THE VINEYARD (1989) Reviews and overview

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The Vineyard is a 1989 American-Canadian horror feature film written by James Marlowe and Douglas Kondo and directed by James Hong and William “Bill” Rice. The movie stars James Hong, (R.I.P.D.; Shadowzone; Destination Inner Space) Michael Wong, Sherri Ball and Karen Witter.

New releases:

In the USA, Vinegar Syndrome released The Vineyard as a region free Blu-ray + DVD combo on September 24th 2019.
Newly scanned and restored in 4K from its 35mm original camera negative
“Welcome to the Vineyard” – a brand new interview with director/actor James Hong and producer/actor Harry Mok
“Zombies From San Jose” – a brand new interview with co-director William Rice
“Sacred Earth and Restless Souls” – a brand new interview with cinematographer John Dirlam
Original theatrical trailer
Reversible cover artwork
English SDH subtitles

In the UK, 88 Films also released the film on September 24th 2019 from the same 4K restoration.


Doctor Elson Po is one of the world’s most famous wine growers. He has a magic potion which has kept him handsome and alive during the centuries. However, lately, the magic which rejuvenates him seem to be less and less effective.

As a side project, he makes movies and invites a group of young, aspiring actors to his private island for a party, believing that the young, handsome actress Jezebel can be his new source of life…

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There are regular human zombies in The Vineyard, as part of the film’s admirable ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to horror narrative, where coherence and plot development are tossed away like the distractions they are. There’s no real explanation for the zombies, so it’s best to simply sit back and accept them as simply another mad distraction in this delirious, hilariously inept movie that proves to be tremendous fun – admittedly, for all the wrong reasons.

Legendary character actor James Hong takes a rare leading role here and also co-writes and directs. Perhaps this is why his character gets to grope a lingerie-clad young lady before getting it on in the opening minutes, and why he keeps a dungeon full of semi-dressed, chained up women for his vague experiments – after all, why not write yourself a plumb role like that?

Hong is Doctor Elson Po, who produces top-rate wine on his private island and also dabbles in film production – or so he claims. His movie-making is actually a scam to lure young actors – here represented by several planks of wood and a girl who looks like she stumbled into the film en route to a Motley Crue video shoot – to the island where he can use them in curious Mayan rituals that restore his youth.

Note here that Hong was sixty years old when this film was made, so the youth-restoring powers of his rituals seem rather limited. It’s especially odd, as in a flashback we see him as a child stealing the magic amulet needed to make his magic formula of blood, wine and gibberish to work, so we can only assume that he’s put it in a drawer for the next fifty years and forgot about it – oh, how he must have kicked himself.

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Anyway, randy Doctor Po decides that glam metal star lookalike Karen Witter (playing, would you believe, ‘Jezebel Fairchild’) is his perfect woman and decides to marry her in some arcane ceremony while chaining up most of her friends. Only hipster glasses-wearing bookworm Jeremy (Michael Wong) guesses the truth, and teaming with a couple of other friends, sets out to defeat Po and his army of kung fu fighting henchmen.

The Vineyard is so gleefully ridiculous that you can’t help but enjoy it. Nothing really makes sense – it’s never really explained what part the dungeon full of people (and at one point it’s more rammed that half the gigs I’ve been to!) actually plays in the youth-restoring ritual, or even where the wine-making really fits in.

The zombies seem an afterthought, and other weird moments, like a girl coughing up spiders and bugs, seem thrown in just to keep the audience from nodding off. Hong aside, the acting is shockingly poor, though no one is helped by the ludicrous dialogue they are given. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could do better with decent dialogue though, given their astonishing inability to emote. And of course, being 1989, the film is full of yuppie hair, muscle shirts and other fashion faux pas.

But all this actually makes the film more entertaining – the bad actors, bad dialogue, lunatic moments and piss-poor special effects combine to make something that is compulsively fun to watch.

And Hong seems under no illusions that he is making art here – instead, he positively revels in the exploitative nature of the film. The luckless actress – Lissa Zappardino – playing his unfaithful wife spend the entire film in skimpy lingerie (apart from her scenes sans clothes entirely) and much of it chained in the dungeon, while Witter also has to spend a lot of time in silk bed wear – no one in this film goes for frumpy pyjamas.

The film is surprising – or not, given the era – light on bloodletting, yet the sleaze factor is high, there are cheesy optical effects and only slightly less cheesy old age make-ups, a brain-curdling synth score (and numbing closing credits song) and a general tackiness that is just irresistible. And to make things even more wrong, Arrow Video’s new disc looks absolutely gorgeous. Apparently, you can polish a turd.

So, no masterpiece certainly. Yet The Vineyard is wonderfully entertaining, albeit not for the reasons intended.

David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA


Buy DVD:

Other reviews:

“Even with the overall mess that is The Vineyard, Hong contributes a “Lo Pan”-quality performance, which is my way of saying he’s good. Combined with the fact that the rest of the cast is so incredibly lifeless and stiff, Hong comes out looking like an Olivier-class thespian … It’s just that Hong’s presence alone is not enough to rescue The Vineyard from the land of sub-standard B-movie horror.” Digitally Obsessed


“There are a few amazing 80’s dance party scenes […] It’s all hugely entertaining in its awfulness, but also kind of worrying that it seems to have been made without a hint of irony.” Trash Flavoured Trash Movies

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Choice dialogue:

Warrior: “Mr Po thinks you should take some time off… permanently!”

Doctor Elson Po: “Kill the eunuch!”

Brian Whitman: “They taste like spiders!”

Cast and characters:

James Hong … Doctor Elson Po
Karen Lorre … Jezebel Fairchild (as Karen Witter)
Michael Wong … Jeremy Young
Lars Wanberg … Lucas Carroll (as Lars Wangberg)
Cheryl Madsen … Nancy Stone
Cheryl Lawson … Claudia Lee
Rue Douglas … Brad Fuller
Sean P. Donahue … Brian Whitman
Sherri Ball … Celeste Jones
Karl-Heinz Teuber … Paul Edmonds
Ruth Lin … Lois
Harry Mok … Warrior (as Michael Quion)
Lissa Zappardino … Tina Po
Mark De Alessandro … Mark (Mechanic)
Vivian Lee … Young / Old mother Po

Filming locations:

Dunsmuir House & Gardens – 2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, California
Fortino Winery – 4525 Hecker Pass Highway, Gilroy, California
Guglielmo Winery – 1480 E. Main Avenue, Morgan Hill, California

Technical details:

95 minutes
Audio: Ultra Stereo
Aspect ratio: 1.78: 1



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