Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Vineyard (1989)

Title: The Vineyard (1989)

Director: James Hong, William Rice

Writer: James Hong, Karen Witter


Apparently, the experience of playing ‘David Lo Pan’ the main villain in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986) left quite an impression on actor James Hong because after that film, he went on to write and direct his own little horror movie, entitled The Vineyard; which has a lot of similarities with Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, but more on that later. I’ve been searching for obscure zombie movies to review during this Halloween season and The Vineyard is a film that I remember having seen on video store shelves in the 80’s and 90’s, but for whatever the reason never got around to renting. That cover with the monstrous face looking at the chemical vials always called my attention, and so, the time to satiate my morbid curiosity for this obscure zombie flick arrived; I finally had a chance to see it. Boy was I in for a heavy slice of cheese!

On this flick we meet Dr. Ellison Po, a rich entrepreneur who specializes in making some of the finest wines in the world, how special are his wines? Well people are willing to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for just one bottle! What is the secret to his wine? Dr. Po is a special kind of guy, people seem to love him, the women adore him, the guy even has his own private island in which he grows the grapes for his wine. As if Dr. Po wasn’t prolific enough, he is also a film producer and has invited a group of aspiring actors and actresses to his island to audition for his new film. What the troupe of actors doesn’t know is that Dr. Po has sinister plans in store for them!

So yeah, this movie is flat out terrible in many ways, but as is usually the case with films of this nature, there’s some enjoyment to be had. Where to start with this movie? We could start by analyzing the script which is a huge mess. It has many unanswered questions and situations that seem to happen for no reason whatsoever. For example, Dr. Po has zombies buried in his vineyard, and every now and again they come out from their graves. It is never explained why they are there or why they decide to come out of their graves every once in a while; it feels like an element that was only added into the script in order to spicen up an otherwise dull film. It’s never explained why Dr. Po can control them with the power of his mind and send them back to their graves, through the magic of reverse photography no less! Dr. Po’s special wine is apparently made of human blood, but I can only deduce this from one scene in which they dip a girl inside of a vat of wine. You get the idea that Dr. Po’s wine makes people live longer, but that is never fully explained either. As you can see, this is the kind of film in which you have to deduce things for yourself because the film simply doesn’t do a good job explain them very well.

The film has a very high sleaze factor to it; there’s tons of female nudity and James Hong actually ends up making out with some really beautiful actresses, you kind of feel that it’s one of the reasons why Hong wanted to make this film; so he could make out with a couple of girls? He comes off as a sleazebag on this film, and old geezer trying to hook up with a bunch of younger, way too hot for him girls. The idea is that he drinks these potions to stay young so he can make out with all these hot bomb shells, problem is that the potion really keeps him middle aged, he doesn’t really look young because Hong wasn’t all that young when he made this film to begin with! It’s kind of funny when you think about it. In his defense, Hong does turn in a whacky performance as a really weird character. There’s this scene where everyone is in a costume party and he is dancing with a mask on, weird stuff. We get girls, half naked, chained in some sort of dungeon, I mean, it’s a sleazy film.

Earlier I spoke of the similarities between The Vineyard and Big Trouble in Little China and I just want to point out that they really are numerous! I guess that John Carpenter’s film really made an impression on Hong, let’s see, The Vineyard is all about an aging billionaire who lives an isolated life, but is looking for that perfect wife, a woman who ‘fits the bill’ so he can sacrifice her to his god. This Mayan god is supposed to grant Dr. Po everlasting life if he marries this blonde actress? Who by the way looks a heck of a lot like Kim Cattrall from Big Trouble in Little China! Dr. Po has to take the girl to an altar to sacrifice her, the good guys have to stop the sacrifice…Dr. Po has his future wife in some sort of trance…I mean, does this sound like the plot for Big Trouble in Little China or is it just me? The script is so screwed up that it presenst us with the character of Dr. Po, a Chinese guy who should be worshipping Chinese gods right? But no, the god whom he worships is a Mayan God? But then there’s this other sub plot about an amulet giving him eternal life and the amulet is Chinese in nature? As you can see, the script is messy, don't try and make sense of it, just go with the flow and enjoy this cheesy train wreck.  

Mr. David Lo Pan, I mean, Dr. Ellison Po, drinking his youth potion

The one to blame for this disaster of a flick is actor James Hong who pulled a triple punch on this production by acting, writing and directing the film. Unfortunately he was not very good at either of these tasks. Don’t get me wrong, Hong is a good actor, I’ve seen him do great things in other films, Big Trouble in Little China being one of them, but as evidenced by the way The Vineyard turned out; writing and directing are not his fortes. Still, there’s fun to be had in terms of the bad dialog and situations. Honestly, I love hearing actors pull off these terrible lines of dialog. Speaking of the acting in the film, it is extremely amateurish in nature; NOBODY turns in a believable performance. The film ends in a completely nonsensical fashion, which reminds me, if you ever do watch this movie, just remember that you’ll be asking yourself "Why?" "Why?" "Why?" in the midst of all your giggling, which is really all this movie is good for, so enjoy this slice of cheese, they don’t make them like this anymore!

Rating: 1 ½ out of 5 


Jack Thursby said...

Wow, did not expect James Hong to be so sleazy!

Never heard of this film (where do you find some of this stuff?). Funny that he ripped most of the plot from Big Trouble. Maybe it started off as a sequel script and Carpenter turned him down?

Franco Macabro said...

I don't know what Hong had in mind when he wrote it, but the film feels like Big Trouble in Little China on a shoestring budget, but with zombies.

Franco Macabro said...

By the way Jack, this one is available from Image Entertainments Midnite Madness Series, a collection that is bringing back to dvd some choice obscure b-movies from the 80's like HOUSE, HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, SLUGS, VAMP, TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000 and a couple of other ones, I'm actually quite happy with the stuff they've been putting out. Also, I believe it's available on streaming through NETFLIX.

Jack Thursby said...

Cheers for the heads up about Image Entertainment. Nice to see some 80s gems getting a new lease of life.

Would be very interested in the two House movies but they already released a pretty awesome boxset of all 4 in the UK a few years back.

Franco Macabro said...

That does sound like an awesome boxed set, it even includes the ever elusive part III aka 'Horror Show' which I had a chance of seeing a while back and actually end up digging a lot.

Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, Horror Show is a lot of fun. Doesn't really fit with the rest of the series but it's cool to see Lance Henriksen to go up against Brion James!

Kev D. said...

James Hong groping young actresses made me think of Bill Hinzman in Flesheater... BOTH ARE BAD MOVIES.

Am I crazy or did it feel like he was setting it up for a sequel?

They should do it. They should get Michael Wong to play Jeremy again!

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, the ending does feel like they were setting us up for a sequel, Wong ends up screaming "Wheres my amulet!" while vomiting what looked like oatmeal? LOL.


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