We all have our horror stories involving wine right? I know I do. There was that time when…. yeah actually best not to share that one right here. How about horror films about wine though, that puts a whole new picture on things? Naturally the first thing you should think of is that classic tale of terror ‘The Cask Of Amontillado’ by Edgar Allen Poe; an ode concerning revenge, fortified wine and premature internment. What else is there though apart from that most amusing clip of a woman treading grapes and falling out the treading receptacle causing great pain which over 100,1000 of us have cruelly laughed at on You Tube? Those of you well versed in your horror films are knowingly thinking “well what about” and indeed you are quite right for the classic Jean Rollin 1978 feature ‘Les Raisins des Les Mortes’ (The Grapes Of Death aka Pesticide) should have been the last such dabbling in tales of the vine. Well unless anyone wants to remind me of an obscurity that has escaped me then it would have been if it were not for James Hong’s bargain bin bottle of plonk The Vineyard 1989.
James Hong is known as the man of a thousand faces and he certainly wears a few of these as Doctor Po in this feature that he both starred in and directed. If you were trying to place that face and that name, well the IMDB lists the now 84 year old (and still working) actor as having been in no less than 380 titles! Blade Runner and Big Troubles In Little China may well be two of his best known movies but he starred in many a TV programme from The Bionic Woman to Falcon Crest, Dynasty and The Big Bang Theory and films as diverse as Tango And Cash through to Kung Fu Panda. He only directed four films though, the one under consideration, Police Girls Academy aka Teen Lust 1979 and Singapore Sling starring Shannon Tweed 1999 among them. Yes indeed you are probably right thinking that there is a reason that he did so much more in front of the camera than behind it!
You possibly remember The Vineyard from video rental days via New Line but it has been picked up by Arrow’s fleapit Arrowdrome imprint here for a whole new generation and those of us with an air of nostalgia reminiscing and wanting to see if the film really was that bad. Well it is basically but it is one of those so bad its good films, so don’t necessarily let that put you off.
The plot involves Dr Po and his everlasting quest for everlasting life. He lives on a lovely island in a mansion and makes award winning wine, the sort of stuff that the yuppies around the time this was made would have no problem spending a fortune on a bottle. The wine has sinister secrets behind it that add to the longevity of its maker and of course human blood and cod Eastern mysticism are the root of all the evil going on. If he does not get the elixir in time then he ages to his natural life span which is delivered in scenes that must have been uncomfortable to recreate in the makeup chair for the actor as well as amusing in the way they are backed up by bone cracking sound effects.
Of course we need a bunch of victims to come to this Moreau like island, cue an evil camp producer taking a bunch of wannabe hunky stars and glamorous starlets over in the premise of them starring in a film which Dr Po also handily makes. The cast are as one would expect very annoying and with scenes of dancing terribly to awful disco music one immediately sees that unlike a bottle of wine that ages well over time, the film has not. You have to laugh though as they are picked off one by one; there is the muscle guy who has a neck thicker than George Corpsegrinder Fisher’s, which is perfect for both voodoo acupuncture and a bloody big chopper. Then there is the guy with the shortest above navel gym shirt ever seen, who survives for far too long (unlike his shirt) and he really deserved to get the chop (just like his shirt) first! Of course all eyes are on the ladies and naturally to make the film have an air of authority it was necessary to bung a Playbird playmate in as a main star and Karen Witter does a fine vacuous eye candy job as Jezebel (oh please) in a part that naturally sees her as Dr Po’s main goal in his evil plans.
Dr Po is not all alone and he needs some back up which also thankfully helps spur the action on. This is found in the form of his martial (piss) artist henchmen, some of whom look like they are getting their first acting job since Enter The Dragon. They have plenty to do including dispatching anyone who gets in the way and looking after a menagerie of nubile and scantily clad victims. As far as the vineyard itself is concerned there are a bunch of nasty things buried in the ground and when they rise they don’t look all that grape.
I don’t want to w(h)ine about the film too much; it is good leave your brain and drink a few bottles of cheap plonk movie to watch. The sexual tension simmers and although there is lots of suggestion of T & A but actual boobage count is few and far between, as for the gore it really does lack claret. There are going to be no mentions of great acting, camera technique or use of skilful colouring here as well…. there basically were none. Like a fine bottle of wine though you need some good cheese to get the most out of it and believe you me there is plenty of that on display here but at least the film is not completely bottom of the barrel.
Believe it or not philosophical thoughts did occur to me whilst watching this and these were about the obsession with wine and aging that the film has as its central plot. What about all those old rock stars that are now making their own wine, I wondered? Have they found the secret and is it keeping them forever young? I think all one needs to do is take a look at Gene Simmons for an answer to that and any deeper thought on this and the film as a whole is only going to leave one with a serious hangover.
(Your sommelier has been Pete Woods please tip generously)