The set-up is simple. A young woman wanders into a fog-shrouded country village, searching for her lost fiancé. Instead, she finds the the townsfolk rotting (the makeup unconvincing but nonetheless effective), the few remaining with any conscious thought having turned into murderers.
The set up is simple, but Director Jean Rollin’s approach is not. Where my last encounter with Rollin (Fascination) left me feeling a bit cold, his Grapes of Death snapped his style into place. Jean Rollin is not a horror director. Even at his most grotesque, like in the sequence in which a blind woman is crucified before getting decapitated, he invests his works with a dreamlike melancholy. You get the sense that he’s searching for something with his work, something the audience can never quite ascertain. Every long take wide shots held in washed out castles and crumbling hills suggests a certain regret, a certain inability to find a secret hidden in the past. As such, every one of villains is a vampire, draining the heroes sense of purpose and hindering their movements. But every hero is a vampire, too, stealing their loved one’s lives away to find some semblance of hope in their own.
The story here is slight, almost irrelevant. Superficially, it explores notions of class and regionalism, but only in the vaguest terms. But all of that nothing fades away when Rollin holds on a barren room for just a second too long, the silence more terrifying than the shambling, simple zombies.