This is the eleventh in a series of 'Netflix streaming roulette' reviews. Austin horror examiner Michael Taylor reviews the first horror(ish) movie off 'Netflix' streaming that he's never seen before. Wish him luck.
James Hong isn't a household name, but odds are you've seen his acting work. He was the Replicant eye designer in "Blade Runner", the evil Lo Pan in John Carpenter's "Big Trouble In Little China" and the clueless Maître d' in the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant."
The actor stepped up front in center for 1989's "The Vineyard", a film where he served as both lead actor and director. And the result is a film so hard to discern (vanity project? Sincere horror film gone wrong? A total goof?) that it ultimately succeeds in entertainment against all odds.
Hong plays Dr. Elson Po, who proves quite the multi-tasker. He's a winemaker, mad scientist, supernatural monster and movie producer all-in-one.
Po is also a sadist, who seduces then traps his female victims, draining them of their life so that he can attain eternal youth.
But Po's dastardly deeds go in so many opposite and conflicting directions, that confusion for the viewer sets in almost immediately. In addition to being some sort of perverted, soul-sucking vampire, he also maintains youth through a jade amulet. But wait there's more; he appears to have some sort of pact for immortality through a Mayan god, and his Mexican vineyard holds the power to reanimate the dead.
It's this ADD, throw everything against the wall and see what sticks approach that ultimately creates more laughter than suspense. And with Hong's character engaging in several gratuitous sex scenes, it ultimately reeks of a vanity project gone awry.
The bulk of the storyline comes into play when Po hosts a weekend getaway for a group of intended victims who think they'll be in his "wine-making film." The details given on the project (fittingly) make little sense at all, and they're lined up like pigs to to a truly bizarre slaughter.
From here, the movie's crazy quilt chemistry proves difficult to resist. A bizarre dinner party scenario becomes surreal through its incoherence, ultimately succeeding in train-wreck appeal. Why is a partygoer inexplicably dressed in drag? And why does he say a cake "tastes like spiders"? Who knows, although that should ultimately be the film's tag line, as it perfectly fits its goofy spirit.
But the lack of a proper narrative ultimately doesn't matter as the plot unravels at such a rapid pace that it builds to a completely nonsensical conclusion.
While Hong's directing career unsurprisingly stalled out, you have to give him credit for creating a movie that is hysterically baffling. It's cinematic junk food of the first order, and needs to be reclaimed as a so-bad-it's great cult classic. It hasn't aged like a fine wine, but you'll surely feel like you've had one too many as the ending credits roll.
"The Vineyard" is Non Rated but contains graphic violence and nudity. It runs an hour and 33 minutes and currently airs on Netflix Streaming.