Friday, May 2, 2008

The Grapes of Death (1978)

After being introduced to Jean Rollins’ work through the film The Iron Rose, I decided to take a look at a few other of his films. I decided to start his 1978 film The Grapes of Death (aka Les Raisins de la Mort)as the premise, location and promise of gore lured me. The film was said to feature zombies, be set in the vineyards of France and be one of Rollins’ most ooey and gooey horror films.

I didn’t see any zombies or French vineyards, but the gore certainly was present and accounted for!

The film opens with a group of vineyard workers spraying down the rows and rows of sickly grapes with harsh pesticides. Despite the fact that they are all wearing “protective masks” (which are little more than painter’s masks) one man falls violently ill. Meanwhile, a young woman named Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) is on her way into the region via train. She is going to meet her fiancée at the winery where he works. The same man that fell ill in the vineyards boards her train, kills her friend and attacks her, all the while a large, oozing wound on his face is rapidly spreading.

Elizabeth hightails it into the French countryside, but encounters more people with the same pus-filled sores that try to attack her and anyone else who remains unaffected. The infected are not only violent, but they are also organized and sneaky. Can Elizabeth make her way to her fiancées winery and get help…before it’s too late?

This movie was pretty hit and miss with me. It was touted as a zombie flick, but I think that is a grossly inaccurate description. It wasn’t clear if the infected died and came back as pus-filled atrocities or if they were just sick. Besides stumbling around a little bit, they certainly didn’t act like zombies either, as they could speak and manipulate people. I was also expecting a bit more violence or action, but the movie dragged in many places. I’d say the bulk of the movie featured the heroine running, climbing and walking through the rocky French countryside (no vineyards in sight!).

The best part of the film was the special FX done on the afflicted. The greenish-yellow pus, the raw red sores and the bright red dripping blood reminded me of the over-the-top effects used in Street Trash or Slime City. While The Grapes of Death didn’t use the extreme bright color palate of either of those films, the effect of being grossed out was still achieved!

The signature Jean Rollins style of filming is definitely apparent in The Grapes of Death. The slow, languid shots give the film a dream-like quality, while the small flourishes of close-ups (of eyes, faces, etc.) are evident throughout the film. Visually, the color palate of the film is rather dull, making the colorful seeping sores on the infected pop all that much more.

The story is pretty straightforward and simple, but the ending is pretty powerful and even a bit surprising. I also loved the scenes with the woman in white, who absolutely stole the show!

The Grapes of Death isn’t a film I would recommend everyone see, but for those interested in Jean Rollins filmmaking it is a must-see. As many before me have said, the gore is phenomenal and fun and it pretty much makes an otherwise drawn out movie very enjoyable.

The Grapes of Death pairs excellently with a nice bottle of French Chianti.

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