifty-five year-old foreign film, although audio does take a drop at the fifty-three minute mark just like the video quality. A thin layer of hissing and popping can be heard on the soundtrack at periodic intervals.
The English subtitles are, of course, burned into the frame. Reading them tended to cause my eyes to hurt after awhile, they were too small and the wrong color, as I’ve always found yellow subtitles easier to read on a black and white movie.
The only extra included is a re-release trailer for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
, which everyone would be advised to watch beforehand as it will give them a refresher on many of the scenes that Have Mercy
Both fascinating and frustrating, Have Mercy
is certainly not for everyone, but Sinister Cinema’s DVD-R of this title gives it an acceptable presentation in terms of audio/visual quality, although we can always hope for a mass market release with remastered picture quality and more readable, better translated subtitles. Anyone who’s interested should head on over to the Sinister Cinema website
and check it out – and remember, “But, Abdou I feel that my brain is like jelly in my head.”
Movie – C-
Image Quality – B-
Sound – C+
Supplements – C
- Running Time – 1 hour 26 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Arabic 2.0 Mono
- Burned-in English subtitles
- Trailer for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein