The Vineyard (1989) Review

the vineyard posterStarring, written and directed by James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), The Vineyard is an atypical zombie film about the mad Dr. Po who is known for his wine making. Unbeknownst to the public, Dr. Po is only kept alive by a potion that requires human blood, a vampiric formula of sorts, so he has a host of victims chained up in his mansion to feed his youth. Out in the vineyard however are even more horrors in the form of the restless dead that come out of the ground at night. Although the focus really isn’t the zombies in this little cheesefest, it can still fit along nicely into our Month of the Living Dead.

The film opens on Dr. Po in the middle of what turns out to be a nightmare, and then that pales in comparison to reality when he wakes up and begins to transform into some ancient-looking monstrosity until he is able to drink some of his blood-laced youth serum. It’s at that point that we’re exposed to only a small portion of his dungeon of donors. Then when a group of actors show up thinking they’re auditioning for a movie role, there’s only trouble to come for all of them, but there is one particular actress that Po has his sights set on. And to make matters worse, Jezebel (Popcorn‘s Karen Lorre) seems inexplicably drawn to the mad doctor.

For some mostly undefined reason, the vineyard is also packed with zombies that we are basically left to assume are the restless bodies of former victims. Dr. Po seems to have some limited control over them, just enough to keep them at bay most of the time. Then there’s the room that Po’s henchmen are even afraid to go near.

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James Hong brings the kind of cheese and campiness to this film that Vincent Price brought to most of his, and that’s saying a lot. Without a doubt his enthusiasm for the movie comes out through his character, and injects the kind of charm into The Vineyard that can only be the result of passion and sincerity, no matter how misplaced. “So bad it’s good” comes to mind, but it’s really not that bad of a film. Instead, with some quite impressive makeup effects (particularly in Po’s transformation scenes), it just has that charming quality that has to be experienced to be understood.

The rest of the cast is about what you’d expect from low budget 80’s horror, with the inexplicable attraction between Karen Lorre’s character and Hong’s character, the various bodyguards and henchmen that are master fighters until that point that the good guys really need to get through, and then the expendable cast of oh-so-80’s visitors that make up the bodycount. The zombies aren’t anything new, but there’s a hint of a Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things influence in a couple of them.

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The Vineyard packs just about everything but the kitchen sink into a fairly goofy 95 minutes, from voodoo to vampirism, zombies and transformation. It’s an appropriate demonstration of the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”. It all amounts to good fun, and there’s plenty to enjoy, but none of the elements are carried out to their fullest potential. Still, those looking for a brainless, entertaining watch with just the right amount of zombie in this age of over-zombification, it’s definitely an enjoyable film, and available on Netflix instant at the moment. So kick off the Month of the Living Dead with a trip to the vineyard.

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