The Grapes of Death
When the wine flows, the terror begins...
Year of Release: 1978
Also Known As: Les raisins de la mort, Pestizide - Grapes of Death, The Village of the Living Dead, Pesticide
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 90 minutes (1:30)
Director: Jean Rollin
Marie-Georges Pascal ... Elisabeth
Felix Marten ... Paul
Serge Marquand ... Lucien
Mirella Rancelot ... Lucie
Paul Bisciglia ... Lucas
Patricia Cartier ... Antoinette
Brigitte Lahaie ... La grande femme blonde
A vacation with a friend turns into a horrifying nightmare when a young woman flees from a train, only to stumble into a remote village overtaken by its zombie-like inhabitants. One by one, the townspeople are slowly turning into violent, decomposing killers and the local winery may hold the key to the hellish transformations. Perhaps the pesticide used in the grape field does more than just kill insects...
The Grapes of Death, remindin' us that when you partake of the DDT spiced wine, your forehead'll develop a naturally occurin' nacho cheese drip so you can finally fit in with those uptight yupsters at their superficial, self-centric soirees. You'll be the life of the party, at least until your flesh starts to slough off like the surface of an old cow pattie lyin' in an irrigation ditch. An speakin' of things comin' unhinged, Reverend Dollarhide about got me excommunicated from the church again after readin' my review for The Eerie Midnight Horror Show last week. Said I'm conductin' myself in an "ungodly manner" by watchin' these kinda movies an that he's almost as disappointed with me as he was in Pope Francis after he came out against unfettered capitalism, it was terrible. That was prolly the most uncomfortable situation I've been in since the time I was tryin' to catch the packrat that was livin' in the coyote-hide dashboard cover in the Topaz an forgot about the spring trap I'd left sittin' on the front seat. The other thing I didn't particularly care for was how he felt it necessary to sit me down right in front of the pulpit durin' the Sunday service so he could periodically point that bony accusin' finger of his at me while he went over my list of alleged "sins" for the benefit of the congregation. Took about two hours on account of that speech impediment he's got that causes 'im to add syllables to every other word an form completely new ones like "Jay-sus" an "con-day-umn." By the time he'd finished, my Cabela's jacket was nearly dry from the initial holy water hosin' an I was finally asked to "de-fay-und" myself against a rap sheet that'd make Suge Knight blanch. So what I ended up rubuttin' with was the fact that I'm havin' to single-handedly keep his flock abreast of the various evils runnin' wild in our world cause his holier'n thou hiney'd been shelterin' everybody from reality so bad that they're afraid to let their kids watch A Christmas Story cause of that scene where Ralphie covets the leg lamp. I also told 'im that it was my sad duty to inform 'im just how woefully unprepared his sheep would be if faced with a pea soup spittin' demon, an that when the rapture comes they'll all be cut down quicker'n Glenn Beck's shade tree on Arbor Day. Everyone in that church was softer'n the week old pear in the bottom of my lunch pail before that little speech, but I've got hope for 'em now, cause after I told Dollarhide he'd better get his sacramental stuff together an become more like Harvey Keitel in From Dusk Till Dawn an less like Kenneth Tigar in Phantasm II, everybody started makin' like the Blue Oyster Cult an ceased with fearin' the reaper. Dollarhide's still kinda P.O.'d about not gettin' to flog me like Kunta Kinte in Roots, but he'll get over it. I don't really give a flyin' fraggle anyhow, cause after that "heretic" remark I don't want nothin' more to do with a man who'd compare me to anything pertainin' to The Exorcist II. There're some things you just can't take back.
