Rollin unearths fresh rural dread in surreal zombie poem
Jean Rollin's "Grapes of Death" is a refreshing living dead poem, and an effective low key horror film from France's gentleman auteur.
After Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) encounters a rotting man and the corpse of her traveling companion on a deserted train, she flees into the countryside where she must battle a plague of the sad, tortured dead. The "grapes" of the title relate to the cause of the spreading problem.
Rollin's films have always found horror and dread in rural landscapes and crumbling architecture; in "Grapes" the fascination with these elements continues and is intensified by suitably evocative photography. Despite some ropey focus and action sequences that don't quite cut smoothly, this is the director's most technically polished work and an important addition to French "cinefantastique".
Although the plot line bears some similarity to Romero's "The Crazies" and the visuals pre-date the recent dead-on-arrival French "Revenants" (see review), Rollin does not run this show along traditional genre lines. Instead, he has the heroine Pascal encountering a blind woman who is oblivious to the contagion and a recluse (Brigitte Lahaie) who may be her savior in a white nightie. Elizabeth's final reunion with her boyfriend has a sad, tragic quality that becomes, like the rest of the film, quite surreal.
There is sporadic gore and the violence is shockingly sudden in parts, but Rollin's trademark dream-like pacing and social commentary are there to be enjoyed and appreciated.
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