on March 5, 2004
Only having seen three of Jean Rollin's films, I will not attempt to give you any insight into this interesting French director. My opinion of this film is the same as the other two I have seen by him: occasionally boring, yet well done with some good bloody moments. Out of the three I've seen, this is a little less exciting than The Living Dead Girl, yet less dull than The Night of the Hunted.
The story is pretty straightforward: a girl is attacked by a zombie on a train, leaves the train, then roams the French countryside looking for people who can help her with the ever-increasing zombie problem. The Grapes of Death title refers to wine made from pesticide-laced grapes, which is responsible for turning people into the zombies. It's different than, say, your typical Romero or Fulci zombiefest in that the people turn into the living dead gradually. It'll be just a hand decaying at first, for example, and the FX showing this and the other gore scenes are pretty effective. The people are conscious of what is happening to them, which is pretty horrible considering what dead tissue must feel like. Don't expect the blood n' guts level of your typical zombie flick though, this movie works because of the atmosphere, realism, and, of course, Rollin's use of beautiful French women.
I would say that if you are a huge fan of the Evil Dead series, Dead Alive, or other over-the-top violent gore films, Grapes of Death might be a little slow for your taste. But if you like low budget movies, arty French films, or just something different than a typical horror movie you might really enjoy it. It doesn't resort to cheap scare tactics at all, and the dialogue (subtitled) is pretty intelligently written. The provincial beauty of the French landscape is not really that scary, and there is not much music that I remember, as opposed to some of the Italian horrors of this era that feature blasting electronic scores. If you can describe a movie as a "quiet, peaceful bloodbath" then that would be my summary of Grapes of Death.
Jean Rollin is a name instantly recognizable to hardcore horror fans, yet meaningless to nearly everyone else. This ignorance is quite unfortunate because the French director concocted some of the sleaziest, most unusual films ever made during the 1970s and 1980s, films usually imbued with a disturbing mix of hypereroticism and bloody violence. I have often tossed Rollin's name around in impolite company with seeming aplomb even though I had never seen even one of the man's films. You read enough plot synopses about someone and you start to feel as though you know every intimate detail about their work. What I did hear from others about this director oftentimes did not bode well. He is apparently well versed in schlock filmmaking, which in and of itself is not a problem with me, a true lover of bad cinema, but several of his films continue to draw raves from a selected minority of genre fans. Well, I finally sat down with a Jean Rollin film, his 1979 effort "Fascination," and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Then I followed up with "Living Dead Girl" and was even more impressed. Then came "Lips of Blood," "The Demoniacs," and "The Sidewalks of Bangkok." No wonder most people think Rollin is a hack.
"Grapes of Death" is one of the better Jean Rollin films I've seen, however, probably because the gore approaches the levels seen in "Living Dead Girl." The movie tells the story of the unlucky Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) and her nightmarish attempts to discover what happened to the residents of Roubelais, a small village out in the sticks renown for its vineyards. Viewers have a pretty good idea what happened right from the start when we see a bunch of scrappy looking French dudes wandering around in the fields spraying some chemical on the grapes. The guy who owns the farm arrives on the scene and makes a few comments about procuring more effective chemical masks for these workers. If you think that the pesticide will lead to gory mayhem within minutes, give yourself a pat on the back. The carnage starts even before Elizabeth arrives in the area. While riding the rails with a lovely friend, one of the chemical zombies stumbles aboard the train and quickly dispatches our heroine's pal. We know he's a zombie because he sports some weird, oozing sores all over this mug and lurches about in typical Romero undead style. It looks like Liz is in for a doozy of a time.
