Terror Trash is an ongoing series celebrating and delighting in some less-than-sterling entries in the horror film genre. After several years of highlighting great films in our Century of Terror and ABCs of Horror series, it’s time for a loving appraisal of some decidedly more trashy, incompetent, or enjoyably cheesy material.
It takes only seconds for 1987 gross-out horror-comedy Blood Diner to elicit its first guffaw of incredulity. A pair of young brothers are home alone, playing with their cluttered toys when a police announcement blares over the radio, warning of the presence of a roving, escaped serial killer on the loose. Pretty standard, hokey convention for the late 1980s splatter genre, right? Then the radio drops this line on us: “He is armed and dangerous, and has been spotted in the west side area with a meat cleaver in one hand, and his genitals in the other.”
Oh, so it’s that sort of movie, eh? So begins one of the more ludicrously entertaining and over-the-top, transgressive and downright bizarre horror films of the decade, matched in its creativity only by its utter disregard for good taste. Blood Diner is a film that the folks over at Troma Entertainment would have been proud to produce on their best day, the kind of premise that Lloyd Kaufman or Peter Jackson would no doubt have salivated over. Rarely does a minute or two go by without a viewer pointing at the screen and saying something in the neighborhood of “Wait, what in the hell is that?”
Back in the toy-strewn living room, the brothers seem destined to serve as the film’s first victims, as the frothing madman breaks down the front door … only to be greeted with elation by the pair as “Uncle Anwar!” Yes, the maniac on the loose is also a card-carrying member of the Kooky Uncle archetype, and the wild-eyed lunatic proceeds to hug them both and present them with amulets symbolic of the ancient “Lumerian” goddess of Sheetar, which their vaguely ethnic family has apparently served for hundreds or thousands of years. As police sirens fill the air, he makes the boys swear to uphold their family legacy of necromancy, by reviving him and ultimately their goddess Sheetar in the future. Uncle Anwar then storms into the yard, to be killed by a hail of police gunfire. Mind you, this is still the first scene of the film.
That’s Blood Diner for you, a gleefully raunchy and tasteless celebration of the spirit of the age. It’s a wonder to me that the film doesn’t have an even bigger cult today among devotees of schlock cinema or 1980s horror, as it is a top-shelf example of both.
Of course, the true horror buffs among us will realize that the premise actually sounds a little bit familiar—it’s more or less shared with a seminal early entry in the splatter genre, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast, which is also about a psychopathic cook creating a cannibalistic banquet to revive a dormant goddess. And indeed, Blood Diner was originally conceived as a long-delayed (24 years!) Blood Feast sequel, at least in terms of the broad strokes of the central plot. But the film diverges completely in terms of its exuberantly comic and bawdy tone, while entertaining some of the most bizarre side plots in the history of the genre.
The structure of Blood Diner, what little there is, revolves around restaurateur brothers Michael and George, who are searching for the perfect assembly of female body parts (they have to be from “immoral women”) to build the perfect vessel for the goddess Sheetar to inhabit. You might call it a modern Bride of Frankenstein riff, except for the fact that Dr. Frankenstein was always operating with at least plausibly noble intentions, rather than running a “vegetarian diner” that secretly uses the bodies of dismembered patrons as the “secret ingredient” sprinkled liberally through its entrees. The hard-to-believe kicker? This premise was actually directed by a woman, cult schlockmeister Jackie Kong. Clearly, we’re talking about a unique soul.
That central throughline is outrageous enough—I didn’t even mention that Uncle Anwar is resurrected as a psychic brain in a jar—but all the most memorably bonkers stuff in Blood Diner has a tendency to exist on the fringes, or suddenly bull its way onto screen through one of several absurd subplots. This is never more evident than in the film’s uniquely bizarre pro wrestling subplot, which sees George dreaming of becoming the heavyweight champion in a local wrestling promotion lorded over by a champion—and I swear to god this is really in the movie—named “Jimmy Hitler.” Yes. Jimmy Hitler! He looks precisely like you would expect him to look. Now, given the presence of a Jimmy Hitler, would it surprise you to learn that the few scenes featuring George wrestling against such a titanic adversary would have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film’s plot? It’s as if Jackie Kong and her camera crews stumbled across Jimmy Hitler, an actual being, and simply thought “This is too good to leave out of my otherwise unrelated film. We need five minutes of Jimmy Hitler wrestling in this thing.”
I’m not about to sell you on Jimmy Hitler and then not provide photographic evidence of Jimmy Hitler. That’s not the kind of guy I am.
Other nonsensical Blood Diner highlights include a sequence in which a particularly unlucky hitchhiker is run over by George in a van no fewer than eight times in a row, for the crime of “being on the side of the road,” or the comically mismatched and thickly accented European detectives trying to crack the case of the missing women, even though they’re barely fluent in English. Truly, you get a little bit of everything, and when I say “everything” I clearly mean “nude aerobics, nude kung fu, nude goddess resurrections, disco dance numbers, and a bouncing low-rider crushing a man’s head.”
Because I’m unbound by any petty word count, though, allow me to nominate one more unforgettable Blood Diner oddity to highlight, which is the competing diner across the street. This place is operated by a rival restaurateur who at first merely seems like a jealous neighbor … until you get a good look at the “regular” sitting at the counter and see that it’s some kind of disturbing-looking stuffed cowboy mannequin or scarecrow. The jealous diner operator, desperate to discover the “secret ingredient” used by Michael and George, brings this mannequin with him everywhere he goes, using ventriloquism to provide a running back-and-forth patter of conversation. And not a single soul in the entire film acknowledges or comments upon the existence of the mannequin at any point. It has no impact of any kind on the story. It’s truly just weird for weirdness’ sake, a sentiment one can apply liberally to most of the scenes of Blood Diner.
Even in a decade of horror films often defined by sleaze, lowbrow humor and gaudy excess, Blood Diner exists in a league of its own, making it all the more surprising that it hasn’t been more widely discovered and celebrated by bad movie devotees. For Sheetar’s sake, give it a chance at your next bad movie night. You’re not likely to forget Blood Diner any time soon.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film writing.