Title: The Grapes of Death (1978)
Director: Jean Rollin
Cast: Brigitte Lahaie, Marie Georges Pascal, Mirella Rancelot
I am quickly learning there are various elements one can come to expect from a Jean Rollin film: girls, nudity, lesbians, gore, shock value, heavy atmosphere and blood, blood, blood; all great elements if you’re making a horror film, which is what Rollin specialized in. I am quickly absorbing many of Rollin’s films and I have to say, I have an affinity for them. I really like all that he achieved with so little money. I understand the kind of films he made, and admire him for making such beautiful looking films on such low budgets. How did Rollin achieve so much with so little? Well, basically, Rollin spent a lot of his time as a pornographer. For example, the film he made before The Grapes of Death was something called Hyperpenetrations (1978) and the one he made after it was called Discosex (1978). But the artist in Rollin wasn’t just satisfied with making porn, he wanted more! So he often times suggested his producers to fund a real film with the same amount of money it costs to make a porn film. He would use porn stars for his films; and you know how that goes: you give a porn star the chance to be in a real film and of course they’ll jump at a chance to do it. It is a step up for them; it’s something they can finally show their mom. This is no longer just porn, this is a real film we’re talking about here! So this is the reason why Rollin always had such sultry looking ladies in his films, this was also the case with The Grapes of Death, a film filled with luscious looking women running from the undead.
The film starts out with these men spraying pesticide on a crop of grapes. One of them doesn’t feel so good, but his boss tells him to continue working no matter what. We are then presented with these two girls traveling on an eerily empty train, their destinations are different, yet they travel together for companionship. On one of the train stops, the sick man who was spraying the crops, boards the train and sits next to one of the girls. At first there is nothing weird about him save for his awkward behavior. But soon, his face starts to degenerate and blood starts coming out of his pores! He is suffering from some sort of infection! The girl, terrified, gets off the train looking for help but she only ends up stumbling upon more sick people, worst part is they are not only sick, they are violent as well! What the hell is going on? Why is the world now populated by violence, death and destruction? Elizabeth will soon discover the truth about The Grapes of Death!
So again, what I enjoyed about this film is what I have enjoyed about all of the Jean Rollin films I have seen: the atmosphere, the mood, the ambiance. Rollin shot these films for very little money, so he did what any low budget filmmaker would do to make the most of his films: he shot in amazing looking locations. Great chateaus, abandoned locales, places with ancient architecture; he really exploited the use of interesting looking locations. Add a bit of mist, the howling sound of the wind and voila! Your movie is instantly creepier. This is something Rollin understood quite well for The Grapes of Death is a film in which the wind is blowing all of the time. This is something that a lot of directors don’t understand, but the sound the wind makes is something that adds a great level of spookiness to any horror film. Fulci used this sound effect a lot; Fellini used the hell out of it too and Rollin uses it to great effectiveness here. The localizations he used for the film add a tremendous feeling of isolation, starting with the lonely train, followed by these beautiful (yet spooky) looking landscapes and finally, the eerie village where most of the action takes place in. So this is a great example of a director making a film better simply because he has an eye for beauty, something that is often times taken for granted by modern filmmakers.
Most of the time, Rollin specialized in making vampire films like Requiem for a Vampire (1971), The Rape of the Vampire (1968) or The Silver of the Vampires (1971). Sometimes his films would be a strange hybrid between a zombie film and vampire film like for example The Living Dead Girl (1982), where I wasn’t quite sure if it was one or the other and sometimes he’d venture into the zombie genre. I personally didn’t like Zombie Lake (1981), I consider it a low point in Rollins career, but with The Grapes of Death he made a full blown zombie flick that I found completely satisfying. The Grapes of Death is something along the lines of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974) where people are infected by some kind of toxic that makes them violent and crazy, the same thing happens on The Grapes of Death; it’s the pesticide used on the crops that turns people into zombies. The zombies in The Grapes of Death degenerate both psychologically and physically; but they don’t completely lose consciousness, they know what they are and what is happening to them, they just can’t control it or their violent urges. So these zombies are unique in the sense that they are conscious of their decomposing state and they hate themselves for it.
As a zombie film, I’d say this is a very satisfying one. It has a strange eeriness to it; things slowly creep up on you until you are right smack in the middle of zombie chaos. Rollin’s films are deliberately slow paced, building up on the atmosphere, but then at some point you can rest assured that Rollin will flat out shock you. Rollin’s loves to take you by surprise! In terms of gore, the film is pretty impressive! If there’s something that distinguishes a Rollin film it’s a well orchestrated gore scene. On this one we get one of the best decapitations I have EVER seen on any film. I remember The Living Dead Girl delivered the best scene of a vampire/zombie feeding on human flesh…well, on this one we get an extremely memorable decapitation by axe that will leave you gasping for more. In conclusion, I have to say this was a great zombie flick, I loved many things about it and practically found nothing I didn’t like, another plus being that we get beautiful girls left and right! Brigitte Lahaie, one of Rollin favorite actresses and all around muse returns looking as sensual as she always did in Rollin’s films. Highly recommend this French zombie film, it shows you don’t need a lot money to make a satisfying and entertaining film, all you need is talent and if you ask me, Rollin, with his artful eye, had it to spare.
Rating: 4 out of 5