It's not too long after the incident on the train that Elizabeth sets off across the foggy French countryside in search of the residents of Roubelais. Before she returns home, however, she stumbles over a house where a couple invites her in for some vittles. Unfortunately, the head of the household has the grape plague in spades, and it takes a lot of effort for our young friend to escape intact. Soon after Elizabeth meets up with yet another enigmatic figure, this time a lovely young lass afflicted with blindness by the name of Lucy, and once again tragedy strikes when the grape zombies move to center stage. Poor Lucy! Her own father performs head surgery on the hapless girl with an extremely sharp instrument. Yuck! By the time two chaps lumber into view, both of whom recognize the reality of the terror roaming the countryside and have decided to take matters into their own hands, Elizabeth is fighting to stay alive any way she can. Zombies are everywhere! And all of them bear the same yellowish oozing sores. Throw in the always enjoyable Brigitte LaHaie in full grinning loon mode, buildings burning down and a truck explosion, and a twist ending that made little sense and you've got all the fixings for a fun filled couple of hours, Jean Rollin style.
"Grapes of Death," which certainly must rank as one of the most ridiculous zombie films of all times, actually succeeds due to several factors. First, Rollin treats us to his usual visual flair, a style both highly atmospheric and iconic. It's obvious when watching the movie that the director framed most of his shots with great care. LaHaie's character shedding her clothes for the two armed heroes, and LaHaie standing in front of a burning house holding a torch are only two of the many scenes in which the Rollin style of careful camerawork and the deliberate posing of characters is most apparent. Second, lots of gore really helps "Grapes of Death" stand out from some of Rollin's other efforts. A nasty scene involving a pitchfork, the brutal demise of the blind Lucy, and lots of exploding squibs had me cheering from my barcalounger. Third, and finally, I'll always watch a movie that has the luscious Brigitte LaHaie stomping about. She doesn't do much here other than stand around striking poses, but it's enough to give the film a bit of that Eurosleaze veneer I love so much. Sure, the conclusion of the film doesn't make much sense, but who cares? "Grapes of Death" is a lot of fun for the discerning gorehound.
I think it's important to note that Synapse, and not Redemption, released the DVD version of Rollin's film. With Redemption discs we usually don't get much in the way of extras. Synapse loaded up their release with a bunch of supplements, the most important of which are lengthy interviews with Rollin and LaHaie (!) that run for roughly thirty-two minutes. Also included for our viewing pleasure is a still gallery, two trailers for the film, and a Rollin filmography and biography. I heartily recommend "Grapes of Death" to horror fans. While not as enjoyable as "Living Dead Girl" (my favorite Rollin film to date), it's still a picture that classifies as an archetype of sleazy Eurohorror. Give it a watch soon!
on July 1, 2010
Jean Rollin achieves what many consider to be his finest work in THE GRAPES OF DEATH, which also serves as one of the first French Gore films. This second dubious honor is a bit misleading, however, as the film is intended to be a surreal fantasy rather than a zombie shocker. A woman returning home to her family's vineyard is horrified to discover that the pesticides being used on the local crops have turned the villagers into the living dead! As is the case in the majority of his pictures, plot and character become secondary to creating a visual canvas (a trait that would carry over into the works of Lucio Fulci). Rollin paints the French landscape in mists, fogs, and dilapidated buildings, which add to the rich atmosphere and eerie setting. His zombies still retain shreds of their humanity, with many of the ghouls begging to be put out of their pain and misery as the rot eats them alive. One of the film's most disturbing sequences finds a blind girl stumbling over the bodies of her dead neighbors as she searches for her family before she is captured, nailed to a door, and beheaded with an axe. While there is some brief nudity, THE GRAPES OF DEATH comes well before Rollin's venture into the softcore sexual thrillers with his long time collaborator Jess Franco. It is an important and influential entry into French Horror cinema.
I Like Horror Movies
on January 25, 2015
Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) runs through a French village while being pursued by people whose skin is rotting from the local wine due to the bug spray. Their minds command them to kill, but like zombies, not each other, just those uninfected. This is a peculiar disease that makes men rip open the blouses of women before they kill them.
PLOT SPOILER: Near the end, Elizabeth is rescued by a couple of beer drinkers.
It appears the French copied the American zombie film formula but couldn't fully commit to having zombies or real rednecks.
