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Popcorn Fall

Popcorn Pictures

Reviewing the best (and worst) of horror, sci-fi and fantasy since 2000

  • Andrew Smith

The Vineyard (1989)

"An island of death fuelled 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 insanity that is 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!

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 kidnapping travellers in a Hostel film, a kung-fu fight out of 70s 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. 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 messy 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.

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.


Final Verdict

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.


The Vineyard

Director(s): James Hong, William Rice

Writer(s): Harry Mok (story by), James Hong (story & screenplay by), Douglas Kondo (writer), James Marlowe (writer)

Actor(s): James Hong, Karen Lorre, Michael Wong, Lissa Zappardino, Cheryl Madsen, Cheryl Lawson, Rue Douglas

Duration: 99 mins


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