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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gory, sleazy zombie flick, October 6, 2005
This review is from: Grapes Of Death - Special Edition (DVD)
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!
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Jeffrey Leach
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Location: Omaha, NE USA

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