All at once a full-stop cynical exploitation flick and a totally singular labor of love, “The Vineyard,” from noted character actor James Hong (Lo Pan in “Big Trouble In Little China,” Cassandra’s dad in “Wayne’s World 2,” and the “Cartwright four?” guy in the Chinese restaurant episode of “Seinfeld”), who co-directs, co-writes, and stars in this late ’80s horror-sleaze sleeper, is about a doctor and winemaker and movie producer and immortal (Hong) who handles some kind of amulet and uses a magic elixir and prays to a couple of ancient gods to stay alive forever. He also produces movies and makes wine at his estate and traps women there and uses their blood to seemingly stay young, or that’s his new scheme when previous schemes stop working. “Seemingly” because the connections between all the elements of the story—a quest for immortality, a torture chamber for women, wine-making, filmmaking—aren’t ever entirely clear. Oh and also there are zombies straight out of Fulci’s “The Beyond” for a few minutes and a kung-fu fight straight out of “Miami Connection.” But again, how this all ties to Hong’s lame Dr. Moreau-meets-Higgins-from-“Magnum P.I.” swag is never quite clear and probably beside the point.
What the point is, well, that’s up to you, and at this one feel free to just laugh, which Mondo Baltimore very much invites—though we’ve got to be entering some kind of post-“The Room”/”The Disaster Artist” moment where LMAO-ing at bad movies has hit a wall and like “The Room,” there is a way in which just chuckling at the bonkers misogyny flying all through “The Vineyard” seems well, fraught. Indeed, this movie partly exists as a vehicle for Playboy playmate Karen Witter (playing an actress lured to the estate named Jezebel Fairchild), but like Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room,” the visionary here, Hong, gets lots of love/fondling scenes and you feel as though something else is being worked out or exploited in “The Vineyard” and you’re thankfully privy to it only a little bit. But also like “The Room,” there is a way in which “The Vineyard” is at its most engaging when it stops being just bad and gets weird and slows to a compelling crawl. There, mainly in the lumpy third act, all the disparate parts don’t gel much but Hong burps up the inert tension of a David Lynch movie (but with all the pretentious bullshit taken out) or a porno (but with all the fucking taken out) and you’re kind of just soaked with bleary atmosphere, aided by Hong’s absolutely committed—no, embroiled—performance.
“The Vineyard,” directed by James Hong and William Rice, screens as part of Mondo Baltimore on Jan. 4 at the Windup Space. “The Room,” directed by Tommy Wiseau, screens at the Charles on Jan. 4.