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  Raisins de la Mort, Les Little Old Wine Drinker Me
Year: 1978
Director: Jean Rollin
Stars: Marie-Georges Pascal, Félix Marten, Serge Marquand, Mirella Rancelot, Patrice Valota, Patricia Cartier, Michel Herval, Brigitte Lahaie, Paul Bisciglia, Olivier Rollin, Françoise Pascal, Evelyne Thomas, Jean-Piere Rouloux, Jean Rollin
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: They are trying a new pesticide on the vines of this French wine-making region, but already there are signs that there's something wrong when one of the farm workers administering it falls ill from exposure to the concoction. Meanwhile, Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) is travelling from Paris to the region to see her boyfriend, who it happens is the designer of the pesticide, but as she sits in the carriage with her friend, she ponders whether she will stay and possibly never return to the capital. As they near their destination a man boards their almost-empty carriage, and there is something very wrong with him - could it be connected to the grapes?

Les Raisins de la Mort, literally meaning "The Grapes of Death", was perhaps the ultimate horror film for the French. Yes, the whole idea powering the story is that drinking wine turns you into a monster! Sacre bleu! Mais non! Oui, je suis désolé, c'est vrai. This was director and co-writer Jean Rollin's Gallic answer to George A. Romero's zombie movies, although it would appear he has seen The Crazies as well, because drinking the wine doesn't exactly transform the victim into a zombie, it sends them round the bend while making them start to rot.

For some reason, it affects women less than men, possibly because Rollin didn't wish to sully his actresses' physical charms by putting bloody makeup on them more than he really needed to. The afflicted females still go loopy, however, leading our much-put upon heroine to be in a difficult position about who she should trust. The first person she meets after escaping from the train is a young woman and her father in a farmhouse who tell her to remain with them. Fat chance of that with daddy going nuts and ending up planting a pitchfork in his daughter.

So with no phones around and a car that only takes her so far, that is, not very far at all, what can Elisabeth do? The overcast and rocky landscape extends to a village that appears deserted, even abandoned, creating a gloomy and dreamlike atmosphere that never picks up enough steam to be a convincing nightmare. There's a lot of wandering about, for a start, and every so often Elisabeth will encounter someone who seems normal, including a blind girl who cannot accept that there is a serious problem - could this be heavy-handed symbolism?

Well, whatever it is, things don't end well for the blind girl (crucifixion can do that to a person, never mind chopping off of heads), and before long the film has settled into a pattern. One of the people Elisabeth meets is Brigitte Lahaie, which ordinarily would be a delightful event but here is not so great as she's one of the insane ones too, just not exhibiting any outward signs - which, being Brigitte, she is all too happy to demonstrate. Eventually Elisabeth joins with two dedicated beer drinkers who are untouched by madness, but as with many Rollin films he wants to tug the heartstrings and the finale strikes a note of poignant, doomed romance. Slow paced and even woozy, the film may well captivate those willing to adjust to the eccentricities of this filmmaker. Organ music by Philippe Sissman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Jean Rollin  (1938 - 2010)

A lifelong film fan, French director Jean Rollin worked consistently since the 1950s, but it was his horror films that would bring him most attention, starting with Le viol du vampire in 1968, a work that caused a minor riot on its initial showings. This showed Rollin the way to further dreamlike entertainments, often with a strong sexual element. Other films included Le vampire nue, Le frisson de vampires, Les Raisins de la mort, Fascination (often regarded as his masterpiece), The Living Dead Girl, Zombie Lake and a number of hardcore porn features. He was working up until his death, with his latest Le Masque de la Meduse released the year of his demise.

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