Grapes of Death (1978) Review
**** Out of 5
Tagline- When the Wine Flows, the Terror Begins
Release Date- July 5th, 1978
Running Time- 90-Minutes
Screenplay- Christian Meunier & Jean Rollin
Director- Jean Rollin
Starring- Marie-George Pascal, Felix Marten, Serge Marquand, Mirella Rancelot, Brigitte Lahaye
1978 was truly a landmark year in the horror genre, which saw the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween, the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which in my opinion are three of the greatest genre films of all time. Also in 1978 I Spit on Your Grave and Toolbox Murders were released and while those two films aren’t held in as high regard (for good reason) both films though I still find to be very good. That brings us to the Grapes of Death also released in 1978 and while I’ve known of the films of Jean Rollin for many years I never sought out his work and this is only the 4th film I have seen by him. The first 3 films I saw were Zombie Lake, which was horrible, but yet fun well sort of. Schoolgirl Hitchhikers, which by no means great, but a fun watch and the Living Dead Girl, which was another fun movie, but not great. But the Grapes of Death was an awesome movie and I can honestly say I never expected to love this film, but I did it truly was an excellent chiller.
The Grapes of Death is often labeled a zombie film, but think more along the lines of George Romero’s the Crazies as the characters are infected and not the living dead. However the only real problem I have with the film is its a little inconsistent. Some of the infected actually feel bad about killing people, but cannot help themselves whereas others are totally insane by the infection and have no grasp of right or wrong and others have sort of a blank look on their faces and shuffle about and if you just happened to tune in at that moment you would think it was a zombie film. So I guess it can be debated if Grapes of Death is a zombie movie, but I would say no since the characters are infected. But if anything that’s my only problem with the film is how some of the infected are so different than others at certain points in the film.
Elisabeth (Pascal) is on a train heading to Roubles, which is France to see her fiancé who works at a vineyard, but along the way a fellow passenger is attacked and killed by a man and Elisabeth makes a run for it. As she tries to get to safety she encounters more people like the one on the train that are mutilated and have some sort of infection that causes them to murder.
The script by Christian Meunier & Jean Rollin is fairly well written for the not part, but this isn’t a film that relies on its script. Grapes of Death is more about the directing than writing. The characters aren’t very developed, but in a film like this it really isn’t needed and while its not difficult to figure out why people are infected it isn’t until the end its made clear. Overall the script is strong, but again a film like this really isn’t based off the script.
As director Jean Rollin delivers an excellent and well made chiller that is visually amazing to look at and loaded with eerie atmosphere and great suspense and tension. More often than not Grapes of Death is quite creepy and Rollin gets great usage out of his locations. Based on the films I have seen thus far by Rollin even if I enjoyed them I felt they often lacked in suspense and tension, but not here. From the very start of the film Rollin establishes an eerie tone and crafts one hell of a creepy movie. Like I said I never expected to love this film, but Rollin in my opinion crafts one of my new favorite horror flicks. It has everything one would want in a horror movie. Most of Rollin’s films often feature nudity and that’s no different here, but there isn’t as much skin on display as some of his other work and this film shows Jean Rollin had a lot of talent. While some of his work can be seen as hack jobs and others ok films that are entertaining, Grapes of Death though is a classic that truly deserves far more attention.
As much as I loved the film though it does have some problems that keep me from rating it higher; as I brought up the film is a little inconsistent on the infected as some feel bad, but cannot control themselves and others are totally insane and others shuffle about silently like zombies, but I still again wouldn’t label this as a zombie movie though points can be made on why. Also another problem is shoddy editing at times as one characters changes out of her clothes into something else in a matter of seconds than goes outside and when she’s off camera for about a minute emerges in another set of clothes and now as 2 dogs with her. The ending also does slightly lower my score as unless Elisabeth was infected, which unless she drank wine she shouldn’t be, but if she wasn’t infected what she does at the end of the film is idiotic. I would say though she was infected and it just wasn’t made clear or perhaps that was the point we were supposed to wonder, but this was the only part of the film that Rollin didn’t handle very well.
Overall Grapes of Death was an excellent and eerie film much in the tune of George Romero’s the Crazies and would make an ideal double feature with it. If you haven’t seen any of Rollin’s work this is as good a place to start and if you only know him with films like Zombie Lake, well you haven’t seen how wonderful a filmmaker he could be at times.