Blood Diner (1987)

“Blood Diner” is a masterpiece. It was something I found on VHS when I was a kid and watched to death, made my friends watch, and so on. Then I sort of forgot about it for 20 years, until it was released on blu-ray a few years ago. And now I get to enjoy it all over again and tell you, dear reader, about it!

It’s one of those movies where a brief recap of the plot will be enough to put some people off immediately, so I’ll get to that and allow some of you to go about your day. The two nephews of psychopathic spree killer Anwar Namtut, shot by police after slaughtering a troop of cheerleaders in a sexual rage, grow up to follow in the same ancient religious tradition as he. As adults, they resurrect Uncle Anwar, who spends the rest of the movie as a brain in a jar, just one who can talk and has a couple of working eyes. He wants them to perform an ancient ritual to bring back the goddess Sheetar; this mainly involves murdering “immoral” women and using bits of them to stitch together a body for her, using other parts to make a “blood buffet” for a big banquet. They dispose of the rest of the corpses by serving them to people at their vegetarian diner.

And it’s a comedy! There are precious few movies where the leads, who we’re 100% supposed to be on the side of, are cannibals who gleefully murder anyone at the drop of a hat, but Michael and George Tutman (Rick Burks and Carl Crew) are two such leads. It’s clever, too, starting from a well-done twist at the beginning, as a radio tells us that the killer of some cheerleaders is on the loose, and two children cower behind their sofa as a cleaver-wielding lunatic hacks through their front door…only to discover it’s their charming Uncle Anwar, who gives the kids a pep-talk about reading the books he’s given them before walking outside to be mown down by the cops.

Because the main plot is so much fun, the sub-plots are either simply weird-feeling or irrelevant. There’s the rival vegetarian restaurant owner who decides to find out what’s going on – he has a sidekick who’s actually just a grotesque mannequin with a crudely animated mouth, but is treated as a normal human being by the rest of the cast. Then there’s the way George is obsessed with pro wrestling, watching a TV channel while cooking which shows nothing but it, to the point where he signs on to challenge wrestler Jimmy Hitler (who, yes, dresses like Adolf, just with a shock of blond hair). George wins, of course, by partially eating his opponent.

The two cops that make a half-hearted effort to track down the people who’ve murdered and hacked up dozens and dozens of people are perhaps the least interesting of the subplots; being hampered slightly by the fact that the female half of the duo, LaNette La France as tough cop Sheba Jackson, can’t act worth a damn (this appears to be her only movie appearance) and the male half, Roger Dauer as Mark Shepard, is such an unpleasant sleazebag that you want him to fail.

“Blood Diner” was intended as a sequel to the original gore classic, 1963’s “Blood Feast”, but because of lord knows why, it was changed just before production started to be a remake, of sorts. The blood sacrifice, the ancient deity, all that is the same, but it’s safe to say that this movie goes a little further than the original. Heck, it goes a little further than pretty much every horror movie ever made.

I think, if you decide to watch “Blood Diner”, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do, then you’ll be able to tell in the first ten minutes or so if it’s the sort of movie for you. Do you find Uncle Anwar’s gravestone (which reads “I’ll be back”) funny? Do you love movies which really go out of their way to gross you out? Are you not too bothered by the occasional technical shortcomings, such as terrible dubbing in certain scenes? Do you find someone getting their head battered, deep-fried and then knocked off with a broom funny?

It also manages to get grosser and weirder as it goes on, which is quite the feat. The final scene, which features the “Lemurian Feast”, and a band which looks like the guy from Dead Or Alive fronting five Adolf Hitlers, is so far over the top that you almost can’t help but laugh. Or how indifferent their restaurant rival is to his ultimate, blood-drenched, fate.

“Blood Diner” was directed by Jackie Kong, one of the tiniest of tiny handfuls of directing credits in the US for an Asian woman – she also does a commentary on this blu-ray which is pretty interesting. She made a few really odd-looking B-movies in the 80s (The Being, Night Patrol and The Underachievers) which we’ll probably cover soon. The writer Michael Sonye worked for enemy-of-ISCFC Fred Olen Ray in the 80s as well, and he seems to have a bent for comedy (“Star Slammer” looks like it has a few laughs in it).

A lot of the favourite films of my youth look poor with my old man’s eyes – either the jokes are weak, there’s strong racist or sexist threads I didn’t notice back then, or they’re just boring. But “Blood Diner” has definitely aged very well, as horror becomes more about the jump scare and less about throwing so much blood at the screen you start to feel ill. It’s hard to be offended by a movie which appears not to take itself seriously for a single second.

