Jean Rollin is at it again! Instead of yet another cinematic masterpiece featuring female vampires, he serves up a zombie movie. I’m not sure if Grapes of Death is the definitive French zombie movie of the 70’s because I know nothing about French cinema, but it should be in the running. Although no lady bloodsuckers appear in Grapes of Death, Rollin’s obsession with uncovering the Platonic pair of female breasts remains.
The plot: if you watch the above trailer you will see most of the highlights. If you do, there’s not much reason to watch the movie, which would be a shame. Elizabeth is traveling by train to Roubles to meet her fiancée, who works at a vineyard. A man with pustulant sores on his neck enters the train and attacks her. She escapes and spends the next 80+ minutes wandering the French countryside, leading to many nice shots of the landscape.
Elizabeth’s first stop: a farmhouse inhabited by a farmer and his adult daughter. The farmer has sores on his hands. Mom’s indisposed, her throat slashed ear to ear. Dad kills his daughter, ripping open her blouse to reveal the sore on her chest and then finishing her off with a pitchfork. Elizabeth flees in the farmer’s car but then stops for reasons I’m not smart enough to understand.
She meets a blind woman named Lucy who is lost. They return to the blind woman’s village, where everyone seems to be dead, but Elizabeth insists on telling her everything’s fine. Lucy isn’t stupid, and flees Elizabeth as soon as she can. Big mistake. Come night, the infected – or zombies – or drunken French people – rise up, lurching through the village. This leads to Lucy’s reunion with her infected lover, which is the highlight of Grapes of Death. Elizabeth soon makes another friend, the scythe-wielding woman from Fascination, and they have a decent catfight before a pair of gun-wielding peasants show up and spoil the fun. They flee to the Roubles vineyard and a genuinely ambiguous ending. Phew, that’s a lot of plot.
I am going to assume George Romero’s Dead duology and The Crazies influenced Grapes of Death – sort of. American zombies movies in the 70’s weren’t interested in things like sex, unless you count Dave Cronenberg up in Canada. They were mostly about showing the hair on the wall. Jean Rollin has a different aesthetic – The Grapes of Death has plenty of gore, but doesn’t skimp on the torn blouses, bare breasts and nudity. I will be kind and say that the makeup in this movie is mediocre. The sores are okay, but most of the effects are quite cheesy, which makes sense since cheese and wine go so well together!
A must-see for Jean Rollin fans!