The Vineyard, 1989
Directed by James Hong and William Rice
Starring James Hong, Karen Witter and Michael Wong
Crackpot scientist and celebrated winemaker Dr. Elson Po has made the ultimate discovery: the secret to everlasting life. As with all good things, however, there’s an inevitable downside; and a bunch of good-looking and horny youngsters, invited to Dr Po’s island under the premise of an “audition”, are about to find out the hard way.
Featuring black magic, voodoo, a crazy long-living scientist and an island of shuffling zombies controlled by his even longer-living mother, The Vineyard is just as bonkers as it sounds, but that’s all it really has to work on.
Writer, director and star James Hong plays Doctor Po, a brilliant scientist who is also a world renowned wine maker. When a group of “horny” teenagers (their words, not mine) come on to the island to audition for a film the doctor plans on making, they are suddenly caught in his web of evil – none more so that Jezebel, who has fallen for the Doctor’s charms as he plans to use her to capture the eternal life he seeks.
While the plot isn’t all that original or even clever, The Vineyard excels in entertainment thanks to Hong’s wonderful over-the-top performance. He revels in playing the mad scientist and those who remember his wonderful turn as Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China will know that Hong can bring the right level of eccentricity to a character. He is a wonderful screen presence and he steals every frame from his supporting cast who, sadly, cannot quite keep up with him.
Typical for a movie of the time and genre, The Vineyard is not blessed with the best cast of actors. Karen Witter is perfectly acceptable as Jezebel, but Michael Wong (in his only acting role) is thoroughly unconvincing as the hero Jeremy. His crowning moments of bad acting are either when he is “on fire” or when he discovers that Po won an award long before his age would allow, “it must be his father” he states blandly. The rest of the cast of “teenagers” are simple cannon fodder, marked for death before they even get off the boat. Hard to expect anything else from a movie made in 1989.
I wouldn’t say that The Vineyard is particularly scary but then I’m not sure it’s ever trying to be. It does have some pretty unsettling scenes (especially if you’re adverse to spiders) but gore hounds may be disappointed to see a lack of blood on offer. However the film does deliver on really impressive practical effects and while you could argue that the 80s lightning effects look dated now, you can’t argue that the make-up work on Po and the zombies is really good.
Although the movie does promise the appearance of zombies, and it does deliver on them, zombie movie fans might be annoyed to see that they are reserved for only the last few moments of the runtime and even then they are used as second fiddle to the rest of the plot. However, the shot of them coming out from under the earth is one of the better visuals of the movie and is certainly better than a lot of moments from other movies of the genre.
It’s hard to recommend The Vineyard to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the genre. It has its moments but for the most part it’s pretty by the numbers. However if you are into your wacky tongue in cheek horror movies then you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. It’s not the best of its ilk by any stretch of the imagination, but James Hong’s bombastic performance will easily carry you through to the final credits.
Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Month in Review show for Flickering Myth’s Podcast Network. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.