The Grapes of Death (1978) – By Duane L. Martin

What happens when a winery in France sprays its fields with a pesticide that basically turns people into violent zombies? What happens when said winery is the only winery in the area, and everyone for miles around drinks its wine exclusively? What happens when the villages around the winery have an annual wine festival, and said winery supplies all of the wine for said festival, and all but a few people in the area are basically a bunch of winos and tank down said wine like it’s going out of style? Yeah, it’s pretty obvious what happens. Now imagine Jean Rollin made a film telling that story. Yeah, you can probably imagine what that’s like too, if you know anything about Jean Rollin films.

A girl named Elizabeth was on her way to the winery on a train to go to the winery where she was supposed to meet her fiancee, who was a supervisor there, or one of the owners (I never really was clear on that), and they were to be married. Unfortunately for her, one of the infected guys from the winery gets on the train before he fully loses it, kills the girl she was traveling in her car with, and then in order to escape from getting killed herself, Elizabeth had to jump off the train and travel the rest of the way on foot. Along the way, she met more infected people, a blind girl who had been out wandering around lost when everything went down, a crazy girl who was feeding whatever normal people were left to the zombies, and two guys who just wanted to help her, but got a nasty surprise at the end.

So basically, this film is all about her trying to survive and get to her fiancee, if he’s even still alive. The zombies in this film are covered in the the fake looking make-up, blood and ooze that Jean Rollin is famous for. The blood in his films is so fake looking, it actually looks like red paint that had nothing else done to it to make it look even the slightest bit like real blood. As far as the effects go however, I do have to give him one thing. At least in this thing he did some really disgusting oozing effects out of the infected areas, especially on the heads and necks. Still looked cheap and fake, but hey, at least he was trying to raise the bar a little.

This film actually did manage to generate some tension as well. There’s this constant struggle to sneak around, avoiding the infected people. I hesitate to call them zombies, because they weren’t really your typical zombies. Infected is a better way to describe them, as they still retained some mental function, though they lost the ability to recognize anyone and any ability to repress their violent nature. They happily killed even members of their own family. The blind girl ends up spiked to a door and has her head cut off by her own father…or lover. Again I was never sure which he was. He was old enough to be her father anyway.

While the film did manage to create tension, the trip from start to finish became tedious at times. Some parts felt particularly slow, while others had more going on. It made the pacing of the film feel somewhat uneven, though it never really felt like it stalled out completely, which was good.

This new release from Kino’s Redemption label includes the following special features:

Mastered in HD from the original 35mm negative.

French with optional English subtitles.

Introduction by Jean Rollin.

Interview with Jean Rollin by Patrick Lambert and Frederick Durand (2007, 49 min), in which Rollin discusses his various literary influences.

16-page booklet with an essay by Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog.

Original theatrical trailer, and trailers for other Rollin films.

I’m not a fan of Jean Rollin to say the least, but I can’t plaster my dislike of his work over every film he’s ever made. I’m honest enough to admit that this one actually created some nice tension and had a pretty creepy feel to it at times. If you’re going to see a Rollin film, this is the one to see. The other film I’m reviewing of his this month, Night of the Hunted, also stars Brigitte Lahaie, who played the girl in this film who was feeding the survivors to the infected so they’d leave her alone. That film is also in many ways a step above his other work, and both of these films are actually worth seeing.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Kino website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.