Movie Review: THE GRAPES OF DEATH
Le Raisins de la mort (translation: The Grapes of Death) turns out to be a pretty blunt title for a movie that I’ve seen described as “surrealistic” from a director whose calling card was, arguably, surrealism. I suppose one could cook up some kind of symbolic meaning behind the title if so inclined, but in the end this is a zombie a movie in which literal grapes are the source of literal death, and the unimaginative title is reflected in a surprisingly unimaginative movie.
But let’s start with what there is to like about The Grapes of Death. The zombies are interesting and notable in that they’re not utterly mindless, merely murderous. They are not reduced to base impulses such as hunger or rage, They can still feel remorse and at least a semblance of love. They can connive and make sacrifices. They are just far enough removed from their humanity to be dangerous–especially en masse–but not so far removed as to be hopeless. It’s a welcome take on a supersaturated genre.
There are some great moments scattered throughout, including a striking scene of a burning village and a fairly inspired decapitation. The French countryside locale gives us a simultaneously lovelier and more haunting setting than is typical to zombie flicks. On the acting front, former adult film star Brigitte Lahaie is working on a different level than the rest of the cast, perhaps because her character is so much more interesting than anyone else’s (at least until we get a disappointing revelation about her just before her time on screen ends). And that’s about the extent of the positives that I feel are worth documenting.
I read a few reviews of this film after finishing it to see if, perhaps, I needed to give it another chance. Perhaps I’d missed something. Indeed, many reviews of the film come off as positive, but more so in deference to director Jean Rollin’s reputation as opposed to the actual content of this particular film. One reviewer described the film as Rollin’s “most accessible,” which I think might be part of the problem. As mentioned before, Rollin’s best work is noted–at least in part–for its surrealism, which is sorely lacking here. I hate to keep harping on other peoples’ assessment of this film, but it has me a bit baffled. One reviewer described it as “dreamlike,” but this would make for an extremely straightforward and borderline bland nightmare.
There’s nothing half as bizarre, mind-bending or “out of place” here as there is in any of the vampire films Rollin is more known for. Hell, Requiem for a Vampire, with its teenage outlaw clown girls, is more bizarre in its first thirty minutes than Grapes could be if it was double its run-time. Nor is there anything quite as visually striking as Rollin’s most inspired movies. This film is sorely missing even a single moment as simple-yet-haunting as the shot below from La Rose de Fer.
Also absent is any of the signature, indulgent, often uncomfortable eroticism that frequented his more notable efforts (again, something that a different reviewer calls out as though it’s present in abundance). There’s nudity, but there’s nothing remotely erotic about any of it, especially not compared to Rollin’s other work, and especially not in the “Google any fetish you can think of” modern age. It’s just there because, I don’t know, there was a nipple quota? “We need to see six of ’em onscreen for you to get your bonus, Jean. I don’t care how you get ’em on there, just show ’em.”
In the end, it turns out that “accessible” Jean Rollin is “largely uninteresting” Jean Rollin. And The Grapes of Death makes for a disappointingly dull watch.
Final Grade: Surprisingly lifeless.