3 stars for nudity sleaze (Mirella Rancelot, Patricia Cartier, Brigitte Lahaie- FF)
I watched the Special Edition which has a decent transfer. Mountain View Movies $2.99 The cover is Mirella Rancelot who plays a blind woman and is the only person in the film that walks like a zombie with her arms extended.
on October 17, 2007
Grapes of Death is filmed at a very beatiful location in the French country-side and moves at a very eerie, poetic, and kind of slow pace but actually uses that towards it's advantage. It has extended time periods with no dioluge and has a very poetic/artsy vibe, but is not boring at all and kept me glued to the screen with it's haunting and creepy imagery. The acting is very impressive and on par with most American horror flicks. The special effects are gore-errific and on par with most Italian horror flicks.
Instead of watching the same old Hollywood bull[...] horror that we've all seen a million times, check out this movie that not only has massive ball's, but a brain too. Grapes of Death not only pushes the envelope in gory and artistic way but also has a high level of sophistication and professionalism to it. Highly recommended.
I would put this one in my top 10 zombie films of all time next to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Zombie, The Beyond, Re-Animater, Dead Alive, Let the Sleeping Corpses Lie, City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetary, Deathdream, Zombie Holocaust, Burial Ground, Dead Next Door, Return of the Living Dead, The Living Dead Girl, and Cemetary Man................Apparently I have 18 top 10 zombie films..........but you get my point.
Gore includes (but is not limited to): Pitch-fork impalement, neck slicing and dicing, the coolest decapitation scene ever, zombie head-shot target practice, and a nude crucifiction.
Sex and nudity includes (but is not limited to): Lot's of nudity!
The DVD extras are limited to some interviews with Director Jean Rollin and actress Brigette Lahaie, theatrical trailer, director boigraphy. Nothing really special but nothing worth complaining about, the audio and video are great and I thank Synapse for putting out yet another old classic horror film with a great transfer on DVD for me to watch in all it's gory splendor.
Five severed thumbs up!
on January 15, 2005
I saw this movie on kind of a whim- the name intrigued me, I like zombie movies, and i found the notion of tainted wine turning people into zombies extremely amusing. That, and the director, Jean Rollin, is of some repute and I'd heard a few good things about it. so I figured why not. Well, if turned out to be well worth seeing, and easily surpassed my expectations. The first half of this movie is totally 5 star material, and while it fades quite a bit in the second half, it's still an entertaining, interesting film, which nicely extends the notions of what a zombie film can be.
Lots of people have accussed this movie of being 'slow' and this isn't exactly true. The horror begins almost immediately, with only 2 brief scenes before Elizabeth and her friend are attacked, and she's alone in the french countryside, which is now populated by inebriated zombies.(well actually, I don't think they have to drink all that much to get infected) I suppose, however, that, most of the time, not all that much is happening but that doesn't make it 'slow': that's what the movie is about. This is horror of atmosphere and situation, more than gore or violence horror.(Though it does have some gore) If you don't like atmospheric horror, you'll probably want to skip this one, but it's definitely good at what it does. Unlike so many 70's-80's eurohorror films, this film is very low-key. There is very little music, and it is visually fairly naturalistic visually, avoiding elaborate sets and lurid lighting.(Though it is shot in a fairly elegant manner) The overall feel of much of the film is rather like 'Night of the Living Dead', although they aren't all that similar in an absolute sense. It is a rather creepy film, if not out and out scary.(Though I'm almost never really scared by horror films anymore, and that's never really what I was looking for, anyway) The first horror scene, where Elisabeth watches as a man becomes steadily more infected, and then attacks her is quite effective, as is the initially low-key encounter in the first house she comes across. The very best scene in the film is much later however. One character is grabbed and appears to be being choked by a crazed man/zombie. Instead of showing us this, however, the camera simply pans over the zombie crowd which is watching with complete passivity. It's an extraordingarily effective shot. It's hard to go into specifics, as there isn't much variation from then on, as she and various others just hide and run from the crazed zombie-like townspeople. The second half loses much of the menace of the first half, and the very final act is kinda weak, but it's strong enough overall to recommend. There also appears to be some incredibly ham-fisted social commentary late in the film, as two characters talk about fascism and nuclear power and the military which is apparently related to zombies. This is a fairly jarring scene, but it's also kinda amusing.
