The Savage Stack: BLOOD DINER (1987)

Praise Sheetar, Jackie Kong's absurdist VHS trash classic is here to melt your face off.

There’s always going to be – for lack of a better term – a stack of films we’ve been meaning to get to. Whether it’s a pile of DVDs and Blu-rays haphazardly amassed atop our television stands, or a seemingly endless digital queue on our respective streaming accounts, there’s simply more movies than time to watch them. This column is here to make that problem worse. Ostensibly an extension of Everybody’s Into Weirdness (may that series rest in peace), The Savage Stack is a compilation of the odd and magnificent motion pictures you probably should be watching instead of popping in The Avengers for the 2,000th time. Not that there’s anything wrong with filmic “comfort food” (God knows we all have titles we frequently return to when we crave that warm and fuzzy feeling), but if you love movies, you should never stop searching for the next title that’s going to make your “To Watch” list that much more insurmountable. Some will be favorites, others oddities, with esoteric eccentricities thrown in for good measure. All in all, a mountain of movies to conquer.

The fifth entry into this unbroken backlog is Jackie Kong’s act of pop horror cinema terrorism, Blood Diner….

If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were made by Armenians huffing paint cans and smoking angel dust, it would probably look a lot like Blood Diner. A work of filmic pop horror terrorism, Jackie Kong’s cannibal/slasher hybrid takes the maniacal roadside food stop blueprint and then updates it with a retro chic car crash of New Wave mullets and greaser oldies. Never once existing inside anything remotely resembling human reality, the film’s a transmission from another galaxy, where the indigenous beings worship at the altar of Sheetar, a Lumerian goddess who requires a blood buffet in order to step foot on our mortal coil. Shrouded in thick smoke and gaudily costumed with an eye for era-appropriate tackiness, Blood Diner is a trip to the outer reaches of cinematic lunacy.

When Michael (Rick Burks) and George (Carl Crew) were kids, their mother left them home alone one afternoon, despite the fact there was a madman loose in their neighborhood who was last seen “with a meat cleaver in one hand and his genitals in the other”. This butcher just carved through the local Glee Club and was now looking for any fresh flesh he could find in which to bury his blade. Of course, the murderer chops down the boys’ front door like Jack Nicholson on a coke bender, revealing himself as their Uncle Anwar (Drew Godderis). Sweaty and wild-eyed, Uncle Anwar bestows an ancient medallion to each of the brothers and brainwashes them with the honey-tinged tenor of a Middle Eastern cab driver from Queens. He then exits and promptly gets shot down by a gaggle of badges in blue waiting outside their suburban home. We’re now five minutes into Blood Diner.

Flash forward twenty-plus years, and the brothers are exhuming Anwar’s grave. They split the slaughterer’s skull open and remove his brain, which somehow has Krang googly eyes and can bellow vulgarity with that same street tough growl they adored as children. The task this disembodied mind (which looks like the roving cortex from Fiend Without a Face crossed with Mr. Potato Head) is simple: they are to bring him a collection of loose women (paraphrased for the faint of heart), so that they may be dismembered and rearranged into a surrogate body for the immoral goddess Sheetar. Being loyal indoctrinated goose-stepping vegetarians, the two plan to lure victims into their plant-based diner in order to kidnap and offer them up as fodder for this diabolical ritual. Of course, they’re also not above spraying a Nude Aerobics studio with machine guns while donning Ronald Reagan masks, just to speed the process up a bit.

That’s the level of WTF we’re dealing with here – a living, breathing cartoon that effortlessly fits into Kong’s brief slapstick filmography. Following ‘83’s creature feature The Being and ‘84’s Unknown Comic-starring cop picture, Night Patrol, Blood Diner combines Kong’s love of absurdity with analog, gross out horror. Only this late night cable junk fully commits to its wacko satire of American “health food consciousness”. As Uncle Anwar’s brain (jarred like a sentient pickle) looks out from behind the counter, cursing the “skinny sluts” who eat there, an overweight critic remarks how tasty the diner’s veggie burgers are, speculating about their secret ingredient (spoiler: it’s Soylent Green). Meanwhile, Michael dreams of being a pro-wrestler whilst shoving carrots into the smoothie blender, pounding the table and generally causing a ruckus whenever reigning local champ Little Jimmy Hitler (who sports a swastika and trademark ‘stache) taunts him from the tiny black and white TV. It’s a tongue-in-cheek mash-up of vogue culture during the Reagan administration, blared through blown out speakers. None if it makes a whole lot of sense, but it’s a hell of a thing to witness.

To make the film even weirder (as if that’s vaguely possible at this point), there’s a musical ingredient Kong adds to this already garish layer cake of atrocity. Most of Blood Diner is scored to '50s doo-wop, connecting it with the idealized memory of America’s past (think: every Stephen King flashback from Christine on). But then a big haired, neon New Wave arena is built into the narrative, as the brothers hang out at a strobe-lit jam space called Club Dread. While at first it seems as if Kong is simply tacking on another '80s trend to her already era-appropriate aesthetic, the full blown concert scenes that come at the picture’s climax continue the odd (probably unintentional) thematic ridiculing of the United States’ fad fixation. The boys are guided by an obscenity-spewing brain that is puritanically motivated and lost its body during the Rockwellian epoch. So a full-scale slaughter at a disco devoted to this musical style seems somewhat logical, as he’s purifying the country by wiping it clean of these sinful kids’ songs. In short, he’s “making America great again” by summoning an archaic God and subsequently feeding a Flock of Seagulls to the monster vagina that grows in her stomach. The Greatest Generation will have its revenge, and the Death Angel is Uncle Anwar.

Look, like a lot of movies featured in this column, Blood Diner isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s totally broad, bizarre and, to be frank, not necessarily “good” by any objective standard. But who cares? There’s an incredible sense of personal vision here, right down to the Soup Nazi caricature Police Sergeant, who is constantly hollering at his detectives that the “cannibal angle” they’re taking to try and solve the kidnappings is all wrong. In reality, Blood Diner is special because it isn’t for everyone. Kong brings an outsider flair to what could’ve been just another slasher movie and makes it totally her own, right down to the gauzy photography by trash movie regular Jürg V. Walther (Strangers in Paradise, Night Patrol). She crafted a motion picture for a specific audience while retaining her own gonzo sensibilities, resulting in a rather idiosyncratic VHS nightmare. Sheetar help us, it’s astounding that we live in an age where something like Blood Diner exists on a beautifully mastered Blu.

Blood Diner is available now via the Vestron Video Collector’s Series Blu-ray.

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