42nd Street Cinema

The Grapes of Death (1978)

Revisiting the comfort of 70s Euro horror, I've chosen to talk a little bit about Jean Rollin's The Grapes of Death/Les Raisins de la Mort.

Starring: Marie-Georges Pascal, Félix Marten, Serge Marquand, Mirella Rancelot and Brigitte Lahaie.

The Grapes of Death sits somewhere in between Romero's The Crazies (1973) and Jorge Grau's Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974), in as much as...The 'zombies' in Rollin's picture are more akin to the infected citizens of The Crazies, when compared to other shuffling-undead movies.
Grapes also shares a similar social commentary based narrative, found in both of the aforementioned films, although given the pesticide contagion, is a tad closer to Grau's work.

The dreary autumnal landscape and scenery is also reminiscent to that found in Dawn of the Dead (1978) or Fulci's The House by the Cemetery (1981). Personally, I quite like the change in seasons being used to reflect death in horror cinema, visually conveying a greater sense of sadness or depression and acting as a cold reminder that death, is quite literally surrounding the surviving group of protagonists.

The story is centred around Elisabeth (Pascal), a young lady who is traveling by train to see her fiancé. However, on her way there, her friend is murdered by a madman, who's face is covered with pus-spewing abscesses. In a blind panic, Elisabeth flees the train for the countryside, to try and find her way home, unfortunately for her, she discovers that the countryside has become overrun with people baring facial sores and homicidal tendencies.

Grapes' narrative possesses a dreamlike quality, a trait prominently found in 70s Euro horror, mainly due to the the randomness in which the events unfold. From the moment Elisabeth is first attacked on the train and escapes into the sprawling French countryside, the events that follow are unravelled in such a fashion that it borders on sheer insanity.

Rollin effectively creates an intense and oppressive atmosphere throughout The Grapes of Death, as Elisabeth and her 2 male cohorts are relentlessly and mercilessly pursued by hordes of the infected and to be honest, there is a lot to love about this film. What it lacks in the dialogue department is vastly made up in the visuals, it is a beautifully shot film that is home to many memorable and fiendishly twisted scenes. Including the cruel fate of poor blind Lucie (Rancelot) at the hands of her once loving carer.

In my opinion this is what Euro-horror is all about.


Alec Pridgen said...

I was surprised by how much I liked the film too, actually. I was going into French Horror Cinema blind, mostly renting the film for the title.

My favorite part, bar none, is the part where she leads the blind lady home and is really not sure how to tell her that everyone is dead. I can't imagine what I'd do there.

Jean Rollin was really great when he's 'on' and really, really weird when he was not. This one really works for me, with a good plot to go with the craziness we would later see in 'Living Dead Girl' and its ilk.

Nigel M said...

Interesting point about seasons in Horror. While I always love those films that play with this idea beyond using the season as a prop (snow in The Shining for example) I think there is a certain something about autumn - once the leaves drop from the trees there is certain sparse desolation that works with backwoods movies for example.

Tom Clark said...

Definitely a standout Rollin film. His unique dreamy style actually fit really well with this type of material which is one of the reasons I'm quite fond of the film. Something different.

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Paul WJM said...

I really like this one too - one of Rollin's ten best. Hopefully the Redemption Blu-ray next year is going to kick the ass of DVD.

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