Blood Diner

Director: Jackie Kong
Screenplay: Michael Sonye
Stars: Rick Burks (Michael Tutman), Carl Crew (George Tutman), Roger Dauer (Mark Shepard), LaNette La France (Sheba Jackson), Lisa Elaina (Connie Stanton), Max Morris (Chief Miller), Roxanne Osco (Little Michael), Sir Lamont Rodeheaver (Little George), Dino Lee (King of White Trash), The Luv Johnsons (The White Trash Review), Drew Godderis (Anwar), Bob Loya (Stan Saldin), Alan Corona (Paul Stanton)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1987
Country: U.S.
Blood Diner Blu-ray
Blood DinerGruesomely silly, but not even remotely as funny as it thinks it is, Blood Diner is something of a chore to get through, even for those of us who might otherwise appreciate a gory black comedy. Pitched as a kind of unofficial sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s pioneering gore film Blood Feast (1963), which by any critical standard is just slightly to the left of outright cinematic incompetence, Blood Diner has a few decent setpieces (or at least ideas for ones) and a willingness to go just about anywhere for a laugh, but unfortunately it comes off primarily as desperate rather than clever. Director Jackie Kong had made her first foray into horror with The Being (1983), which she followed with the low-brow comedy Night Patrol (1985). In his generally favorable review of Night Patrol, New York Times critic Vincent Canby noted that the film “suggests that [Kong] might be able to do even better things.” Blood Diner did not make good on that promise.

While the excellent poster image suggests a secluded, rural setting for the titular restaurant, Blood Diner actually takes place in the heart of Los Angeles on a corner of Hollywood Boulevard. The story follows two brothers, Michael and George Tutman (Rick Burks and Carl Crew), who are trying to make good on their deranged uncle’s attempt 20 years earlier to resurrect Sheetar, an ancient Lumerian goddess, through a blood ritual involving numerous body parts and a virgin sacrifice. In the opening prologue set in the early 1960s, the uncle, Anwar (Drew Godderis), fails miserably and is shot dead by the police, but that doesn’t mean he’s down and out, as Michael and George later dig up his body and bring him back to life—or, at least part of him, namely his eyes and brain, which float in an electrified jar along with his penis (which he cut off during his rampage two decades earlier for reasons that aren’t revealed until the end of the film).

Anwar, whose disembodied voice is alternately amusing and irritating, directs the brothers on how to resurrect Sheetar, which mostly involved slaughtering comely young women to assemble a body for the goddess to inhabit and then staging a massive “blood buffet.” Luckily, the brothers own and run a vegetarian diner, which gives them the opportunity to dispose of the unused body parts by serving them to customers. All the while their activities are being tracked by the police, specifically the chief, who has an inexplicable Eastern European accent (Max Morris); a seasoned detective named Mark (Roger Dauer) who is a goof-lothario in gold chains and lounge lizard attire; and LaNette La France (Sheba Jackson), a newly recruited detective who must fend off Roger’s salacious come-ons (she might be the one likeable character in the film if Jackson didn’t play her with such constant anger). The film ultimately climaxes at a wild bacchanal at a New Wave club in which most of the denizens turn into rampaging zombies for no reason other than, you know, zombies.

There are some feeble attempts at social satire, particularly the health food and vegetarian craze. However, screenwriter Michael Sonye—who at the time was, in addition to acting in and penning scripts for exploitation fare like Prison Ship (1986) and Commando Squad (1987), was fronting a horror-themed underground punk band called Haunted Garage under the name Dukey Flyswatter—doesn’t really seem to know what to do with the satirical ideas other than stir them in like ingredients in a stew and let them simmer into mush. The film strikes an immediately farcical, over-the-top tone that only increases as it drags on, which helps some of its more incompetent scenes go down more easily, but more often than not feels like a lazy crutch. None of the actors (all of whom were amateurs) can actually act, so they just perform to the rafters with a sense of goofy abandon that is good for a few chuckles here and there, but mostly reeks of desperation.

