Blood Diner (1987) Retrospective

SUMMARY

Two brothers, Michael Tutman (Rick Burks) and George Tutman (Carl Crew) are brainwashed by their serial killer uncle Anwar Namtut (Drew Godderis) into completing his task of resurrecting the ancient Lumerian goddess Sheetar (Tanya Papanicolas). Their mission is given to them once they resurrect him from his grave. Anwar Namtut is from then on a brain in a mason jar that commands the brothers. In order to complete their mission, the brothers must collect different body parts from many immoral women, stitch them together, and then call forth the goddess at a “blood buffet” with a virgin to sacrifice ready for her to eat. The brothers choose women for their “blood buffet” from those that enter into their wildly popular vegetarian restaurant. Meanwhile, two mismatched detectives (LaNette LaFrance and Roger Dauer) work together to try to track them down before more carnage can ensue.

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BEHIND THE SCENES/PRODUCTION

Unlike many of the current crop of filmmakers, Jackie Kong didn’t start in the business fresh out of school. After attending two years of college in California, Kong moved on to Europe to open her own import business. Believing that it would be possible to enter the film world with a horror property, Kong wrote and “packaged” The Being (1983). The picture starred Martin Landau. Jose Ferrer and a host of other veteran film and TV performers. “Remember, that was my first film.” Kong warns. “I didn’t quite have that sense of humor. I didn’t trust myself as a much as I do now.”

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Jackie Kong hopes her new movie, will not fail at the hands of bad marketers; in fact, Blood Diner’s original Motel Hell-ish poster was later replaced with artwork by fanzine artist and Cramps album illustrator Stephen Blickenstaff.

Kong claims not to have skimped on production values for her shot-in-three-weeks extravaganza. That’s confirmed by the high-gloss look of the finished film, obtained through elaborate storyboarding, intense rehearsing, and extensive networking among the production team’s departments. “By the time we hit the set,” Kong asserts, “it became pure execution.”

Blood Diner’s makeup FX which include loads of graphic dismemberment’s and flesh-chewing are credited to Bruce Zahlava, who, Kong says, worked just four days on the picture. The FX were originally handled by someone who Kong claims “burnt out” early in the production, thus causing delays. Another team was called in to complete the film. “I can’t really plug them,” Kong says, “because I don’t know who did what. It was a huge team. By the time we finished, there were around nine guys in the effects department.”

H.G. Lewis and his fans are likely to wax nostalgic over the familiar cheesy brutality and laughably over- baked performances running rampant through the film. Others may not get all the references and be put off by Blood Diner’s high absurdity quotient. Kong admits that it was first-time producer and childhood friend Jimmy Maslon who turned her on to the films of the gore-and- gristle grandad. Maslon owns some of Lewis’ films and promotes events in Los Angeles where he shows them. He even sponsors “gore dances” and sometimes flies in the author himself for a personal appearance. Maslon’s also the one who owned Blood Diner’s Michael Sonye penned script.

“Herschell Gordon Lewis was a huge influence on the scripting.” states Kong. So huge, in fact, that she and Maslon toyed with the idea of flying him in as a “gore consultant.” Alas, they couldn’t afford it.

After viewing many of Lewis’ pictures, including Blood Feast and 2000 Maniacs, for inspiration. Kong extracted ideas she thought were amusing and left out bits she didn’t like. She chose, for example, to feature a pair of fresh-faced, charismatic actors as the Namtut brothers, the antithesis of the “goony types” she says dominate the Lewis films.

“I patterned their characters after those guys who bomb abortion clinics.” she admits. ‘‘They’re young, likable guys smiling, looking up at God. saying God told them to do it.” Kong was also concerned with basic story involvement, something she feels Lewis’ pictures lack. “I tried to take the story,” Kong says, “and put my own stamp on it.”

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Kong sounds proud when talking about her script embellishments. In a sequence that obviously alludes to The Gore Gore Girls (1972), a young woman’s head gets a real hot-oil treatment in the diner’s deep fryer. “That’s where the script ended,” Kong recalls. “I said. ‘Let’s go all the way and have her pop up and run around the room.’ ”

Another of her contributions offers an interesting twist to the now familiar have-sex-and-die slasher theme. Two stripped-down lovers are going at it in a dark, dank cave. Along comes one of the Namtut boys seeking out a promiscuous woman for a little bimbo tartare. “In the script,” Kong recounts gleefully, “the girl was just going to get killed. I said, Let’s have her jump up and do a nude kung fu scene.’ ”

This kind of action is clearly not typical fodder for female directors, but Kong’s no predictable director and she knows it. “I don’t view myself as this shrinking violet director,” she frowns, adding that she’s often ridiculed for making the types of movies she does. Critics weren’t kind to The Being or the Linda Blair vehicle Night Patrol, and Kong charges that many of the reviews were sexist. “I was tom apart for being female,” she maintains. “Instead of reviewing the film, they said I shouldn’t be doing this, that I direct without any female sensibility. When they reviewed Ordinary People, they didn’t say that Robert Redford directed with a female sensibility.”

Kong determination to get the job done well is evident in her on-the-set tactics. A self- described “tyrant on the set,” Kong, whose production company is called PMS Filmworks, claims she’d turn to the crew during the making of Blood Diner and say, “Look, this isn’t going to be a crummy low-budget film. Anyone who’s used to that stuff, get off the set right now!” In retrospect, she adds, “We literally treated it like it was Superman.”

