Blood Diner Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Lionsgate Films
Directed by Jackie Kong
Written by Michael Sonye (aka Dukey Flyswatter)
1987, 88 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on September 27th, 2016
Rick Burks as Michael Tutman
Carl Crew as George Tutman
Roger Dauer as Mark Shepard
LaNette La France as Sheba Jackson
Lisa Guggenheim as Connie Stanton
Drew Godderis as Anwar
Max Morris as Chief Miller
“There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.” – W.P. Kinsella
It may seem strange to open a review for a 1980s horror comedy with a quote from Shoeless Joe, but honestly, I find myself living at a spectacular time where the horror genre has seen countless titles receive the long overdue reward of deluxe special edition treatment. There are full restorations and high definition presentations of these films both famous and infamous alike. Some of these releases offer multiple cuts of the film or a vast array of bonus features, including interviews and commentaries with cast and crew members; treatment that was once reserved for prestigious pictures courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Now, thanks to smaller companies like Scream Factory, Arrow Video, Synapse-Films, Severin Entertainment, Grindhouse Pictures, Vinegar Syndrome and Code Red, just to name a few, the major studios are starting to open their vaults and see what titles genre fans are craving. One of the biggest holdouts has been Lionsgate Home Entertainment, a company that long refused to allow any of these smaller companies to step in and license a film, yet remained unwilling to do anything themselves except allow their catalog titles to languish in video hell without release - until now.
Lionsgate enters the ring with the news that 2016 marks the return of the long defunct label Vestron Video. Anyone of a certain age familiar with the practice of stalking the aisles of the horror section at their local mom-and-pop video store for an elusive flick will likely remember the Vestron logo and crazy theme music at the head of their VHS tapes. The company put out a never-ending stream of entertaining titles, some under their sister company Lightning Pictures. I welcome the return of this label with great joy and nostalgia and hope the selections keep arriving for years to come. The first two titles to receive the deluxe Blu-ray special edition treatment are Chopping Mall (1986) and Blood Diner (1987), and I couldn’t be happier.
Brothers Mike and George Tutman run a vegetarian diner that caters to the health food community in Los Angeles. Mike is more popular with the ladies, while George is the better chef and an avid wrestling fan. Uncle Anwar encourages the boys to complete his goal of resurrecting the five-thousand-year-old goddess Sheetar in order to restore her former glory. The process requires the murder of many “loose women” and stitching assorted body parts together as a vessel for Sheetar. A virgin must be sacrificed during a blood feast to encourage the goddess to enter the new body and once again walk the earth. Mike and George are eager to assist their uncle and in doing so, serve the leftovers to their hungry customers. Detectives Mark Shepard and Sheba Jackson are on the case, but not having much luck in solving the murders. Whether the Tutmans succeed in their task or not, their customers will continue to line up for seconds of the delicious menu items.
The plot of Blood Diner is pretty basic and familiar, but the execution of the material is where the picture shines. Director Jackie Kong (The Being) delivers a fast-paced comedy-horror hybrid filled with graphic violence, ample nudity, vegetarians, grave robbers, occult incantations, Nazi wrestling, inept police investigators, topless aerobics, cannibalism and plenty of doo-wop music. This is the only acting credit for much of the talent, whom Kong admits she cast based on physical appearance and as such, there is a delightful quirkiness to much of the line readings and the physical reactions. The script, written by Michael Sonye (aka Dukey Flyswatter), is a love letter to the cult classics of legendary filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis, specifically Blood Feast (1963). Kong makes the most of her limited budget by placing an emphasis on style over substance. The camera work, lighting and set design all work to make the film look bigger than it is. The jokes explode in a rapid-fire delivery of both sight gags and hilarious dialogue that, while not everything works, I do give them points for trying. The graphic violence is also presented in an over-the-top style that goes more for laughs than terror and this aspect really soars where some of the other humor falls flat. Blood Diner is a very divisive film that audiences will either love or hate within the first fifteen minutes. The Lionsgate/Vestron Collector’s Series is off to a strong start and I look forward to what comes next. One final note about the company logo: fans are in for a treat as the Blu-ray starts with a nice updated spin on an old classic.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Blood Diner features an impressive transfer that while not exactly perfect, is a significant upgrade from the earlier DVD editions. The colors are rich and contrast levels are solid, providing excellent detail in the numerous nocturnal scenes. There are a few minor trouble spots, but nothing worth complaining about considering the general strength of the image.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track is surprisingly active and satisfying. There is a lot of music in this film and it is well-balanced with dialogue and effects with all three elements remaining clear and free from distortion. There is an obvious amount of audio looping that adds a level to the comedic presentation and appears to have been done deliberately.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Director Jackie Kong provides an audio commentary that she appears to have been eager to deliver for years, as she enthusiastically shares a lot of information without missing a beat. Her stories are both technical and anecdotal and fans of this picture will definitely want to check it out.
Killer Cuisine: The Making of Blood Diner (65 minutes) is an exhaustive five-part documentary:
Open for Business (12 minutes) covers the origins of the project with screenwriter Michael Sonye (Flyswatter), producer Jimmy Maslon and creative consultant Bill Osco. The filmmakers are quick to acknowledge their debt and gratitude to the works of H.G. Lewis and their desire to make a quirky homage to the master of horror.
Queen Kong (20 minutes) features Kong answering a series of questions about the production. There is a bit of overlap with the information provided on the commentary track, but she has a lot to say and just about all of it is thoughtful and informative.
The Cook, the Uncle, and the Detective (15 minutes) catches up with actors Carl Crew, Drew Godderis and Roger Dauer and gives them time to reflect on their experience working on the film. As expected, all three have nothing but nice things to say about their shining moment on the big screen. Dauer not only still looks the same, I was surprised to learn this is indeed his real voice and not a poor audio dub job!
In Scoring for Sheetar (5 minutes), composer Don Preston reflects on his approach to the music for the film and how he enjoys working on horror movies.
Cinematographer Jürg V. Walther (Sex Crimes) gives a candid interview in You Are What They Eat! (11 minutes), in which he shares thoughts on working with Kong and how her level of preparation helped the production run smoothly.
Project consultant Eric Caidin (8 minutes) appears in an archival interview in which he talks about his involvement in the early stages of the film’s development.
Two theatrical trailers (5 minutes) featuring noted “gore-met” Phil A. Mignon encouraging food lovers to check out this exquisite new eating establishment offer clips from the film and quite a few jokes.
A trio of radio spots offers another glimpse into the marketing of the film.
A photo gallery (6 minutes) slideshow of stills set to Preston’s score provides lots of beautiful production images.
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