Vineyard, The (1989)

The Vineyard (1989)

An island of death fueled by the blood of its victims.

Dr Elson Po is a master winemaker whose bottles sell for thousands of dollars the world over but he hides a deadly secret. In order to stay young, Po uses human blood to make the wine. So when a group of aspiring actors and actresses head to his island home to audition for his new wine-making film, Po sees an opportunity to replenish his stocks.

 

Only in the 80s! That’s all I can about the insane The Vineyard, a bizarre ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ cheese fest which should have ticked a lot of cult classic boxes but ends up being a bit of a yawner. Part Motel Hell, part Hostel and part Big Trouble in Little China is the best way I can sum up The Vineyard to anyone who has never heard of it. It’s a cornucopia of ideas, none of which have any real ability to gel.

Right off the bat, you get the sense that The Vineyard has lots of promise up its sleeve. It’s got a sleazy porn vibe, with a soft focus appearance and a screenplay fuelled by nubile young women, wine and low budget production values. But despite the promises of a gratuitous exploitation romp, The Vineyard fails to live up to its appearance. Barely a drop of blood is spilled on the screen, with a castration happening off-screen, various zombie moments in the finale escaping from the sight of the camera and a decapitation not really living up to its premise. The Vineyard is definitely a film that looks and sounds a lot worse than it ends up, which is a bit of a shame!

Violence is quite timid and despite Po having a basement full of chained-up beauties that he needs to drain blood from, the resulting scenes are sadly watered-down. Even the fact that they’re chained-up beauties is rarely explored – Po appears a bit of a lecherous old man but there’s a big void in the T&A column. This is a crime, especially given that Karen Witter, a former Playboy Playmate, stars as the actress who Po wants to turn into his new bride. She is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen but I’d get more bang for my buck by buying the old edition of the magazine instead of watching this. She’s not a great actress but I’m guessing her pay cheque called for her to stand there and look sizzling and that’s what she does.

James Hong is a character actor with a huge array of films under his belt though to visitors on this site he’s most likely going to be remembered as David Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China. Hong stars, writes and directs here and it’s clear that the guy had too much to juggle at once. The story is simplistic enough to work but the screenplay is all over the place, throwing in everything from women puking out spiders in bathroom sinks, to Chinese black magic, an ancient hag living in his attic, burly bodyguards who’d be better off in a Hostel film, a kung-fu fight out of Hong Kong cinema, and a zombie army lifted straight out of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. You never quite know where the film is going to head next. Just expect plenty of 80s light-show special effects.

Acting-wise, Hong channels plenty of his ‘kooky wizened Asian guy’ persona from Big Trouble in Little China in this one. As Dr Elson Po, he brings the same qualities to the table, being able to emote pretty well underneath layers of old man prosthetics with plenty of shrill screams and high-pitch ramblings. He goes over-the-top from the first scene but it works because everything around him is flat and lifeless. If I was sceptical, I’d say Hong had purposely made the film this way to give himself a platform with which to showcase his considerable ability.

The script never makes it clear why Po needs blood to remain immortal nor quite how the amulet works – basically everything he does in the film! Sometime it’s just best to go with the flow and take it for granted that things happen the way they do. With randomly overlong kung-fu fights between two minor characters, impromptu dance sequences with Hong and co. at a bizarre masquerade ball, characters appearing and disappearing for large swathes of the film……there’s just much going on that I wonder whether the film took a detour in the post-production process and was hacked to bits for whatever reason. The Vineyard would never have made a great film if it wasn’t so haphazard but at least it would have been a bit more watchable.

 

The Vineyard is an unhealthy dose of campy 80s low budget horror cheese which just has too much wrong with it to enjoy. The film goes off in dozens of directions at once and most lead to pointless time-filling detours. Don’t take it seriously and you might enjoy the randomness of it but that’s the only fun you’ll have.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Crocodile (1980)

Crocodile (1980)

From The Slimy Depths Of The Ocean… Nature Explodes With Savage Fury!

Dr Akom is a scientist whose family is all attacked and killed by a giant crocodile that is terrorising a Thai village. After a university professor explains to him that the crocodile is a result of atomic testing, Akom enlists the help of local fisherman Tanaka to help him track and kill the beast. All the while, the local authorities are trying to do their bit to stop the crocodile which is continuing to destroy villages.

