Color, 1989, 95m.
Directed by James Hong
Starring James Hong, Karen Witter, Michael Wong, Lars Wangberg
Arrow, Boulevard (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Image, Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

The Vineyard

Ten years after helming the strange drive-in film Teen Lust, busy actor James Hong returned The Vineyardto the director's chair for an unexpected project: The Vineyard, a monster mash barely released in theaters but stocked in seemingly every video store in America courtesy of New World, still at the height of their horror phase after the success of Hellraiser. Based on the poster art and the basic plot, The Vineyard seems like an Americanized version of the outlandish creature features from Hong Kong (especially Shaw Brothers) with zombies and bugs and sexy women all thrown together with lots of grotesque makeup and zany plot twists. That's partially what audiences actually got, though it also has a strange, druggy California flavor as well that makes the film often seem like it's being beamed in from another planet.

Hong also stars here as Dr. Elson Po (which should give Kung Fu Panda fans a chuckle), a wine maker and mad scientist who creates his special vino on his own personal island -- which is also populated by some zombies lurking in the bushes and scantily clad women chained in the basement. Po is actually much older than he appears thanks to a special jade amulet he's developed to grant immortality, The Vineyardbut that process also requires a steady stream of bloody sacrifices.

Enter a bunch of aspiring actors he treats to a masquerade party and a promise of potential wealth and fame, though of course he really intends to milk them for their plasma when he isn't eyeballing the sexiest starlets (including Playboy centerfold and Popcorn actress Witter). Then there's Jeremy (Wong), the bespectacled reporter who's trying to find out what's really going on in Po's island garden of horrific delights.The Vineyard

It's hard to believe a film this ramshackle actually received any kind of mainstream theatrical distribution, but that was the late '80s for you. Hong was never one for pacing or normal story structure based on his two prior films, and that still holds true here as one event lurches to another seemingly on a whim. Zombie attack? Sure! Screaming latex old age monsters? Why not! Gratuitous T&A? Of course!

Whether the end result actually works will be mostly a matter of personal taste, but it's safe to say that the later at night you view this, the more receptive you'll be to its charms. (A glass or four of wine probably wouldn't hurt either.) In a fun tip of the The Vineyardhat to Asian horror, you'll get some bug trauma as well courtesy of some well-placed worms and maggots as well as a memorable bathroom spider scene that tries to give The Believers a run for its money.

As with other New World titles like Vamp and Dead End Drive-In, The Vineyard has remained steadily available on DVD in both the US and the UK since it first debuted from Anchor Bay and Boulevard respectively in the early '00s. The anamorphic transfer was very colorful and pleasant for the time and still holds up well, also serving as the source for a bare bones 2010 reissue from Image Entertainment and the 2013 version from Arrow, bearing the brand of their DVD-only Arrowdrome line. Also included in that release are the theatrical trailer (which is very, very New World) and a liner notes booklet by Calum Waddell, which was not available with the screening copy but should make for fascinating reading.

Reviewed on June 6, 2013.