HCF REWIND NO. 133: THE VINEYARD 
AVAILABLE ON DVD: Now
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
REVIEWED DY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Dr. Elson Po is a world famous wine maker, people paying up to $50,000 a bottle. He is actually several centuries old but drinks a magic potion which keeps him alive and restores some of his youth. Unfortunately he needs human bodies to make the potion from. He invites Jezebel, an actress, to his island to shoot a film, saying she can bring some friends with her. He throws a party for them all, but one of the guests, Jeremy, is convinced that there is something strange about Po, and another, Nancy, spots a corpse buried in the vineyard sticking out of the ground with his head and hand showing….
I used to be a total video freak, and during my long period of unemployment I would constantly be hiring videos. When I had gone through all the films of interest, which would include most of the horror films, in my local shop, I didn’t worry, because there were three others nearby. One film I distinctly remember picking up quite a few times, but never actually hiring, was The Vineyard. I suppose the problem was I had limited funds so some videos always ended up back on the shelf. Well hurray, I’ve finally got to see The Vineyard courtesy of Arrow films, and it’s an unashamedly trashy horror flick which absolutely screams the ‘80’s. It’s a bit of a mess to be honest, but that doesn’t really matter too much when the film obviously isn’t intended to be taken seriously. It’s not an out-and out comedy, but any film which boasts exchanges like the following clearly has some of its tongue in its cheek.
I hate to tell you but there’s no string for that bow
I know that Nancy, I know that. Why do you think I haven’t fired it yet?
The main reason I think The Vineyard has reached cult status is that it gives James Hong a rare starring role. He is well known to film fans for memorable appearances in films like Big Trouble In Little China, Blade Runner and Chinatown. Most of his 500 film and TV roles are small but usually of note and certainly of great variety even if there’s never any mistaking his distinct voice. Even in his 80’s his career is still going strong, a career which began with dubbing characters in Asian movies , most notably the two main leads [well, the human ones] in Godzilla, King of The Monsters, the US re-cut of Godzilla. Dr. Elson Po is a part which is perfect for Hong. The guy is, to put it bluntly, a truly evil bastard, albeit one with torment and pain inside him, and doesn’t even seem to be a nice guy to work for considering the way he bosses his assistants about. A magician, he’s able to kill from a great distance with ease, and Hong suggests the frightening power of this character very well, as well as somehow making it believable that he is hundreds of years old.
Now Hong also co-wrote and directed this film, which is probably why right at the beginning, the sixty year old actor has a love scene with a woman a third of his age. Typical movie sexism maybe, but it I was directing a film I was in and I was that age, I might very well do the same. In any case, he is also shown to periodically age several hundred years, much like The Man Who Could Cheat Death [which seems to have informed this film in a few ways], Countess Dracula, and many other foolish but rather tragic characters who are able to keep themselves young, but have to take lives in order to do it. Po keeps a load of people chained in the basement so he can come and take their blood to use for his rejuvenating potion, but there are also a load of zombies buried in the earth, corpses that are still moving and that you just know are going to eventually rise up out of the ground. I think the idea is that once Po has taken all the blood he can from someone, that person is buried, and this fertilises the vineyard, but why still alive? The zombies actually feature in few scenes, but their resurrection is quite atmospheric. Sadly, they sport make-up which looks very rushed, and in fact Hong’s make-up for when he is really old is unconvincing and almost laughable, though I suppose we don’t know entirely what a 300 year old-plus gentleman who hasn’t been buried looks like.
The film very quickly manoeuvres its young victims-to-be into the place where they will be in danger, and we have already seen Po take a brutal revenge on a guy messing with his girlfriend. The pacing is really fast here, though the downfall of course is that we don’t really get to know any of these people very well. There’s an odd party scene where Po and his assistants wear Chinese ceremonial masks to receive their guests and Po prances about dancing weirdly, then we get into the horror [well, I say horror, but this isn’t a scary film really and doesn’t seem much like it’s trying to be one]. The guests start to be killed off in some quite unusual ways which show some invention at work, Po’s magic enabling him to make spiders [a good Deadly Blessing moment here] and flies go all over someone’s face, or needles go through a neck. There’s a bit of gore [though not really enough to warrant an ’18’rating these days], quite a bit of violent fighting, a rather prettily flashback, and some random additions to the story including an old woman locked in a room to keep the film from ever getting dull, but it ends up being more about reincarnation than anything else, and actually ends up being remarkably similar to the 1932 The Mummy. Then again, I couldn’t stop thinking of Big Trouble In Little China either, right down to a girl who looks very much like Kim Cattrall.
It’s all rather confused, and attempts to explain matters, plus at least one daft revelation that makes no sense at all, usually just cause more confusion. While overall the script is not really a good job, it does attempt to bring in elements of Chinese culture which are not often seen in films of this type, while Po’s laboratory is a strange and interesting mixture of the old and the new, with things like a Chinese statue in amongst all the typical stuff you would expect to see. Effort has been made to make the island setting quite beautiful, courtesy of John Dirlam’s rather lush photography. Then there’s Paul Francis Witt’s music, which alternates typical moody synthesiser doodling with some of the cheesiest 80’s style rock music you’ll ever likely to hear. The acting except for Hong, is poor, though the dialogue often isn’t much cop either, and I lost count of the number of times “Jezebel” was said.
As you may have realised, The Vineyard is not a good film, its biggest problem I think stemming from the fact that in starring, directing and so-writing, Hong seems to have taken on too much, and that’s he’s only really good at one of the three jobs he gave himself. His other directorial credits are an ‘erotic’ thriller and a sex comedy, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s not much of a film-maker. Yet, despite its many flaws, I still rather enjoyed The Vineyard, as one can enjoy bad movies, and much as I like this kind of film, it is a bad movie really. But it’s certainly a fun one, and a fun bad movie is often worth two dull good ones in my book. I recommend that you buy one or even two bottles of really cheap vino to enjoy with it.