The Grapes of Death

If you recall, I expressed interest in surveying Jean Rollin's filmography when I read an interview with the late horror maestro in the most recent issue of Rue Morgue. Rollin was known for his lustrous vampire erotica, but I wanted to start with one of his zombie flicks. Even though there are a few to choose from, this was an easy choice. You'll have to forgive me for skipping Zombie Lake. 1978's The Grapes of Death was too intriguing a title to pass up. I've grown impatient with standard Romero-lite fare, so it was refreshing to sit down with an undead opus that outflanked customary depictions of apocalyptic raids and intestine-chomping. If I wanted to watch Dawn of the Dead, I would watch Dawn of the Dead.

The plot is unique. A vineyard situated in the bucolic countryside of France is sprayed with a noxious pesticide. Obviously, pesticides are noxious by design, but this defoliant is far too poisonous. The septic grapes are plucked from their vines to begin the fermentation process. Well, I'm not going to write a step-by-step tutorial on winemaking. Allow me to fast-forward to the part where droves of compatriots consume the toxic bubbly. Once infected, flesh rots. Your brain decays. Your face falls off. Your penis grows bat wings (this is only a rumor...that I started). Plus, you become a savage lunatic. Technically, these people aren't zombies.

They are not the walking dead, but if 28 Days Later is considered to be a zombie movie, then I'm tossing The Grapes of Death into the same pile. Besides, Rollin enthusiasts refer to it as such, and that's good enough for me. The film has a distinct European flavor. You know what that means. The acting is inconsistent, the pace is listless and the characters are frustratingly mercurial. But if you have a taste for overseas genre curiosities, those blemishes shouldn't sour your stomach. They are flaws, yes, but they aren't deal breakers. Overall, the pros eclipse the cons. What underlying factors tip the scales in favor of Mr. Rollin?

Gore and nudity. The positive comments don't end there, but I really like gore and nudity. It's fun to intellectualize the genre and probe the themes of certain films in a scholarly fashion, but I have to level with you. The scene in which a blind girl is decapitated sealed it for me. I was fucking sold. Couple that with Brigitte Lahaie's full-frontal frame-up, and you've got yourself a crowd pleaser. Rollin's straightforward camerawork makes the gratuitous stuff all the more enjoyable. On a less laudatory note, the editing is atrocious. A feral catfight is ruined by jumpy cuts, and by God, you don't ruin a catfight. Isn't that Exploitation Rule #1? Because it should be. Still, I recommend The Grapes of Death to advocates of Eurotrash and "old school" zombie romps.

I plan on covering more of Jean Rollin's work in the future, so keep your eyes gouged!

1 comment:

  1. I'm certainly a fan of Jean Rollin's work myself, but for whatever reason missed this film. Really great (and hilarious) review, I'll have to check this out.