Rick Burks and Carl Crew make the Tutman brothers into such off-the-wall weirdos that their horrific deeds have no impact whatsoever, which is a real problem for a horror comedy. The horror element has to have some punch, and even though Kong throws around copious amount of blood and vomit and numerous body parts (so much so that it had to be released unrated), it never comes off as grotesque, just icky. The comedy, then, has little to work against, so it ends up feeling hysterical and anxious, as if no one has any idea what is going on. Kong aims for slapstick, but the bizarre choices, such as having the police chief hit Mark every time he doesn’t like what he says or having George be a wrestler who is constantly assaulting an overweight health food nut who regularly eats at the diner, simply make no sense, even by illogical Three Stooges standards. The balance in mixing comedy and horror is a notoriously hard one to strike, and when it is done well, as in Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985), Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (1987), or Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka, Dead-Alive, 1992), it can be outrageous, subversive fun. Blood Diner never comes anywhere close.

Blood Diner Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.85:1
AudioEnglish DTS-HD 2.0 monaural
Subtitles English, French, Spanish
Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Jackie Kong
  • “Open for Business” featurette
  • “Queen Kong” featurette
  • “The Cook, the Uncle, and the Detective” featurette
  • “Scoring for Sheetar!” featurette
  • “You Are What They Eat” featurette
  • Archival interview with project consultant Eric Caidin
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV spots
  • Still gallery
  • DistributorLionsgate
    SRP$39.97
    Release DateSeptember 27, 2016

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Until now, Blood Diner has only been available as part of a crammed six-film DVD set, so fans will certainly rejoice that it is being given the full high-definition treatment as one of the initial offerings in Lionsgate’s nostalgic “Vestron Video Collector’s Series.” The film’s 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, which according to the press release was made from “original film elements,” looks quite good for what the film is. The cinematographer alternates between generally impressive expressionistic scenes using light and shadow and flatly lit interiors that look like the stuff of bad made-for-TV movies, and the transfer handles all of it very well. Shadow detail is good and black levels look strong, while detail is reasonable given the slightly soft, grainy look of a low-budget 35mm feature from the late ’80s. The overall color palette sometimes skews toward the brownish, which makes the film’s blood look kind of orangey, although at other times it maintains a garish red. The Blu-ray offers the original mono sound in a solid, clean DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 monaural track. Because so much of the film’s sound, including what seems like all of the dialogue, was recorded in postproduction, it has a slightly hollow quality, although the doo-wop music that is used throughout sounds excellent.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    Someone out there really likes this film, as Lionsgate has assembled an impressive array of supplements about its production and reception. Director Jackie Kong, who hasn’t made a film since 1987, returns for a solo audio commentary, which is focused primarily on the technical aspects of the film and the challenges involved in making such a low-budget production look as good as possible (primarily via lighting). She shares some interesting anecdotes, such as the fact that young Michael in the opening scene in actually played by her daughter, and she regularly lays claim to doing things before other, more famous movies and television shows such as Point Break and Game of Thrones. There are also five retrospective featurettes that together comprise a 64-minute look at the film’s production titled Killer Cuisine: The Making of Blood Diner. “Open for Business” is primarily an interview about the film’s origins with screenwriter Michael Sonye and producer Jimmy Maslon, although “consultant” Bill Osco makes an appearance, as well. “Queen Kong” is an extended interview with director Jackie Kong, who talks at length about the challenge of making such a low-budget film look bigger than it was (she also contradicts Sonye, who claims that 95% of his script was shot, while she talks quite a bit about changing the script before production). “The Cook, the Uncle, and the Detective” features interviews with actors Carl Crew, Drew Godderis, and Roger Dauer, while “Scoring for Sheetar!” is an interview with composer Don Preston and “You Are What They Eat” is an interview with cinematographer Jürg Walther. In addition, there is an 8-minute archival interview from 2009 with the late Eric Caidin, owner of Hollywood Book & Poster Co., who helped Jimmy Maslon acquire the rights to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s films and was involved in the early stages of the development of Blood Diner. Finally, there is a theatrical trailer (which is actually much more clever and funny than the film itself), two TV spots (one 60-second spot and one 30-second spot), two minutes of radio spots, and an auto-play stills gallery of production stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and marketing items.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Lionsgate

    Overall Rating: (1)



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