In September of 2016, the horror community lost one of its legendary pioneers when Herschell Gordon Lewis passed away at age 90. Alongside Italy’s Lucio Fulci, Lewis is credited here in America as “The Godfather of Gore,” laying the groundwork for what we know as the “splatter” film. With on screen buckets of blood and exposed entrails, in full color, this was uncharted territory for the Hays Code era of the 1960’s. This legacy all began with a little film, appropriately titled Blood Feast, the slimy tale of a psychotic caterer and his need to make sacrifices to an Egyptian goddess. The film was the start of a trilogy of unrelated splatter films, The Blood Trilogy, and three decades after retirement, in 2002, Lewis would return to direct a satirical direct sequel, Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat. Over fifty years later, Blood Feast’s legacy lives on, even receiving an official remake in 2016. That wasn’t the first attempt at a remake of the film however, as in 1987, an attempt was made at a spiritual sequel to the original but would become its own entity. This was Jackie Kong’s Blood Diner.
Blood Diner opens sometime in the past as a mother leaves her two young children, Michael and George, home alone while she runs errands. As soon as she leaves, the radio breaks news that a deranged maniac with a meat cleaver is loose in the neighborhood, and no sooner does the broadcast end does the maniac start chopping at the cardboard front door. Initially scared, the brothers soon realize it’s their Uncle Anwar (Drew Godderis), an Egyptian man with a Transylvanian accent, who gifts the two boys with amulets to the goddess, Sheetar. Anwar tasks them with helping him resurrect the goddess in the future, before exiting the house to greet the hail of gunfire from the police.
Cut to 20 years later, Michael and George, played by Rick Burks and Carl Crew, now own a successful vegetarian diner that attracts a whole manner of 1980’s stereotypes. Still loyal to their uncle, they dig up Anwar’s body, and with the help of some black magic, revive his perfectly preserved brain and eyes. As their uncle “guides” them, the brothers set out to complete the ritual of Sheetar. This includes a vessel stitched from the body parts of “immoral girls,” a hypnotized virgin sacrifice, and an elaborate “blood buffet” held in her honor (deities are kind of picky, huh?) But with all the bodies piling up, courtesy of a promiscuous cheerleading squad that frequents the diner, a mismatched buddy-cop duo, Jackson and Shepard, are hot on their trail, thinking the killer is just targeting vegetarians.
This isn’t one of those cases where I’m just humorously recounting the plot, Blood Diner becomes a loose remake and parody of Lewis’ original Blood Feast. As far as tone, the film crosses the Rubicon into an exercise of bad taste and political incorrectness, lampooning the Lewis era Splatter films and 80’s culture in a blender. Where these films were shocking and provocative for their time, they aged laughably in ensuing decades. Blood Diner recreates the look and feel of 60’s schlock, with a low budget of $330,000, obvious fake gore, and purposely bad dubbing of the actors. It’s a fitting tribute though, putting this premise in the then modern day. With that in mind, Jackie Kong, and screenwriter, Michael Sonye (better known as punk musician Dukey Flyswatter) deserve credit for pioneering the riff at B-movies a year before the original run of Mystery Science Theater 3000. There are some inconsistencies where one might question if they were deliberate, such as first establishing that Anwar was killed during the day, followed later by a flashback showing him killed at night, or the film forgetting that Michael and George are brothers, and instead referring to them as “friends.” It’s hard to question such logic in a film where there’s a joke about a guy being too fat to run over with a van.
As the film explores how horror doesn’t always age well, the same can now be said for its comedy. Blood Diner is one of those films that definitely couldn’t be made today; an all-inclusive film with something to offend everyone. For every creative Looney Toons-type site gag and pun, there are subplots pertaining to vegetarians unknowingly consuming meat, a wrestler that publicly identifies as a Nazi, and cultural misappropriation. Kong was a fearless director in her short filmography, delivering crassness that rivals the comedy hits of the 80’s. For that, her films got average reviews and limited releases. However, despite its flaws, Blood Diner as a film shows that Kong was on the right track, and I believe could have made a successful endeavor in the 90’s had she been given another opportunity. Many promising women filmmakers have been shafted throughout the century and Kong is sadly one of them.
Back to the film, with the body constructed for Sheetar and a local nightclub booked for the ritual, Michael and George arrive with their virgin sacrifice. She’s the daughter of the man who was the sheriff the night Anwar was killed (but that’s an afterthought). As the sacrifice begins, the nightclub patrons transform into hungry, green, cannibals and Sheetar awakens (with Anwar’s brain inside, because why not?). The cops on the case, Jackson and Shepard, played by LaNette LaFrance and Roger Dauer, have found all of the connections that link the brothers to Anwar’s attempt at the ritual decades prior. They arrive at the nightclub, guns blazing. Michael is shot in the head, and George is thrown in the way of Sheebar as her optical effects rampage commences. Everyone seemingly dies in the gratuitous bloodbath, aside from our two officers. The film ends with Sheetar being picked up by a catcaller driving by, probably leading to the end of the world.
Blood Diner is silly and dumb, but the film knows it, and rubs it in your face. H.G. Lewis probably approved of this film as he took a similar parody approach when directing his own Blood Feast 2. By today’s changing standards though, it’s a hard film to recommend for content. But I do think it has its place in horror history, and deserves more of a following than it has (there certainly are more controversial films still being talked about). As far as horror parodies go, there is creativity and passion on display that has run dry in a lot of satire. It was a bold move, remaking a brutal horror film through a comedic lens, especially when we later see horror remakes proceed into over-serious gloom (the 2016 Blood Feast is proof of that). Whether or not the film succeeded is up to interpretation, but the film needs more of an audience before we can have that discussion.
H. G. Lewis’ legacy lives on as another of his films, Something Weird, served as the namesake for Something Weird Video, the prime distributor of exploitation cinema, which has collectively restored over 2,500 B and Z grade films since its founding.
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