I've done all I can to save those poor wretches, so lets discuss somethin' they stand to learn from, like French zombie flicks. Technically speakin' this ain't a zombie flick, they're more like The Infected from 28 Days Later cept that they're French so they don't really have all that much fight in 'em. Still, ever since I was so impressed with Baby Blood I've developed a certain amount of respect for the French, an since they had balls enough to release this pseudo-zombie movie the same year as the original Dawn of the Dead I think it'd be downright rude not to pick through the pieces an share a few things I learned watchin' it. First, love is blind. Unfortunately, sometimes that means bein' incapable of seein' that your boyfriend's gone zombie on you an started sheddin' off various sections of his face. Second, gentlemen prefer blondes, but zombies prefer brunettes. Or maybe they're just so used to blondes functionin' in a waitress capacity that they're only capable of viewin' 'em as the bringers of food, rather than actually bein' food. An third, you may not wanna tell the woman whose face you just burned off that there's a load of dynamite within' reach of 'er torch. You never can tell, some people really struggle to turn the other cheek in these kinda situations an may use that intel to blow off your French rolls. But what really twisted my testicles about this one was the fact that even a movie like this can be unjustly accused of utilizin' gratuitous nudity. It's glaringly obvious to anyone with an eighth grade education that the nudity in this movie is COMPLETELY necessary to the plot. We NEED it. We got women in this flick who may or may not be hidin' seeping blow torch wounds on some part of their bodies that're indicators of the Goobonic plague, so it is absolutely critical that we be able to fully inspect their nekkid bodies to make sure they're not gonna go apeshit an try tearin' off somebody's face to use as a Maxi pad. An I'll tell you somethin' else, the guys in the movie musta had Silly Putty for brains cause they never once asked Brigitte Lahaie to turn around after she presented for inspection. I mean, she used to do nothin' but porno movies, are they afraid she's gonna get offended if they ask 'er to swivel around so they can make sure she doesn't have any gunk on 'er trunk? So all you feminazis out there who're waitin' outside Jean Rollin's house to beat 'im to death with a loaf of stale French bread need to just lay off the guy. We HAVE to see Patricia Cartier, Mirella Rancelot, an Brigitte Lahaie nekkid so we'll know how to feel about 'em... yeesh, it's like these people've never been to a bar before. Maybe you wanna go through life ignorant an that's alright by me, but us decent folks wanna go to our graves as enlightened as possible.
The movie begins with these sadomasochists DDTin' their grapes til the guy drivin' the London Fogger Skeeter Beater 3000 insecticizer tractor huffs a little too much mustard gas an hasta drive back to town an be told to put on his big boy pants, cause the gas masks that actually keep the poison out won't be there until customs gets through checkin' the shipment for illegally imported cheeses. Elsewhere, these two girls (Elisabeth and Brigitte) are ridin' the rails an complainin' about how they've been travelin' so long they're buildin' up serious train stains from the skanky uncirculated air an really need to find a place to get a bath so they can clean up an not shave their pits. Then they pull into a station where the guy from the vineyard with Agent Orange lung gets on board an sits down next to Elisabeth even though the train's emptier'n the footballs at a New England Patriots game. As if that ain't rude enough, then the guy's face starts peelin' off like the paint job on a 1974 Subaru Brat that's been sittin' in a sage desert for the past 30 years an Elisabeth decides to go find Brigitte so she can ask 'er if there's anything they can do to help the guy save face. Only she finds Brigitte dead in the can an assumes she tried lightin' a match after expellin' the expired escargot she ate at Chez Bleque til Goo-Face comes after 'er an she hasta pull the brake cable an beat cheeks across the trussel like Corey Feldman in Stand by Me. She continues to haul butt across the French countryside to the tune of Baba O'Riley til she goes inside a house occupied by the girl from the Swiss Miss package (Antoinette) an 'er Dad, whose hand looks like somebody peeled The Blob off of it. Elisabeth would really like to chat with the cops, but Dad says the phone's dead an that the car outside hasn't worked since the Germans invaded an put Sauerkraut in the gas tank. So Antoinette takes Elisabeth upstairs to show 'er where she can take a nap, only she gets a little excited when she sees Antoinette's Mama under a sheet with a smilie carved into 'er neck an Antoinette explains that 'er Dad killed 'er Mama after he noticed an inadequate lack of contempt for the British team durin' the last England/France footie. Unfortunately, Dad's evesdroppin' an when they begin discussin' an escape plan he gets real P.O.'d an starts sockin' the both of 'em an ends up yankin' off Antoinette's blouse to put 'er necrotic nipples on display an then pitchforks 'er to the kitchen table so she'll be permanently in 'er place. Unlike Antoinette, Elisabeth doesn't stick around an hops in the supposedly disabled car, only about that time Dad starts havin' a moment of lucidity an stands in front of the car demandin' she "finish 'im" like he's Shao Khan or somethin', til she realizes she may never get to enjoy another Jerry Lewis rerun if she doesn't get past 'im, an ends up crushin' 'im between the front bumper an the stone wall.
