Monday, 26 July 2010

The Grapes of Death (1978)

On her way to the village of Roubelais for a rendezvous with her boyfriend Michael, Elizabeth and her travelling companion Brigitte appear to be the sole occupants of a train travelling through France. A male passenger boards the train and sits in the same compartment as Elizabeth, who notices that the man’s face appears to be decaying before her very eyes. Deciding to escape, Elizabeth stumbles across the body of Brigitte before finally fleeing the train.

Finding herself in a small village, Elizabeth seeks assistance from a local farmer and his daughter. The farmer acts a little strangely and is also decomposing. Elizabeth discovers that the farmer has already murdered his wife and is offered help in escaping by his daughter before it is revealed that she too is stricken with the same affliction.

Escaping from the farmhouse into the surrounding countryside, Elizabeth meets a blind girl, Lucy, who is also lost and alone. After telling Elizabeth that she has been sent away from her own village by her partner Lucas for her own safety, Lucy and Elizabeth return, hoping that they can eventually progress to Roubelais. Arriving in the village as night falls, Lucy and Elizabeth seek refuge in Lucy’s home although it isn’t too long before Lucy goes wandering to find Lucas who has fallen victim to the disease that has gripped the rest of the villagers. When Lucy eventually finds Lucas, he takes her home, crucifies her on the front door and decapitates her!

Seemingly alone in the village, Elizabeth is befriended by peasant girl Brigitte Lahaie who is hiding out in the Mayor’s house and appears normal and healthy, bearing no apparent physical traces of the disease – cue obligatory Lahaie nudity to prove her point! Local construction workers Paul and Francois arrive in the village with the knowledge that something unnatural is happening and expose Lahaie as one of the afflicted, before eventually rescuing Elizabeth and fleeing the village.

The trio make their way to Roubelais and whilst awaiting police helicopter assistance Elizabeth searches for Michael. Finding him, Elizabeth discovers the horrific truth about the contaminated pesticide that has decimated the countryside…

Far more conventional in comparison to the majority of Jean Rollin’s output, The Grapes of Death is often dismissed out of hand as a sub-standard rehash of Night of the Living Dead. Filmed in Siberia without a shooting script, Rollin’s film is closer in content to Jorge Grau’s eco-terror epic Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue than Romero’s trend-setting zombie opus although there are several moments that specifically recall Night of the Living Dead, the most obvious being the early menacing of Elizabeth whilst attempting an escape by car, echoing Barbara’s similar plight during the opening segment of Night…

The horror fan often left frustrated and alienated by Rollin’s more ethereal and languid movies may well find something to enjoy here whilst long time Rollin fans will certainly not be disappointed. Older viewers may be amused to discover the film includes an appearance from Francoise Pascal; former Penthouse Pet and star of Thames Television’s Mind Your Language sitcom!

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