Rating: thumbs up

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Blood Rage (1987)

Although I’m far from the first person to have noticed this (most slasher movie review sites worth the name have talked about it) we may have happened upon a real underappreciated gem of the genre, with proper actors in it and an interesting plot! That it was directed by a guy who only made one other movie – 1977’s “Scalpel” – and written by a guy whose main credits are the two “Zapped!” movies, back when Scott Baio got his own starring vehicles, makes it even more unusual.

“Blood Rage” was released in 1983, heavily edited under the title “Nightmare At Shadow Woods” and not released uncut til a VHS tape in 1987. It stars Louise Lasser, former wife of Woody Allen and co-star of a bunch of his early movies, and she and director John Grissmer argued to such an extent that he quit halfway through and had to be tempted back by the producer – oh, and the producer plays the part of the psychiatrist because the actor they hired for the part never bothered showing up.

It’s also notable-ish for being the screen debut of Ted Raimi, brother of Sam and low-budget horror legend in his own right. He popped up very briefly in “The Evil Dead” but this is the first time you see his actual face, as a guy who sells condoms to another guy at a drive-in in 1974. For that is where the movie starts, with Louise Lasser, 44 years old at the time of filming, out on a date with her twin ten-year-old sons asleep in the back of the car. This is the first hint that we’re not just in typical low-budget slasher territory – why is Louise Lasser starring in this? Why did she think it’d be a good idea to save the few dollars on a babysitter while she tried to have sex with some young stud in the car at a drive-in? Is the father still around?

The kids, thought to be asleep, sneak out when the couple up front are in flagrante, and decide to explore the drive-in. Well, that’s not strictly true. Terry finds an axe and the first available car with a naked couple having sex in it, then brutally murders the guy (and boy oh boy, does this movie have a lot of gore in it). So far, so typical, but then he smears blood all over brother Todd’s face, forces the axe into his hand and pretends Todd did it.

From here things leap forward ten years, with Lasser, now looking close to the age she’s playing, visiting a psychiatrist. Todd, having been locked up this entire time, is finally emerging from his catatonic state, and is remembering he didn’t do it. Maddy (Lasser) freaks out at this information, treating her son as if he was still ten years old. Despite one thinking all this activity would increase surveillance on Todd, he’s able to escape with no problems soon after all this happens.

Terry, on the other hand, finds this out and the same switch that went off when he was ten (although not, apparently, at any point in the intervening decade) goes off again and he starts killing people – initially, it’s sort of vaguely about sex, then he really gets into it and slaughters pretty much everyone in his path. The psychiatrist, for example, is hacked in two while walking through the woods, trying to find Todd, which is such a strange visual that I have to assume it was done as a gag on the way slasher victims usually meet their fates. Also, for fun, look at the hairline on Todd and Terry (played by the same actor, Mark Soper, in an excellent pair of unhinged performances) and see if you think he’s 18 years old.

So, there’s a ton of murder in this movie, and it shows you one, with lots of gory detail, every few minutes. Suck it, previous movie in this review series! (Seriously, though, both this and “Blood Frenzy” feature psychiatrists who get way too involved with murderers, which is an odd coincidence).

But there’s not just murder, there’s some delightful and unusual touches to ponder on while the action rolls along. First up is Maddy’s boyfriend, a wealthy guy who seems to genuinely love her (perhaps it’s the guy from the car ten years previously, it’s never really mentioned). He goes home for the evening after the couple announce their engagement to Terry and is listening to a heavily religious biblical station, which offers to read out scripture for anyone who phones in. He’s murdered by Todd quite early on but not discovered til near the end, and every time we cut to him the radio station is sort of commentating on the action with an appropriate piece of the Bible. It’s weird and fun and I like it.

Next up is Louise Lasser. I’ve no idea how much freedom she had over her own characterisation, but I’m guessing it was a lot, as she’s full on odd. One scene, apropos of nothing, has her sat open-legged on the floor of her kitchen, stuffing food into her mouth with a vacant look in her eyes. She also constantly mistakes which son is which, but appears to have a sexual interest in them both (her final speech is one for the ages).

Which leads into the final thing, a treatment of sex that’s so odd my wife, who’d barely been paying attention, noticed it. Every man in this movie is a sex-phobic prude, while the women are the ones initiating sex and acting super-horny all the time. Again, it’s entirely likely this is deliberate, and the fact it’s never explicitly mentioned is a classy move by a male filmmaker and male writer (that the producer was female might be of interest here).