 

A Thai horror film? Now there’s a first for me. And it’ll be a last if Crocodile is anything to go by. I should point out early on that this is an American release of a film called Chorakhe and has been butchered to smithereens by the distributors, edited into oblivion and given a terrible dubbing job to boot. However, this mess leaves little desire for me to actually track down the original release and see if it is any better. Flipping between wanting to copy Jaws and the apparent desire of director Sompote Sands to make a Godzilla-like monster flick, Crocodile will try the patience of even the most ardent creature feature fan.

Crocodile makes some of the shameless Italian exploitation films of the 80s look good. I don’t like using the term incompetent as anyone who makes a film has at least had the opportunity to do so as opposed to an armchair critic like myself. But there is a basic level of incompetence to the whole thing – an incompetence that can be partly blamed on the bargain bin budget. For a start, the film looks like it’s been shot on second-hand film that someone else has already used a few hundred times. It’s washed out, it’s fuzzy, and it’s not focused. Coupled with the really bad dubbing job that it has been lumbered with, there’s not much for the eyes or ears to feast upon. It doesn’t matter how good a film may be, if it physically looks like it’s been dragged from the drain, then it has lost the battle before it begins.

But that would be too easy to dismiss Crocodile for those reasons. The actual content of the film is just as mind-numbingly appalling. Though it runs for ninety minutes, sitting through five is a struggle and a half. Starting with a Godzilla-like story about the crocodile rampaging through fishing villages, Crocodile limps from scene to scene with as much energy as a drained battery. There’s a complete lack of storyline – don’t let the synopsis fool you as I did my best to reword the blurb on the back of the box. I’m not even sure whether everything that it says in the synopsis actually happens because there’s little dialogue and I had no idea who everyone was supposed to be and what was supposed to be happening. Unsurprisingly, there is no credited writer. Either the person wanted to remain anonymous or there simply wasn’t one – both sound plausible.

I wasn’t expecting great things from the actual crocodile so I’m glad that I wasn’t surprised. Frequent use of miniature sets is obvious when you’ve got a real crocodile scurrying around on them or swimming in a few feet of water along a feeble river set that has been built in someone’s bath tub. There’s croc stock footage too, badly integrated into the film and passed off as original material. The croc changes size and shape in every scene but when it has been brought to life with so many different techniques it was always going to be impossible to maintain consistency. The scenes of it attacking the villages look familiar especially after you realise that it’s the same scene (the same villagers desperately trying to escape gives it away) which has just been cut up a few times across the film.

The problem isn’t so much that the effects are terrible (which they are truly), it’s that the film is so badly edited that it’s impossible to even get a good look to see how bad things are. Scenes are woefully shot, not properly framed, badly lit and just overly incoherent. This isn’t just the crocodile scenes but everything. When the croc attacks, the scenes are so frenetically edited that literally every new frame of footage is a different shot. Everything looks so murky that it’s hopeless to even try and guess what’s going on.

The final third borrows wholesomely from Jaws, as a group of men set off on board a boat to kill the crocodile including the salty sea dog with a personal grudge against the crocodile and the young upstart who wants to make a name for himself. Despite the plagiarising, Crocodile can’t even muster a decent moment during this part of the film and actually ends with no clear resolution – has the beast been overcome and did the hero survive? If someone knows, please tell me because the film ends abruptly. The Jaws-like theme music which signals the crocodile’s presence can be overlooked given how pretty much every killer shark/crocodile flick has featured a similar one since.

I could single out numerous sequences from Crocodile which would have you rolling with unintentional laughter. But you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the shot of a pair of divers carrying along a giant underwater bear trap in an attempt to capture the crocodile. On a list of one hundred ways to kill a crocodile, this would not come anywhere near the top. The reason I highlight this sequence out of many is just the absurdity of the film. It’s not once played for laughs and takes everything seriously yet cheese like this just cries out for a light-hearted tough. Look at Alligator to see how easy it is to bring a more comic touch to such material.

 

The American Humane Association rated Crocodile as unacceptable due to the footage of a real crocodile being slashed to death with a knife. I’d have just rated it as unacceptable due to how woeful it is. Has to be a contender for one of the worst films ever made and definitely one of the worst to come out of Thailand.

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