THE GRAPES OF DEATH (1978) – The Dungeon Review!
Week one of Undead August was a bit of a dud. I was bound to be disappointed renting three horror films from the 2000’s. There is only one cure for the new zombie film blues and that is to watch three zombie films from the 70’s! I have seen all three of this weeks films at least once but have never posted reviews for them. The Grapes of Death made my top ten films of 1978. I also included it in my Goregirl-approved zombie film slideshow. I was surprised I had never posted a review for The Grapes of Death! I must admit that French director Jean Rollin’s films have been hit and miss for me. Many of Rollin’s horror films are uneventful affairs that lean heavier towards the sex than the horror. Grapes is one of a handful of Rollin’s titles where sex and nudity actually take a backseat to the horror, and it works beautifully. Of course there is some nudity; it is still a Jean Rollin film after all!
Seems like there have been zombie films almost as long as there has been horror films. Zombie films come in many shapes and sizes. Not every zombie film features someone dying and coming back from the dead. Nor does every zombie film feature the eating of entrails and brains. Voodoo oriented films for example often feature people merely in a trance-like state. We never see people die and become re-animated in The Grapes of Death. As a mater of fact, the infected maintain some of their humanity and most of them speak. The infection comes with some nasty side effects including an urge to kill and some nasty rotting skin. When you see the infected shuffling from every direction to gather and swarm a blind woman there is no denying the zombie vibe. The rotted skin humans work together in a mindless and deadly trance and it is a beautiful and horrifying thing. One could argue these are not zombies, but I’m calling them zombies nonetheless.
The films name The Grapes of Death is literal as it is the pesticides sprayed on the grapes from a local vineyard that infect the population. Some are infected by the spraying process and others are infected by drinking the wine from the vineyard. Elisabeth is travelling by train to meet up with her boyfriend who is the supervisor of the vineyard. Elisabeth and a friend are the only two passengers on the train. The train stops briefly and a man gets on board and makes his way to Elisabeth’s car where she is sitting by herself while her friend freshens up. The man is intense and silently takes his jacket off and sits across from Elisabeth. The man seems anxious and keeps touching a sore on his neck. Every time Elisabeth glances up at the man the sore gets larger. It eventually covers half of his face and starts bleeding. Elisabeth freaks and grabs her suitcase and runs from the car. She finds her friend dead in the washroom and pulls the train’s emergency brake and exits the train with the man on her heels. Elisabeth easily outruns her pursuer and from here we go on quite the journey with our girl Elisabeth. Most of Elisabeth’s adventure is by foot across the beautiful, vast countryside. The landscape is anything but hospitable and neither are most of the “humans” she encounters.
I love the way The Grapes of Death roles out. I felt like I was on the journey with Elisabeth. There is violence and death at regular intervals. The atmosphere and mood is top notch and maintains an effective sense of menace between kills. Marie-Georges Pascal is excellent as Elisabeth. Elisabeth is a likeable character and Pascal’s performance is subtle, natural and realistic. Mirella Rancelot is also strong as a blind woman Elisabeth meets in her travels. Adult film star Brigitte Lahaie is a hoot as a mysterious and mischievous blond with ill intentions. She is quick to disrobe to prove to a pair of men that her body is rot-free! All the characters Elisabeth meets in her travels are interesting and the performances are beauty across the board. The gore and effects are creative and for the most part look great. The sores that develop on the infected are wonderfully nasty and often ooze pus and blood. There is one decapitation you can clearly see is a mannequin but otherwise it’s all good stuff!
The Grapes of Death is a well made film with an original and intriguing story, good performances, an impressive menacing atmosphere, beautiful location shots, a great score and bloody violence. Highly recommended!
Spoken in French with subtitles.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Jean Rollin
Starring: Marie-Georges Pascal, Félix Marten, Serge Marquand, Mirella Rancelot, Patrice Valota, Patricia Cartier, Michel Herval, Brigitte Lahaie, Paul Bisciglia