It is debatable whether or not this truly qualifies as a zombie film. I think it does, however, though it definitely strays far from the standard conventions a lot of the time. Here, the infection effects people in different ways- some people are reduced to essentially mindless zombies, whereas others remain fairly lucid much of the time, but with random and uncontrollable murderous impulses. They're covered with extremely disgusting, if utterly fake looking pustules, many of which are seen to be open and running. This film has what has got to be the grossest thing I've ever seen in a film: An infected man with a huge sore on his forehead tries to get into a car where Elisabeth is by smashing his forehead against it, rubbing his hideous sore all over it, and covering it with yellow sludge. There's some gore as well, most notably a spectacularly fake, but quite juicy decapitation and an impalement by pitchfork.
This is a quality horror film, and definitely worth a look for anyone who likes atmospheric horror and zombies.
on March 9, 2013
My favorite Jean Rollin Film, rough and typical start this French gorefest but the story picks up quick. Two young college girls travel by train to the a lush country side, a staggers into their train car, kills on of the girls and Elizabeth (the beautiful and late Marie Georges Pascal) barley escapes the train alive and runs to safety at a secluded farm house. She stumbles upon a farmer and his disfigured and dead wife and then he turns to attack her. The story precedes with an infected country side due to pesticides in the vineyards, with tragic results to whomever drinks the wine from that area, becomes a savage undead killer. Good social commentary that we should ponder today about chemicals in our own foods today.
Decent cinematography mixed, fantastic gore and atmosphere and the sterotypical Euro-trash nudity make this Rollin film stand out from the rest of his catalog. Their is an unforgettable graphic scene of a woman being nailed to a door, then decapitated while screaming, that will surely stick with you. Very bleak and ambiguous ending. If you have seen Dawn, Day, Night and Zombi 2, you will really enjoy this.8 out of 10
on May 26, 2013
The concept sounded a bit odd to me, but being a fan of zombie films i was intrigued even though past experience with French horror left me to believe all they do is lesbian vampire softcore.
I bought it though and found it was a pretty darn good movie with some of the atmosphere i wanted from horror and the mysterious woman on the front cover added a great deal to my enjoyment of this film.
The zombies as such are more of a laid back version of 28 Days Later extreme (SUUUUURGE!) style minus hyper shaky cam. They are diseased, slowly rotting and insane. They definitely don't like living people and certainly have some intelligence, but do not eat their victims. The reasoning behind what they do and why is left unknown other than revealing "how" they became like this.
I enjoyed the characters, the creepy atmosphere created.and there are also some good effects here as well. I would recommend this movie rather highly to fans of zombie films or even Fulci fans. There are certainly some bizarre concepts brought to this movie and feel that it is a solid horror film.
A man starts to feel sick after spraying pesticides in a vineyard. He staggers off, and the scene switches to a pair of women on a train, heading for their holiday destination. They're alone on board, as it's the off-season. During a stop, the man boards the train, and terrorizes the women, killing one. He begins to change in appearance, w/ some sort of rapidly-expanding growth on his face. The survivor flees, and seeks refuge at a farm. The farmer and his daughter seem less than helpful, and don't want any police involvement. They insist that neither their phone nor car are in working order. The woman is given a room for the night. We can see that dad has a familiar growth on his hand! Horror ensues. The woman takes off in the farmer's car, and winds up at the vineyard where the whole thing started! GRAPES OF DEATH is Jean Rollin's gory, gooshy chemical-zombie movie. It's far more grim and gruesome than most of his offerings. There's even less nudity. For Rollin, this is as straight as horror gets. Enjoy...
on January 1, 2003
I'm unfamiliar with Rollin's work, but found this entry to be fascinating. To say this is a zombie movie would put it too simply. There is a mystique about this movie, a very apocalypic quality that held my attention throughout. Yes, the music's a bit cheesy and it's not very gory, but it's a must-have by those who appreciate old, overseas horror. This movie took me in a good direction, and I hope it takes you in the direction of your billfold, because this will always be welcome in my DVD collection, as it should be in yours.