The Grapes of Death
Liberal pesticide use gives a vineyard's seasonal output an aromatic bouquet of death in Jean Rollin's 1978 beauty. Grapes of Death is a "zombie" flick in line with something like The Crazies- the infected become viciously homicidal, but they don't die first. What really sets the film apart and puts a little meat on its bones, though, is the fact that these killers aren't completely mindless. Unfortunately for both them and their loved ones, the infected experience moments of clarity during which they're completely aware of their urges- and that they can't stop them.
The cinematography is lush and the pace is the variety of languid typical of the era, but Grapes packs a few unexpected shocks as well. The violence is surprisingly brutal and victims don't always die right away, while the gore is plentiful and plenty nauseating- both blood and pus flow liberally. The Grapes of Death is a worthy addition to the zombie(-esque) pantheon, not least because it follows in The Beyond's footsteps by including a hot blind chick.
But you need more. Well, the title tells you the essential plot: it's like Phantom of the Opera, dudes. But it's in a mall. Ah, the mall- now just an inconvenience, it was once- not so long ago, in fact- a place of wonderment and magic. Why, the intrepid heroes of Romero's Dawn of the Dead had never seen a mall before they took refuge in one (I'm not sure if the casting of Ken Foree in Phantom is meant to be a nod to Dawn or not, but I'm going to pretend it is). Phantom of the Mall was released in 1989, a time when a mall was still the place to be, a time when Pauly Shore (who stars as "Buzz") was merely annoying and not Pauly Shore annoying, a time when VHS tapes could cost upwards of $89.99 (as the sticker on my copy indicates), a time when songs over the closing credits featured lyrics about the movie you just watched. The line "Is he the Phantom of the Mall? Or just some retard in a broken hockey mask?" is pure poetry.
Don't worry- Eric is not just some retard in a broken hockey mask! No, he's just a boy who was wronged by greedy developers who burned down his house to make way for THE MALL. Now he lives in the world's largest air ducts and papier-maiche caves, practicing ju-jitsu and making mix tapes for the girl he left behind. I'm telling you: THIS MOVIE IS THE SHIT. I'm sure you agree, and I didn't even tell you that it also features Kelly Rutherford, aka Megan the Hooker with a Heart of Gold from Melrose Place, in an early role as "Salesgirl". The only question that remains is, why doesn't this tape live in my pants?
Oh, Rattlers, I can't help but love you. You're not "good", but who cares? You epitomize the 1976 drive-in experience, and sometimes that's all that really matters to me. You're produced by Sultan of Sleaze Harry "The Child" Novak. You feature a scienceologist and a photogologist engaging in battles of the wits concerning women's lib...before they fall in love and have a romantic night dancing and making out by a fountain in Vegas. You feature amazing toupees, a love theme, whiny divorcées getting offed in the bathtub, long stretches where nothing happens, Army cover-ups, nerve gas...and yes, rattlesnakes- but only a lethargic few, craftily edited to give the appearance of a hostile many. Yes, Rattlers, when I watch you it's like I'm somewhere else entirely- watching a crappy movie under the stars instead of a ceiling.