Then she heads down the road a bit an stops to ask the Templars from Tombs of the Blind Dead for directions, an runs into this guy who looks like Keanu Reeves after somebody took a cheese grater to his forehead who wants to bum a ride. Course she's way too stuck up to give the guy with cranial seepage a lift, so he gets P.O.'d an uses his face to bust out 'er window while she digs around in the glove box for a Kleenex to wipe off the cerebellum shrapnel an finds a pistol. Once she's victorious in their game of Splattergories, she hasta abandon the car cause she can't stand the stench of frog legs cookin' on the radiator no more an ends up runnin' into this blind girl (Lucie) who hadda leave town when the entire village went apeshit an started poundin' each other into Grey Poupon. Under the circumstances, dealin' with some rowdy soccer hooligans seems pretty manageable, so Elisabeth an Lucie head for Chateau Merlot an Elisabeth starts seein' corpses all over as they get steadily closer to town, an hasta pretend like everything's nominal so Lucie won't start fallin' apart like an Israeli/Palestinian ceasefire agreement. Eventually they end up at Lucie's house, only by now the zombies're finishin' up their shifts at the Buffalo Grill an pretty quick the village looks like it's one big methamphetamine treatment center. Then Elisabeth starts straightenin' up the place in case any house guests arrive, an after awhile she turns around to find Lucie's taken off to find 'er boyfriend (Lucas), which results in Lucie bein' surrounded by the entire cast of Thriller. Fortunately, they all get real ashamed of themselves when she starts yellin' at 'em for havin' lousy personal hygiene an she's able to get away an locate Lucas, only Lucas looks like Burt Young after his head got stuck in the microwave on High for about two hours an he ends up draggin' 'er off with a choke chain. Unfortunately, Elisabeth isn't able to save 'er before Lucas tacks 'er to 'er front door like an eviction notice an when he sees Elisabeth comin' up the path he decides to go all French Revolution on the corpse an chop Lucie's head off. So while Lucas makes out with the severed head as part of the pilot for his gritty reboot of I Love Lucie, the other zombies start chasin' Elisabeth all over town til this blonde amazon grabs 'er an pulls 'er inside one of the structures. Then the amazon tells 'er the place is safe cause it used to belong to the mayor an all the proletariat zombies know better'n to stick the flesh where their noses used to be into her business or else she might call the zomb squad. Course Elisabeth's havin' a little trouble relaxin' with all the zombies outside beggin' for table scraps, an ends up quiverin' 'er lip like the boy she's got a crush on just asked 'er best friend to the prom til she can get the queen of zombietown to abdicate the throne an leave town with 'er.
