Directed By: Jean Rollin
Starring: Marie-Georges Pascal, Félix Marten, Serge Marquand
Tag line: "When the wine flows, the terror begins ..."
Trivia: The film was originally envisioned as a disaster-themed film, but as the production developed, director Jean Rollin saw the potential for it to be a horror film instead
French director Jean Rollin, best known for his Gothic, often erotic vampire films (Lips of Blood, The Shiver of the Vampires), veers off into a slightly different direction with The Grapes of Death, a film about...well, grapes, and the extraordinary effect they have on anyone who consumes them.
We follow Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal), a young woman traveling by train to the French village of Roubles to meet her fiance. When the train stops at a nearby station, a man, whose face and arms are covered with pus-filled lesions, stumbles aboard and murders Brigitte, Elizabeth's traveling companion. In a panic, Elizabeth hops off the train and flees into the French countryside, looking for help. What she finds instead is an entire population infected with a bizarre virus, one that spreads by way of wine tainted with pesticides, causing people to turn violent without a moment's notice. Alone in a strange place, Elizabeth must fend off hundreds of zombie-like creatures as she tries to make her way to Roubles, and, hopefully, safety.
One of the strengths of The Grapes of Death is you're never quite sure which of its characters are infected, and which are not. Shortly after rushing off the train, Elizabeth makes her way to a farmhouse, occupied by an older man and his adult daughter. Never once does the old man take his eyes off Elizabeth, and flat-out refuses, sometimes angrily, to assist her in any way. It's fairly obvious from the get-go that he's ill, but his daughter, who seems the more reasonable of the two, is, at first, a mystery. We begin to suspect she may also be sick the moment she tries to physically prevent Elizabeth from leaving, and our suspicions are confirmed when the daughter, whose name is Antoinette, tells Elizabeth to go upstairs and rest, yet fails to inform her there's a dead body, its throat cut from ear to ear, already lying in the bed. Despite appearing quite normal most of the time, Antoinette is also infected, leading Elizabeth to the realization that she can never fully trust anyone she encounters on this perilous journey.
As is the case with many of Jean Rollin's films, the pacing in The Grapes of Death is a bit lackadaisical at times; there are extended scenes of Elizabeth running through the countryside that could have easily been cut down, as could several of her run-ins with the locals, who spend an inordinate amount of time just staring at her. Yet despite its drawbacks, The Grapes of Death works because it keeps you guessing. Because of this, I never found it boring in the least.