But Kong also could have made a few dozen Blood Diners with the budget of one Superman. As such, she’s mum on the amount it took to bring her epic vision to the screen. “If I actually told you what the budget was,” notes Kong, “it would really be misleading.” She claims that the movie’s relative slickness has her friends at major studios guessing that $3 million was spent. (A source close to the production puts the actual cost at under a million.)

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Unrated violent movies are often seen as a blessing for genre aficionados and a curse for distributors looking for big box-office. While Kong always thought Blood Diner would forego an MPAA tag. Lightning Films, a division of Vestron, had other ideas. “The company thought it could be rated R,” Kong recalls. “There was just no way. We had eyeballs popping out, heads batted off. I don’t know if there’s a way to get around that. If the company really wants Blood Diner to get an R rating, the running time would be five minutes.”

“I try never to insult my audience,” stresses Kong. “That’s my number one goal. I try to treat my audience as though they’re very smart and will know my next move unless I’m clever enough to surprise them.”

Kong doesn’t say if or when she’ll again step into the horror ring, but she’s pleased with the results of her homage to Mr. Lewis. “When he was doing it back in the ’60s,” Kong says, “it was the first time it was ever done. And now, to do gore after John Carpenter’s The Thing and all of George Romero’s films it’s not a good hook anymore. I tried to combine really good gore, enough surprises and enough black humor so that there’s more of a release in between the gore.”

The scream queen of the moment also has a message for “the ladies out there”: “I’ve shown Blood Diner to the executive in charge of production, who’s female; I’m female; and I’ve shown it to women who are executives at major companies, and we all love it. Any girl with a good sense of humor will love this .”

BEHIND THE SCENES/INTERVIEWS

 

Interview with Carl (George) Crewimages

If we’re not mistaken, Blood Diner was your first major role. How did you get involved with the project? Were you familiar with Blood Feast, the 1963 Cult classic to which Blood Diner pays homage?

Carl Crew: I come from the dark alleys of midnight-movie houses in San Francisco. I’m very familiar with Herschel Gordon Lewis’ work. I can watch that film intently for about five or six minutes. The soundtrack was also performed by Herschell.

What was it like working with cult director Jackie Kong? Were you already familiar with any of her earlier work?

Carl Crew: One of the required films to see before we lensed Blood Diner was Eating Raoul (1982), interesting. Then, of course, The Being and Night Patrol. All completely necessary for understanding the level of her sickness.

There is some pretty wacky stuff in Blood Diner. Was it difficult exchanging lines with a brain in jar? How about getting your ass kicked by a completely nude actress?

Carl Crew: Absolutely not. It was fun and encouraging. Doesn’t everybody have conversations with re-animated brains in a jar?  Getting my ass kicked by a naked defenseless girly-puss in a cave who was totally nude was a surge of delight. With each groin grab (and she wasn’t kidding!), I squealed with delight. What a darling she was.

The character of Jimmy Hitler, your arch nemesis in the film, is completely over-the-top. Do you know how this character came about? Was the wrestling scene fun to shoot?

Carl Crew: No idea from what polluted, slime-infested corner of Dukey’s mind this character emerged. A Nazi retard having tiny dick fits and taking it out on who? Oh, that would be me. We rehearsed this many times, but he still cracked my back on one throw of my body by his steroid-stuffed, ham limbed body throws. I had to stop and recover for a few minutes in my dressing room. What a charmer. This being my first lead role, I was still thrilled; and I made a fortune for three months of back-breaking work. Let’s see… I think they paid me $350 total. But who could forget the luxurious Kraft service they rained down on us throughout the production? I will never eat a fucking Twinkie again.

Little Jimmy Hitler
Little Jimmy Hitler

Blood Diner (1987) Soundtrack

STUD PONY Dino Lee
LOST INCAS Big Guitars From Texas
LOVE WILL MAKE YOUR MIND GO WILD The Penguins
BABY LET’S MAKE LOVE The Penguins
AY SI SI The Dootones
HEAVEN IN PARADISE The Meadowlarks
CRAZY OVER YOU The Calvanes
LET ME GIVE YOU MONEY The Pipes
’59 VOLVO The Medallions
PUTTING THE NIGHT ON HOLD Lauren Grey

CAST/CREW
Directed Jackie Kong

Produced
Lawrence Kasanoff
Jackie Kong
Jimmy Maslon
Ellen Steloff

Written
Michael Sonye

Rick Burks as Michael Tutman
Carl Crew as George Tutman
LaNette LaFrance as Sheba Jackson
Roger Dauer as Mark Shepard
Lisa Guggenheim as Connie Stanton
Max Morris as Chief Miller
Roxanne Cybelle as Little Michael
Sir Rodenheaver as Little George
Drew Godderis as Anwar Namtut
Tanya Papanicolas as Sheetar/Bitsy
Michael Barton as Vitamin
John Barton Shields as Little Jimmy Hitler
Effie Bilbrey as Peggy
Karen Hazelwood as Babs
Bob Loya as Stan Saldin
Alisa Alvarez-Wood as Aerobic Girl
Al Davis as Blonde Dancer
Gene Wells as Doctor, Zombie, Wrestling Fan, EMT, also worked with wardrobe

CREDITS/REFERENCES/SOURCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
FANGORIA#70
Lunchmeat#04

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