Only it seems the queen beetch is in league with the zombies, an when they step outside she grabs Elisabeth an starts ringin' the dinner bell til 'er subjects shamble over to see what the specials are while systematically burnin' the city to the ground. But about that time the traditional redneck reinforcements (Paul an Lucien) show up in their pickup an start splatterin' the zombies into sacre bleu Cheez Whiz til the queen of mean walks up to 'em an strips nekkid so they can see she don't have gangrenous granulomas an that she's got a whole lotta collateral in lieu of gas money. Cept then they hear Elisabeth screamin' like she just discovered the all night nipple piercin' shop an go lookin' for the source of the screams just in case they're not men enough to handle Queenie. So while they're pitchin' dynamite into random houses an blowin' away more zombies with their boomsticks, Elisabeth's managed to get ahold of a torch an escape from 'er decomposin' detainers before makin' 'er way to the rubes' pickup where she finds the traitorous blonde trollop waitin' an Elisabeth gets this look on 'er face like she just came home an found 'er husband in bed with Rip Taylor. Elisabeth's P.O.'d an after a brief scuffle jams 'er torch right into Queenie's immaculate makeup job, an once she's been adequately French fried, the neque-beards make it back to the pickup an start sniffin' the air like they're tryin' to figure out how Elisabeth convinced KFC to deliver to the middle of nowhere. Then Queenie gets 'er second wind an gets real P.O.'d about bein' turned into Betty Krueger an tosses Elisabeth's discarded torch into the back of the pickup where the dynamite's bein' stored, an pretty quick the place blows up like a Syrian weapons cache. So once the guys have a manly cry an are able to get past the destruction of their truck and the collection of Lui magazines they had stashed under the backseat, the group heads for the local vineyard to see if they've got a phone that's workin' so they can call for help an possibly get a coupla crates of Munster air lifted in to 'em. However, en route the guys begin to lament the fact that they've been without beer for upwards of three hours an notice the correlation between the fact that they're the only Frenchmen on Earth who drink beer instead of wine, an the fact that they're the only ones not sufferin' from excessive facial decomposition. Elisabeth still wants to go to the winery though cause 'er fiance's the head snooty guy there, an since she's real cute the guys just discount the fact that they're now voluntarily headin' into the epicenter of the outbreak an continue on until they reach the dead zone. Gonna cut here, otherwise I'll be reinforcin' negative stereotypes about Americans bein' rude an generally unpleasant to be around.
Alrighty, well, on the one hand The Grapes of Death is a pretty decent zombie (or reasonable facsimile thereof) flick, an probably the tour de force in the directorial career of Jean Collins who generally dabbled in porn, exploitation horror, or some goofy combination of the two. But on the other hand you've gotta wonder if the drunks at Troma took a look at this thing an used it as inspiration for the touchstone cinematic experience that was Redneck Zombies. It's really the same concept once you get past the fact that Collins sorta knew what he was doin' most of the time and tried to conduct himself with a shred of professionalism. And in all fairness, considering the guy was spending so much of his time making porno movies you've gotta give him credit for making this thing during a period in his life where he very seldom had adequate blood flow to the brain. I don't claim to have seen all of Jean's flicks, but this one struck me as particularly intriguing when I read about it in John Stanley's Creature Features Movie Guide because it's a European zombie title that was not only not made in Italy, but was also produced before everybody over there started jumping on the bandwagon after the release of Dawn of the Dead. In fact, Grapes was actually released a full two months before Dario Argento released Dawn of the Dead in Italy. So it seemed particularly interesting on the basis that it wouldn't have been influenced by Dawn of the Dead, even though it was very obviously influenced by the original Night of the Living Dead. Just look at the opening sequence; two people traveling encounter a zombie, one is killed, the other flees and eventually makes her way to an isolated locale, where she runs afoul of further zombie mayhem. Got a lot more moving around from place to place, and the emphasis is generally on a single character rather than a group, but it's basically Night of the Living Dead. Realistically though, it's a whole lot more grim than Night of the Living Dead, and it definitely meets the first requirement of a great horror flick: anybody can die at any moment. After about the first 20 minutes you know that any non-zombies this girl encounters are as good as dead. She's a lightning rod of misery. The only thing I've really got a problem with in this one is that it's never clear if any of these people are actually zombies or not. Some of them can speak and still have control of their mental faculties, so you know they're not zombies. Of course, the tainted wine is causing them to rot to the point that at some point they're certainly going to die, but you don't know if they actually get up and carry on after that or if they clock out at that point. I'm of the opinion that at least some of these people actually are zombies, mostly because one of the corpses is sprawled out on the ground with an eyeball hangin' out not movin', and the fact that we see him again later walkin' around. There're certainly a lot of people that're definitely dead, but that doesn't necessarily mean that any of them are among the group that attacks the main character later on in the movie. I don't imagine it really matters all that much, but the way I figure it, you've got both living and dead ghouls in this one and if that's the case, that does give it a little originally.
