Grapes of Death (1978)
Directed by Jean Rollin

Starring Félix Marten Marie-Georges Pascal Mirella Rancelot Patrice Valota Serge Marquand

A brilliant non-vampire-film effort from French filmmaker Rollin, who normally doesn't seem capable of directing anything but a vampire film. While Rollin insulted the intelligence of viewers around the world with his abysmal "Zombie Lake," this foray into George Romero-inspired territory is possibly his best movie, and one of the best zombie films of all time.

Actually defining this as a "zombie" film is a little inaccurate since the badly scarred and decomposing Frenchmen wandering the countryside in search of victims in this film actually aren't technically dead. But the comparisons to Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" are inevitable. Rollin actually does a better job of recapturing the spirit and mood of that film than anyone else.

The film opens with a pair of young women traveling by train across the French countryside. When a strange passenger comes on board and kills one of the women, our heroine suddenly finds herself running for her life along the train tracks. She ends up in a strange vineyard community, where the men have open sores on their faces and have a penchant for murdering people. But they don't act like insane froggies (as Brits call 'em) all the time. Sometimes, they're pretty lucid and will hold a conversation. Then, they go mad, murdering with everything from pitchforks to fire to their bare hands.

Our heroic female protagonist barely escapes with her life from the home of one of these mad Frenchmen. Near some very atmospheric ruins, she runs into a blind woman who used to live in the village and escaped the carnage that happened there earlier. They both head back to town, and things get more interesting from there.

This film is Magnifique, with a capital "M"! If you appreciate Rollin's gothic, sexually provocative films, you should love this, his most suspenseful and accessible production ever. Even if you aren't a Rollin fan, you may like this. The apocalyptic story moves along at a much faster clip than the ordinary Rollin sex-vampire art film, and like "Night" it features an ending that doesn't sell out. It's also one of Rollins' most chillingly beautiful films: He makes incredibly effective use of ancient French buildings. Seeing an army of Romero-esque ogres (one carrying a severed head) shuffling around them at night is wonderfully chilling.

Needless to say, based on the title of the film (which also goes by the name "Pesticide"), the villagers are the victims of a pesticide used in the grapes they grow, one that has turned them into bloodthirsty ghouls. French porn legend Brigitte Lahaie (the super babe who also turned up in Rollin's "Fascination" and "Night of the Hunted" after long serving as a blue movie star) also has a role that requires her to expose her prime assets.

All in all, a fantastic horror film that’s easily one of the best to come out of Europe in the sleazy and spectacular 1970s.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

USER COMMENTS

Posted by Zettton on May 30, 2010
Thanks for posting. Looking forward to seeing this rarity. The only one I saw of his was a film about a couple that gets locked in a cemetery. I liked it. This sounds better. Love the 70's euro stuff. Nick


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