Tuesday, November 27, 2012

REVIEW: The Grapes of Death

The Grapes of Death
Director: Jean Rollin
Year 1978

The Grapes of Death is a surreal and dreamy zombie film that infuses into its core, an off kilter atmosphere that works perfectly alongside the movies unusual portrayal of a world fallen to a zombie apocalypse. Directed by French cult director Jean Rollin, the film has an airy quality to it that mixes nightmarish visions with tranquil country landscapes, in order to make a horror story that truly feels original and disturbing. With a keen use of locations, a handful of gore-tastic moments, and a sympathetic lead character, The Grapes of Death is an unusual zombie gem that hypnotizes its audience with its violence, death, and above all, its potent atmosphere that’s simply to die for.

The film follows a young woman named Elisabeth, as she travels by train to meet up with her fiancé at his vineyard in the country. Unfortunately for her, the pesticide that her boyfriend is using at the vineyard is having some dire effects on the local population, changing them into wild and savage zombie-like creatures which are prone to violence after being exposed to the toxins. In a desperate attempt to stay alive, Elisabeth travels from one infected town to the next, frantically trying to make it to her love, which ironically is the center of this mass hysteria. Lost in a landscape that seems plucked from a nightmare and surrounded by an endless number of infected, can Elisabeth make it to safety or is she destined to meet a grisly end? Either way it should be a horrifically fun time, but I recommend not eating the grapes. They will be your DEATH!

Marie-Georges Pascal takes on the role of Elisabeth, the scared-shitless young woman who suddenly finds herself attacked from every angle by psychotic lunatics. She does a tremendous job considering all of the strange and unusual elements of the production, and her performance actually blends in nicely with the surreal nature of the film. The most interesting thing about the way that Elisabeth is depicted, both by Pascal and from the direction of Jean Rollin, is that she is portrayed as if lost in a dream. The bizarre and unusual reactions and interactions that she shares with the people of this cinema world are odd to say the least, and in this weird state of consciousness, the characters take the backburner to the overall aura of the film. For example, the character of Elisabeth, though front and center, works as more of a transitional element for the movie. As we follow her journey and witness the crazy inhabitants, both infected and normal, that she interacts with, we forget about who she really is and just get absorbed into the lunatic-like quality of this dream world that Rollin has crafted.

As the film progresses along we are given some outstandingly unusual performances by a cast of dedicated actors that are willing to really push the anti in order to fulfill Rollin’s sick and twisted visions. From an innocent and ghost-like blind girl named Lucie, played by Mirella Rancelot, to a creepy psychotic man with a pitch-fork, played by Serge Marquand, to Paul Bisciglia’s twisted performance as a lovelorn madman who carries his girlfriend’s head around as a trophy, this film is jam packed with unforgettable crazies that really add to the flavor of this movie. Fan favorite and frequent Jean Rollin collaborator, Brigitte Lahaie, even takes a stab at one of the most memorable roles of the flick. She plays a damaged and demented beautiful young woman who, in some kind of sick twisted game, lures people into town only to hand them over to the zombie hordes still residing there. Her role in the movie is without a doubt the highlight of the film and her alluring features and madcap performance makes for a creepy combination that just nails the mindset of this demented production.

In the visual department, this film is a stunner. This should come to no surprise to those that have viewed some of Jean Rollin’s other fantastically provocative features. The man has a wonderful eye for surreal imagery, and in The Grapes of Death, he transposes this artistic vision onto the zombie genre with spectacular results. In true Rollin fashion we are gifted with hauntingly picturesque shots filled with fog shrouded landscapes, harsh foreboding lighting, and enough erotic and visceral flair to shake a stick at. Abundant in hazy wonder, Rollin proves that he is the master of setting up dream-like sequences and in this particular entry he’s added an extra dose of violence and debauchery that ooze gore and bedlam with unabashed pride.

As to be expected in a film that depicts the world going mad with blood lust, Rollin pulls no punches in delivery the gory goods. In the span of the film, we are presented with a series of marvelous practical effects that feature a grotesque decapitation, a pitchfork piercing, a throat slashing, and the general mayhem that occurs when unloading a rifle into a walking mound of dying and infected flesh. The practical effects, though obviously low budget, look absolutely great and the slow progression of the infected as they turn into crazed and oozing killers, is dramatically accomplished and exceptionally realized. With a shoestring budget and a handful of willing participants, Jean Rollin was able to make a visually striking feature that straddled the gap between gore and art film, without relying to heavily on either side to carry it along. That’s quite an accomplishment in my book and one that begs multiple viewings, just for the ambience alone.

The Grapes of Death is a magnificently haunting horror entry that features an abundance of class, even when it is knee deep in some of the most offensive and grotesque of set pieces. Directed by the master of erotic horror Jean Rollin, the film has a tendency to get lost in its ambient atmosphere, which in all intensive purposes is never a bad thing. Its potent visual charm is a thing of beauty, and the outstanding way in which Rollin perceives this mad world is a breath of fresh air in both its ingenuity and harshness.

Though these zombies are more infected than anything else, Rollin still manages to replicate that same morbid sensation of witnessing a walking corpse as it slowly closes in on its living prey. Undead or not, the film’s antagonists are anything but passive as they grab any and all weapons in their vicinity in order to deal death out in the most brutal of ways. Blood is spilt and flesh is torn, all through the use of some rather creative practical effects which climax during the film’s outstandingly gory decapitation scene. All in all, The Grapes of Death is a zombie feature that really must be seen if you’re a fan of the genre. It’s a little tepid in its pacing, but once you allow yourself to slip into its dream-like stasis, you’ll come to appreciate this little known gem for what it is and that’s a well crafted zombie film. The Grapes of Death is an outstanding…..

Traveling by train is pure HELL!

What a spooky day for a walk.

Pull my infected finger.

Don't do it Abe!

Thanks for the ride lady.

Don't point that thing at me you weirdo!

Well there's a lively bunch.

Run you blind ginger-headed freak!

That's one way to get to the head of the class.

Hi.... I'm not crazy or anything.

We don't need no water let the motherfucker burn!

You may be hot, but there's something fishy about you.

I salute you infected zombie army.

Look! It's Mrs. Two Face.

Pull my uninfected finger.

You know you've been working out too hard when you start sweating gravy.

This is my BOOMSTICK!

You've got something on your face.


  1. Great review! I haven't seen enough of Rollin's work, but thus far, this still stands as my favorite.


  2. Loved it, I agree, it's a great film to revisit, the atmosphere is hypnotic, loved how much of the film takes place during the night with the wind blowing most of the time. Glad you enjoyed rewatching this one Jay!

  3. Thanks Kev! I'm in the same boat as you. I've only really seen a handful of Rollin's films, but like you, this one has always stuck with me. I think I'm going to make an effort to hunt down some more and review a few that I already have in the collection. Thanks for checking out the site and Zombiehall rules!

  4. Hypnotic is the perfect word for this flick Connoisseur. The dream-like quality is just astounding! Thanks again for reminding me to revisit this one. I really enjoyed it!