Known for his stylish vampire and erotic films, French director Jean Rollin also took the horror genre in a new direction by introducing zombies and overt gore into the mix. Not all of Rollins’ forays into the world of zombies were successful. In his long career, he certainly made some films best suited for the junkyard, but 1978’s The Grapes of Death, clearly influenced by Night Of The Living Dead, is a solid, if strange—most of Rollins’ films are somewhat odd—entry in the Rollin oeuvre.
The story begins with Elizabeth (Marie Georges-Pascal) and her blonde best friend (Evelyne Thomas), traveling together on holiday to a remote French village by train. They discuss how eerie it is to be on a train, with the long corridors, and all the empty compartments. When Elizabeth’s friend leaves for a moment to use the bathroom, a strange man comes in and sits in the seat opposite. Almost immediately, something begins to happen to him: his face and neck begin showing signs of decomposition. Freaked out, she runs toward the bathroom with the man in pursuit. After discovering that her friend has already been murdered, Elizabeth pulls the brake line, hops off the train, and keeps running through the surrounding vineyard, over a bridge and into a small village, until she comes across a farmhouse. There, she meets a young girl, upset because her father has just murdered her father. Elizabeth and the young woman attempt to flee the house in the farmer’s car, until he shows up, pitchfork in hand. The farmer kills his own daughter and then, seemingly aware that he’s insane, essentially forces Elizabeth to run him over with his car.
Later, Elizabeth comes across a blind woman searching for her caregiver. The woman leads Elizabeth to a small village, where there are more contaminated people committing various atrocities. The blind woman eventually finds her caregiver. She is unaware he is infected, and he strangles her. Eventually two men find Elizabeth, and they decide to travel together in hopes that they can find a safe place to hide. Unfortunately for them, almost everyone appears to be a rotting, insane mess…
A fairly well made film; this isn’t your average zombies attack story. These folks have been poisoned by the new fertilizer in the wine, the cause of the oozing rashes: ultimately leading to insanity. By the time Elizabeth shows up, the area has been overrun by infected people. The obvious environmental message is a little strange given the fact that Grapes of Death has plenty of blood and beheadings to turn the heads of those not used to the genre. Grapes of Death is a bloody horror film, but there are plenty of other characteristics that fans expect from a Rollin film: gratuitous nudity, gorgeous scenery, and ambiguous storytelling.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of The Grapes of Death, presented on the Redemption Films label, is very similar to the other films in the line. Framed at 1.66:1, and mastered from the original 35mm negative, this 1080p presentation has a few minor scratches, but otherwise, the print is in good shape. Detail is very nice, and the colors are reproduced very well. The color palette is rather dark and dreary—except for the blood—but this release offers a marked improvement in vividness. Shadow detail is also good, making the darker scenes stand out better. There are no compression issues, or evidence of DNR or edge enhancement.
The only audio option on the disc is an DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track in the film’s original French language, no alternate language are supplied though optional English subtitles are provided.
While the track construction isn’t particularly exciting, it does the job nicely. Dialogue comes thoroughly cleanly, and without a hiss. The track doesn’t offer a lot of punch, but it seems to offer a little bit of extra heft when needed, for effects or music.
The following special features are included:
- Introduction by Jean Rollin (HD, 2:22) Rollin discusses the fact that this was his first film with a real budget, and how he handled the gore sequences.
- Filmmaker Interview (SD, 49:00) In this 2007 interview with Jean Rollin conducted by Patrick Lambert and Frédérick Durand, the director discusses his love for French comic books and a wide variety of literature.
- Theatrical Trailers (HD, 3:14)
- Jean Rollin Trailers (HD) Trailers for several Jean Rollin titles currently available from Kino/Redemption.
- Booklet: A fourteen-page booklet with an essay by Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas.