Grapes of Death

Color, 1980, 91 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by Jean Rollin
Starring Brigitte Lahaie, Vincent Gardère, Dominique Journet, Bernard Papineau
Indicator (UHD & Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 4K/HD), Wicked Vision (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Redemption (UK R0 PAL, US R0 NTSC), Encore (Holland R0 PAL), Another World (Scandinavia R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Image (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1)

While driving along a desolate road at night, a young Night of the Huntedman, Robert (Gardère), is startled to see a disoriented yNight of the Huntedoung woman, Elisabeth (Lahaie), running through the woods while another (Journet), nude and bordering on catatonia, watches in despair. Lahaie collapses in front of the car and, apparently suffering from a strange form of amnesia, is taken to his home where they make love. Unfortunately their momentary bliss is shattered when Elisabeth -- who can seemingly retain memories for only a short period of time -- is spirited away by doctors to an austere, postmodern facility referred to as "the black tower" (actually a block of office buildings in which Rollin shot after hours). Journet is also captured and returned, with the two women trying to form a new plan of escape even though they can't remember. Bizarre events ensue: a nude woman punctures her eyes with scissors, the guards prey on the female inmates, and catatonic shells of human patients are disposed of in an incinerator. Can Elisabeth be rescued before she becomes another victim, and what's the chilling ecological reason behind her condition?

By this point, director Jean Rollin had strayed very far from his alluring yet melancholy vampires, favoring instead the more realistic bloodletting of Fascination and the mournful zombies of The Grapes of Death. This vaguely futuristic thriller seems a bit out of step at first glance, but many of the trademark Rollin elements are still here: poignant and doomed romanticism, vibrant comic book colors, casual and strangely innocent nude scenes, and startling, graphic violence. Without his more traditional lonely beaches or crumbling castles, Rollin makes expert use of the stark office complex to mirror the characters' emptiness with its vast windows opening up on chilly expanses of night and unexpected buNight of the Huntedrsts of red neon appearing around corridors. The film moves very deliberately, a Rollin trademark, and retains a dark fairy tale quality despite the sci-fi trappings. Night of the Hunted

While the acting is mostly touch and go, not surprising considering the largely amateur cast and rushed production schedule, Lahaie does quite a fine job as the tragic heroine (her reaction to the aftermath of the scissors scene is especially effective), and the central romance leads to an outstanding payoff during the haunting finale, set in a deserted train station and culminating in a wonderful final shot.

This film was long regarded as a lesser work (even by the director himself) and failed miserably at the European box office (which prompted a desperate reissue with hardcore inserts), though its reputation got a boost when it was surprisingly chosen as the first of his films to receive an American DVD release from Image Entertainment as part of their Redemption Films line way back in 1999. The non-anamorphic transfer was good for its time, easily besting the bad bootleg copies fans had to settle for in the past, and the optional English subtitles are generally accurate. The DVD also includes the original, perplexing French trailer (which mostly contains shots of people wielding guns and walking down hallways). Subsequent reissues from Redemption in the U.K. and the U.S. didn't add much, but a more lavish Dutch release from Encore featured a sparse but useful Rollin/Lahaie commentary track, a trio of video interviews (Lahaie, actor Alain Plumey a.k.a. adult actor Cyril Val, and producer Lionel Wallman), stills, and some additional scenes (more on those below).

While all of Rollin's films have benefited tremendously from their boost to HD courtesy of the Kino Lorber and Redemption releases (with DVD reissues to match), Night of the Hunted gets a particular extra jolt in 2013 as its icy compositions and voluptuous color schemes came through far more vividly than before. Night of the HuntedThe previous transfers almost look harsh and sickly in comparison, and while the presentation is marred by debris and water damage popping up here and there, it was a godsend at the time. The LPCM mono audio sounds good as well, with that spare but effective Tangerine Dream-style electronic score faring best. On the extras side you get a brief (1m14s) 1998 video intro by Night of the HuntedRollin, who talks about making this with a porn budget (i.e., really tiny) and industry actors, and a fragment of a Fantasia interview with Rollin by Joshua T. Gravel (two and a half minutes) covering the quick writing process and creating the film's atmosphere in industrial areas of Paris during the ten-day shoot. It also features a few fleeting glimpses of Filles traquées, that hardcore reissue version prepared by the producer without Rollin's involvement. On the other hand, the two deleted sex scenes on the disc presented in their entirety were shot by Rollin; they're strictly softcore (and very, very badly simulated), with minor characters in the black tower getting it on for several minutes. Also included are the original trailer and bonus Rollin trailers for Fascination, The Grapes of Death, The Living Dead Girl, Zombie Lake, and Two Orphan Vampires, while Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas presents liner notes written for both this release and Grapes in which he discusses the casting tragedy that overshadowed the film, draws parallels between the two films made during the height of Rollin's dual careers in horror and smut, and points out both films' debts to David Cronenberg, which is definitely more pronounced in this case. Actually, you could run this back to back with Rabid and have one heck of a double feature.

In 2019, Wicked Vision added this film to its roster of German Jean Rollin Blu-rays touting a new transfer; featuring French and German audio with optional English or German subtitles, it's one of the worst of their remasters with very harsh contrast and a heavy pink and orange tint that undermines the entire atmosphere of the film. That release includes Rollin's 1m53s intro, a very good "Inside the Black Tower" video essay by Pelle Felsch (23m46s) with English subtitles studying the film's place in Rollin's filmography, a retrospective "Le Pont" (4m18s) featurette with Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Lahaie about the film's aqueduct location, and a making-of featurette called "Perdues: La Nuit des traquées" (23m24s) with Bouyxou and Lahaie, Daniel Bird, and Natalie Perry, directed by Rollin's assistant, Daniel Gouyette. Then you get the Lahaie interview (17m48s) from 2006 about her overall working relationship with Rollin starting in '76, the 18m23s interview with Lionel Wallman (also from '06), and the 14m32s interview with Plumey at his current gig running Paris' Museum of Eroticism. Also included are three of the alternate softcore scenes (actually one of them is just the other two cut together from a bad print), the 9m50s of hardcore footage, the partial Rollin and Rollin-Lahaie commentaries, and the Night of the HuntedFrench and German Night of the Huntedtrailers.

In 2023, Indicator revisited Rollin's film as separate 4K UHD and Blu-ray editions, a limited edition of 10,000 numbered units (6,000 4K UHDs and 4,000 Blu-rays) for the U.K. and U.S. In keeping with their other Rollin upgrades, it's a stunning improvement with excellent detail, beautifully rich colors, and a completely clean, impeccable presentation without the visible damage present on the earlier transfers. The UHD is quite the viewing experience with HDR bringing out some punch in the colors like never before, especially those hellish symbolic reds that pop up throughout the film. The French 1.0 mono track comes with optional improved English subtitles and also sounds excellent. Carried over here from the earlier Blu-rays are the two partial commentaries, a new 1m41s edit of the Rollin '98 intro, a revised and updated version of the "Perdues" doc (19m45s), the Plumey interview, a cleaned-up "Forty Years Together" (16m21s) edit of the Wallman interview, a refined and now illustrated 15m29s edit of the Lahaie interview now called "A Delectable Presence," the two softcore scenes, the hardcore reel, a quick 2m43s interview with Rollin at Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival in 2007, the French trailer, and a visually upgraded HD version of "Le Pont." A new audio commentary by Tim Lucas expands on his earlier liner notes, starting off with a comparison to Night of the Hunter and moving through the visual themes and motifs of Rollin's fantastic cinema present here, the ways it departs from what was expected at the time, the approach to dream logic and memory loss, and echoes of other sci-fi and horror films from the previous two decades. In "The Gulf of Emptiness" (20m47s), Stephen Thrower explores the significant departure this film marked from the vampire cycle in particular, the rocky state of genre cinema in France, the relief this marked while Rollin had been toiled recently in adult cinema without much enthusiasm, and the updating of Gothic narrative elements here in an austere, modern setting. A 56-image gallery of photos and promotional material is also included, while the package comes with an 80-page book featuring a new essay by Ruairí McCann, archival notes by Jean Rollin, an archival Lahaie interview with actor Brigitte Lahaie, and film credits.


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Updated review on September 2, 2023