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The Grapes of Death (1978)

Kino Lorber Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/23/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/26/2013

If you've ever dabbled in international cinema, then you've no doubt noticed that movies from other countries can differ from American films in their subject matter, their pacing, their look, and their overall tone. However, when one looks at horror movies from around the world, common themes emerge. Oh sure, the movie vary greatly -- Have you ever seen a Chinese vampire movie? -- but it's interesting to note how various cultures will put their own stamp on a topic or particular monster which has been done elsewhere. When George Romero's Night of the Living Dead broke new ground in the zombie genre in 1968 and created a new milestone, filmmakers in other countries wanted to follow suit. Thus we get entries like the 1978 French film The Grapes of Death.

The Grapes of Death takes place in the rural wine-making countryside of France. As the film opens, we see shots of workers spraying insecticide in the vineyards. We then meet Elisabeth (Marie George Pascal) who is traveling by train to the area to see her fiance. All seems well until a mysterious man enters her cabin and begins to bleed from the face. Alarmed, Elisabeth exits the train and flees into the night. Thus begins a nightmarish journey in which she encounters villagers who display open sores and a visible lust for violence. Elisabeth seeks helps from others, but finds that some places aren't safe and that some people can't be trusted. Will she find a way to survive the night.

The Grapes of Death comes from Jean Rollin, a French filmmaker whose films are known more for their visuals than their stories. Actually, their known for anything other then their stories. Rollin spent many years carving out a niche in French horror cinema and came to be known for his dreamlike films and his love for scantily-clad starlets. The Grapes of Death is somewhat of a departure for Rollin, as it eschews the gothic look and feel of his other movies for something a bit more realistic. This is often referred to as a zombie movie, but it isn't, as the people Elisabeth runs into are alive, but infected and insane. While a comparison to Night of the Living Dead comes to mind, the movie actually has more in common with Romero's 1973 movie The Crazies, as both deal with a population which is driven to violence by a toxin.

While The Grapes of Death may be a departure for Rollin, it's still very similar to his other works in terms of tone, pacing, and story. There is only the thinnest of plots here. Most any synopsis of the film mentions that it deals with people driven crazy by insecticide, but this isn't introduced until the very end, and even then, it's not conclusive. Instead of a concrete story, we simply get Elisabeth fleeing from one place to another, and running into various weird people. There is no character development here and we rarely know anyone's motivations for doing what they do. (Why does Brigitte Lahaie's character do what she does? What's up with the last five minutes of the movie?) The pacing of the film is very languid at times, as we simply watch Elisabeth run. Rollin hasn't completely gotten away from his old habits, as there are two brief, but gratuitous nude scenes.

This isn't a great movie, and it doesn't add much to the zombie sub-genre, but it's not a complete train-wreck. Despite his short-comings, Rollin still has a keen cinematic eye, and the movie contains some nice shots, the best being a scene in which the infected surround a blind woman. I like the fact that the movie isn't afraid to focus on Elisabeth and have other characters come and go in the film. This approach makes The Grapes of Death feel somewhat like a survival horror video game, as we watch the main character attempt to survive. The gore effects here primitive, but effective and Rollin isn't afraid to be violent. The movie is never scary, but there is some tension at times. The Grapes of Death is far from perfect (or even competently made) but it does have its moments and it survives as a nice rest stop on the way to films like 28 Days Later.

The Grapes of Death show how much mileage European filmmakers can get out of old buildings on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Kino Lorber Home Entertainment. The film has been window-boxed at 1.66:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. While I'm sure that the folks at Redemption hunted down the best copy of the movie which they could, the transfer here shows off a lot of problems. Along with some grain, there are multiple issues from the source materials, such as black spots and scratches. And while this isn't a fault of the transfer, the HD treatment shows off just how many shots are out of focus. The colors look OK, but the red really stands out. Given the other problems here, it's nice to note that the nighttime scenes aren't overly dark. The Disc carries a LMCM 2.0 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 2.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track is in French and the English subtitles are easy to read. The actors are never muffled and the music doesn't overpower the other sounds.

The Grapes of Death Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. The film can be viewed with an "Introduction by Jean Rollin" (2 minutes), where the director talks a little bit about what made The Grapes of Death different from his other films and his approach to the material. Comments from Rollin continue in "Filmmaker Interview" (49 minutes), a talk from 2007 conducted at the Fantasia Film Festival. Here, Rollin talks about several of his films and how he views his work. The final extra is a TRAILER for the film. (Along with several other trailers for Rollin's films.)

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.