Grapes of Death (1978)

Written by Mike Lyon on April 19th, 2008

Oh, Jean Rollin… What does it even mean when I say that this is probably my favorite Rollin film? As with his contemporaries Joe D’Amato and Jess Franco, you don’t go into a Rollin film expecting excellence – you expect abstract, face-melting sleaze! If you are like me, you will struggle through vast fields of mediocrity from these directors in search of those few glorious moments of utter, mind-blowing transgression. But does Grapes of Death deliver? Cheesy, creative gore? Check! An endless parade of impressively-endowed nekkid wimmin? But of course!

Make no mistake, the camerawork is often impressive, utilizing natural light to the fullest. There is a series of amazing tableau shots and beautiful, surreal tracking sequences through the ruined French countryside. There are even a couple sincere shivers, such as the reverberating scream of a blind girl, Lucy, being dragged off to her death. But let me be honest – the real thrills are to be found in the utterly bizarre shock centerpieces! Sure, it’s a little creepy when Lucy’s screams echo through the burning French village; but get ready to drop a fucking load in your pants when she is subsequently crucified nude to a chateau door and decapitated by her boyfriend while he moans, “Luuuucy! I looooove you!” Then he makes out with the severed head. With tongue. Oh! Jean Rollin!

In the abstract, Grapes of Death is interesting if only because it holds the distinction of being the first French zombie film. Granted, I only know of one other French zombie movie, 2004’s They Came Back, but to me it’s fascinating that a film as epically weird as Grapes of Death came out the same year as Romero’s sublime Dawn of the Dead, the standard-bearer for this tiny, beloved sub-genre. True, Rollin’s antagonists seem more like really depressed people with leprosy than zombies, and there is no great philosophical or sociological corollary on display, but there are some fantastic set pieces that will certainly please the zombie aficionado in your life.


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