Posted by: John Gholson
Here’s one for zombie completists – Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death aka Les Raisins de la Mort, so much better at being a zombie movie than his actual zombie movie Zombie Lake (reviewed here). Some bad, bad grapes are producing some bad, bad wine, making anyone who drinks it into a rapidly-decaying murderous psychopath. Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) gets on the wrong train at the wrong time and finds herself stranded in the French countryside, defending herself against wine-crazed villagers. It’s simple, and for Jean Rollin, certainly more on the accessible side than many of his dreamy, sexed-up, cheapie chillers.
I can’t help but think it has some subtext too, just going off of French stereotypes as a people obsessed with wine. I don’t know how regularly Rollin drank, but a strong case could be made that The Grapes of Death has a message about how drinking to excess transforms us into monsters. In a country where table wine is as ubiquitous as water, The Grapes of Death may have had more meaning and weight than its lurid monster movie approach would suggest. As an American, I can only guess at it, without providing any deeper thoughts than, “Huh. That’s interesting.”
Posted by: John Gholson
Some unscrupulous schlubs decide to dispose of some toxic garbage in the catacombs of an abandoned Valmont chateau and quickly meet their horrifying fates at the hands of Catherine Valmont, the zombie in the title of Jean Rollin’s 1982 effort The Living Dead Girl. It’s a gory opener, playing against the film’s gore-soaked resolution like a bloody bookend. The Living Dead Girl was my first Jean Rollin film. I watched it on a whim on Netflix one day, familiar with the director’s reputation for French “lesbian vampire” films, and was taken aback by how much I enjoyed the movie. Since then, I’ve watched what I could through Netflix and through the release of Kino-Lorber’s Redemption series of Blu-rays (ten of the seventeen releases in the Redemption line are Jean Rollin films). If you were looking to explore Rollin’s work, The Living Dead Girl is a great start.
The film is about Catherine Valmont’s (Francoise Blanchard) relationship with her best friend and lover Helene (Marina Pierro). A blood oath promise that they made as children is Rollin’s thin explanation of Catherine’s resurrection, but what he’s really getting at with their story is the way we allow ourselves to become trapped within co-dependent relationships. The undead Catherine needs fresh blood to stay alive, and Helene drops any moral regards to sustain her lover. She leads people to the Valmont estate so that Catherine can feed, and once Catherine becomes fully aware of the unholy abomination she has become, Catherine begs for a death that Helene will simply not allow.