Okay then, lets yank this sucker's eye out, screw it in, and take a look at it from every possible perspective. The plot, generally speaking, is pretty much Night of the Living Dead. Although the cause of the plague is different, and as I mentioned above, I believe it deserves a few extra points for the originality of the slower zombification process that would later be made mainstream by flicks like Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead. So it's not the most original of plots, but it does add in a few tweaks to the formula that're interesting and enjoyable. The acting, particularly for the budget, is pretty good. Insofar as someone who doesn't speak French can judge, anyway. Realistically I can't be sure, because as far as I know the lines aren't being delivered smoothly, and I wouldn't know the difference if they were putting the emphasis on the wrong syllables. Still, the physical acting, the reaction shots, and timing all seem well executed, so even though I can't say that it was definitively good, it was good by all the metrics I can use to analyze it. As you might expect, I cannot give a completely accurate listing of the relevant acting credits either since many of them are in French, though I can tell you that nobody in the cast ever became a breakout star. Still, here's who matters and why, such as I'm able to determine: Serge Marquand (Barbarella, Spirits of the Dead, Frankenstein '90, Blood and Roses), Paul Bisciglia (Lips of Blood, The Demoniacs, Requiem for a Vampire, The Nude Vampire, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1956), Brigitte Lahaie (Calvaire, Le fiancee de Dracula, Two Orphan Vampires, Faceless, The Night of the Hunted), Olivier Rollin (The Nude Vampire, The Rape of the Vampire), Jean-Pierre Bouyxou (Le masque de la Medusa, The Living Dead Girl, The Demoniacs, Female Vampire). Brigitte Lahaie would probably be best remembered as one of the original French porno queens, having gotten into the business only a year after it'd been legalized in 1975. I wouldn't say she's the best actor in the movie, but she has an unusual presence about her and definitely plays the most interesting character in the movie.
The special effects are pretty good, and not "pretty good for the budget" (although there is also that), they're genuinely good. Rollin had done a few horror films before this one, but most of them were Vampire flicks which involve much simpler special effects work. Here, we've got quite a few gooey gore effects both in terms of zombie makeup and icky wounds, and all of them but one are really well executed. The decapitation scene involving Mirella Rancelot's corpse is pretty bad, and features an uncharacteristically bad mannequin. That said, it's only the decapitation itself. The scene before where she's tacked to the door looks good, and her severed head that gets carried around a la Al Snow also looks good. Additionally, we've got several scenes with drippy face gore and necrotic flesh, particularly good are the hand on Antoinette's Dad and the deep fried face on Brigitte Lahaie after she gets the torch in the eye sockets. But wait, that's not all; there's also a pretty grisly pitchforking scene, a nice lookin' slit throat, and a few dozen Night of the Living Dead extras that're all pretty good as well. The other thing this movie does that some gore movies won't is to hold that camera steady on the nasty shots, rather than cutting away quickly so as to not offend the censors. Some of our panty-waist American directors could learn a few things from guys like Rollin, D'Amato, and Fulci. The shooting locations are excellent. The movie'll prolly scoop up a few cheap bonus points due to my lack of worldliness and the related enjoyment I get out of European architecture. We get a coupla different looks at the French countryside, with both wooded areas and a particularly interesting plain covered with human-sized rocky patches that spring out of an otherwise grassy area. There's also a quaint little village containing nothing but stone structures, which gives it a bizarre feeling of isolation, as though the place is ancient. The cinematography on board the train is also pretty neat, and the shot of Marie Pascal fleeing across the train trestle through that fog bank is fantastic as well. The soundtrack, while extremely catchy (the main theme reminds one of The Who's "Baba O'Reily" if it'd been given a darker spin and crammed into a Castlevania game) is probably a little too cheerful, although that Castlevania tinge in it gives it an uneasy quality that keeps it from getting too far into goofy territory. It's pretty original, that's for sure. Often there's some other title (or titles) that I can compare a composition to, but I've got nothing here. As far as a movie soundtrack goes, I can't think of anything even remotely similar. I guess that's not too surprising since it's one of only two soundtracks the composer ever did. So basically, it doesn't generate as much atmosphere as it could have if it were more foreboding, but it's not bad and the movie has a reasonable amount of atmosphere even without help from the soundtrack. Overall, The Grapes of Death is pretty fair, and better than a lot of the more popular Italian zombie flicks of the era. Check it out.