DVD Review: The Vineyard (1989)

The Vineyard DVD CoverDistributor: ArrowDrome

BBFC Classification: 18

Directors: James Hong, Bill Rice

Starring: James Hong, Karen Witter, Michael Wong, Cheryl Madsen, Sean P. Donahue

The Vineyard isn’t a title that immediately springs to mind when one thinks about ’80’s horror but veteran actor James Hong’s third directorial feature is really something of a last hurrah for horror as the end of the decade approached and the fashion was veering away from zombies, vampires and slashers and moving towards a darker, more serious direction. However, as Freddy and Jason kept coming back to diminishing returns there were still one or two films that slipped through the net and found an audience on VHS, and The Vineyard was one of them.

Mad scientist and winemaker Dr. Po (Hong) has invited several youngsters to his island under the pretence of holding a movie audition. What he’s really after are fresh young victims so he can preserve his life with his special potion, as Po is actually over 500 years old but his regular source of eternal life is proving less effective than it used to be. Amongst the group is the beautiful Jezebel (Karen Witter) whom Po decides to take for his bride, whilst the other women are chained up in his dungeon and the men left to wonder the vineyard as zombies… don’t ask why, they just are.

Despite it being a straight-up horror film, The Vineyard will also probably find favour amongst fans of martial arts fantasy films like Big Trouble in Little China and The Golden Child (which also both star James Hong) as it has the same wacky flavour that made those films so enjoyable. James Hong is always a fun presence whatever film he’s in and, like with all of his roles, it’s quite difficult to work out whether he’s being deliberately comical or not, especially in the love scenes early on with his sexy young wife. Not that’s it’s a big problem as it sets the right tone for this film but first time viewers used to grittier and more serious horror films may not appreciate the lightheartedness quite as much.

But lightheartedness doesn’t mean slapstick and The Vineyard doesn’t veer off into overly silly territory quite as much as it could have done, which is probably a good thing. The martial arts stuff is kept to a minimum, i.e. when Po’s henchmen need to exact revenge on somebody, and the film doesn’t rely on too many special effects, although that dodgy ’80’s electrical effect is used a couple of times but they weren’t to know the film would get a digital clean-up a couple of decades later.

Overall, The Vineyard won’t change your life and it would be an exaggeration to say it’s an essential watch but it is enjoyable enough for the 90 minutes it’s on and if you have a taste for 1980’s horror then it is certainly one to add to the list. Naturally the level of acting talent isn’t amazing but there’s no one person who lets it down as the group of horny youngsters are all fairly irritating, fitting the less-than-deadly-serious tone of the film. There is also loads of gratuitous sex and nudity to go alongside the blood and zombie action, and although it actually makes very little narrative sense The Vineyard is entertaining enough and makes another fine addition to Arrow Films’ ArrowDrome collection.

The Vineyard

Special Features: Trailer, collector’s booklet.

UK Release Date: 10th June 2013

Arrow Films – Website

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