Blood Diner Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
The Namtut brothers run the most popular restaurant in town. But their delicious recipes contain nothing less than the victims of their after-hours sorcery. Possessed by the spirit of their demonic uncle Anwar, the brothers are attempting to resurrect the ancient and deadly Sheetar, goddess of blood and lust. (From Vestron’s official synopsis)
Blood Diner (1987) is the third film by Jackie Kong, who previously broke the exploitation movie glass ceiling with the gory monster movie, The Being (1983), and the grimy crime comedy Night Patrol (1984). It is better known as the unofficial sequel/remake/ode to Herschell Gordon Lewis’ (R.I.P.) groundbreaking 1963 gore opus, Blood Feast. The general idea is that Blood Feast’s killer (named Anwar Namtut here, instead of Fuad Ramses) has passed down his Egyptian cult traditions to his nephews. Twenty years after his death, they resurrect his brain in hopes of completing his murderous ritual to the fictional goddess Sheetar (the goddess is named Ishtar in Blood Feast). Whereas Lewis’ film was played for straight, released as a serious horror film, then reevaluated as a camp classic, Blood Diner immediately acknowledges its silly side and goes all-in on the over-the-top comedy. As an homage to those films, it perfectly recreates the specific tones and vibes of the Lewis brand of mid-’60s gross-out comedy within a greasy, pastel-shaded ‘80s context. It’s garish, unattractive, and its outrageous gore is kind of cute. It was written by actor, composer, bandleader, and all around horror personality Dukey Flyswatter (real name Michael Sonye and long-time Fred Olen Ray collaborator) who has a good ear for arthritic, Lewis-esque dialogue and a mind for wholesomely offensive set-pieces.
Personally, I find most of the jokes that don’t relate to Blood Feast nostalgia pretty obnoxious, but the steady stream of unexpected gags ensure that a few laughs slip through the cracks, such as nude victim successfully subdues her attacker in a cave with kung fu, only to be killed by a falling stalactite. Kong’s basic skills (which are sometimes purposefully hidden behind a sheen of camp filmmaking) set Blood Diner above the likes of most of its gleefully immoral, Troma-branded counterparts (Flyswatter acted in Troma’s utterly terrible Surf Nazis Must Die the same year), as does Flyswatter’s preference for dry comedy over hysteria (some lines are delivered so stiffly that the failed execution becomes funnier than the joke itself). The gore effects are more plentiful, especially during the gonzo finale). Still, I prefer the unfiltered hilarity of genuine H.G. Lewis movies (especially Two Thousand Maniacs, 1964) or the outrageous trash of another Lewis-devotee – John Waters. Note that Lewis did make an official sequel to Blood Feast in 2002, entitled Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat.
Blood Diner was not a massive home video hit and this rarity extended into the digital era and it was (as far as I can tell) only officially released on North American DVD as part of a six movie horror collection from Lionsgate. It is apparently a popular movie in Germany, where it has been released twice on DVD – first on non-anamorphic disc from CMV Laservision, then on anamorphic disc from Dragon Entertainment – and once on Blu-ray from Edel (I don’t have access to this transfer). This 1080p Blu-ray debut is also framed at 1.78:1 and looks pretty good, considering the film’s low-budget, low-skill origins. There are minor signs of DNR, but the bigger difficulty this time is scanner noise, which mushes up some detail in wide shots and causes minor quantization artifacts. Details are neater than the company’s Chopping Mall disc and there’s plenty of accurate-looking grain that hasn’t been smudged-out. Generally, it is the darkness of the photography, intensity of the smoke/haze effects that Kong and cinematographer Jurg Walther employ, and general condition of the film that keep this from being an A+ transfer. The palette is a bit muddy, but that’s the way the film has always looked. Frankly, it’s about 100 times more vivid than I’ve ever seen and better than expected.
Blood Diner is presented in its original mono sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. A lot of this sound seems to have been added in post and is awkwardly mixed from inconsistent sources, in part to mimic the terrible audio of H.G. Lewis’ splatter epics (I assume), but probably also because it was shot so cheaply. There are loads of inconsistencies in tone, clarity, and volume levels (between cuts the dialogue will shift from tinny to dynamic and back again), but that’s part of the film’s charm. The soundtrack was composed by one-time Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention keyboardist Don Preston. It’s a fine ‘80s horror synth score and it is accompanied by classical cues and rockabilly/doo-wop songs that set it apart from its competitors. The music tends to be more evenly mixed then the rest of the track, though to a fault, as it overwhelms some of the dialogue.
Commentary with director Jackie Kong – Kong comes to the commentary well-prepared and takes the process very seriously. The subject matter spans the entire making-of the film, from technical aspects to production/costume design, settings/locations, and oodles of behind-the-scenes anecdotes. This is a full-bodied, info-packed track that should please fans and it rarely overlaps with the other extras.
Killer Cuisine: The Making Of Blood Diner five-part documentary (64:31, HD) –
Open for Business – Flyswatter, producer Jimmy Marlson, and creative consultant Bill Osco discuss the writing and inspirations behind the screenplay, approaching Kong to direct, distribution, casting, the doo-wop soundtrack, and the film’s enduring cult legacy.
Queen Kong – Women in Horror frontrunner and documentary producer Stacy Pippi Hammon interviews Jackie Kong, who talks about her female-centric production crew, avoiding seeing Blood Feast so as to not be influenced (...I’m not sure I believe her), the tight and cheap production, casting without SAG support, the changes she made to Flyswatter’s script, special effects, MPAA objections, and the continuing lack of women directing movies.
The Cook, The Uncle, and The Detective – Actors Carl Crew (George Tutman), Drew Godderis (Uncle Anwar), and Roger Dauer (Mark Shepard) talk about their lives before, during, and after Blood Diner.
Scoring for Sheetar! – Composer Don Preston discusses his score, being introduced to Kong via Robert Downey Sr., and the synthesizers he used to record the music.
You Are What They Eat – Cinematographer Jürg V. Walther praises Kong, talks about his set-ups, and laments the impossible schedule and studio interference.
Interview with project consultant Eric Caidin (8:01, SD) – In this 2009 archive interview, the late consultant shares a load of behind-the-scenes stories.
Two trailers, TV spots, and radio spots
The images on this page do not represent the Blu-ray image quality