There’s a lot to entertain the slasher movie enthusiast here. While it could easily be read as just another low-budget gore movie, there’s enough happening on the edges to convince you that these people ought to have been given a few more chances to make movies and see what they came up with. A weird, unsettling, minor classic of the genre.

Rating: thumbs up

Blood Frenzy (1987)

Hal Needham was a prolific filmmaker. Although “Blood Frenzy” was his only horror movie, he made a ton of, er, more adult entertainment – all 25 volumes of the no-doubt edifying “Caught From Behind” series and a whole bunch with quite chaste titles like “Sweet Nothings”, “Layover”, and “Angels of Mercy”, for example. His stuff appears to have had plots and “jizz biz” veterans who could act a little, should that be your cup of tea.

One of our more beloved ISCFC review subjects, Ray Dennis Steckler, made several adult features but he also made tons of “normal” ones too – why Mr Needham decided to give it a try once and only once is a question it looks like we’ll never get answered (his writer, Ted Newsom, scripted a dozen or so pornos before moving on to the sort of trashy sci-fi fare we love to cover here).

This is a cheap-looking movie, whether shot-on-video or some nasty broken 16mm camera is tough to tell – doubly so, watching it on an old VHS tape. After a cold open featuring a kid murdering an abusive parent with a trowel to the neck, lifted from “Halloween”, we move on to a premise lifted straight from “The Hills Have Eyes”, where an RV full of people go for a nice relaxing weekend in the desert between LA and Vegas.

Well, it’s not really a holiday, it’s a group therapy session led by Doctor Barbara Shelley. Perhaps mental health was a more casual, less regulated business back then? Her clients include Rick, a traumatised Vietnam vet; Dory, a predatory lesbian; Dave, just a generally angry guy; Cassie, a nymphomaniac; Jean, a woman petrified of being touched; and Crawford, a cheerful alcoholic. Quite why some of these people got into the orbit of a psychiatrist, or certainly of the same psychiatrist, is one of those things the movie just expects you to take on faith. The “meet the meat” section has never felt more perfunctory.

Dory’s family apparently owns a spot of desert, containing a long-defunct silver mine, so she offers this to the group for their therapy. Tents are set up, Rick and Dave fight, Crawford carries on drinking (how much booze did he take for the weekend to stay as sozzled as he is every second he’s on camera? Who knows); but, astonishingly, it seems Dr Shelley is pretty good at her job and some actual breakthroughs are made. Well, one – Jean gets over her phobia quite quickly.

This whole preamble takes about half an hour, fairly standard in slasher movie standards, but this has the added problem of looking ugly and cheap. Then there’s a murder, then it immediately grinds to a halt for another half an hour. There’s a weird tonal problem which becomes apparent now – some of the characters appear to think they’re in a comedy movie, others don’t, and the rest are just desperately trying to act (you’ll be unsurprised to discover there’s a handful of actors for whom this is their only credit). Are we supposed to be taking the threat seriously? Worried for the characters? Or laughing along with them?

The one interesting bit of casting is Dory, one Lisa Loring. The name may not be familiar to you but her most iconic role probably is – Wednesday Addams from the 60s TV “Addams Family”. This represents one of a tiny handful of movies she made in the late 80s, after a tiny handful of TV appearances in the late 70s, after her childhood fame in the mid 60s.

This isn’t Wednesday Addams, by the way. I ordered the pictures wrong

The reveal / twist, when it comes, is faintly ludicrous. Imagine the number of things that needed to go perfectly well for the killer’s plan to work out, and how much easier it would have been to just kidnap the one person they definitely wanted to kill back in LA. All those group therapy sessions just to get to this point! Imagine if Dr Shelley’s boss had said “I’m absolutely not letting you do this, it’s a ridiculous idea”?

Ultimately, it’s absolutely no different to hundreds and hundreds of other slasher movies from the 80s. The gore is more gleeful and plentiful than the average, perhaps? If you like that sort of thing, you’ll probably have a tolerable time, but unlike a few of the curios we’ve unearthed here, deserves to remain in the obscurity which it currently languishes in.

Rating: thumbs down

Bloodsuckers From Outer Space (1984)

Welcome, dear reader, to another mini review series here at ISCFC, “movies I own that start with the word Blood”. There’ll be all sorts of genres, all sorts of budgets, even one animated movie (I think) but at the end of it you’ll have a pile more opinions to inform your movie viewing experience.

“Bloodsuckers From Outer Space” is the first movie from Glen Coburn, who’d go on to make a few beloved-ish indies, “Tabloid” and “Hollywood Deadbeat”. But this movie is firmly in the tradition of the mid-80s straight-to-video horror explosion, and could be (MST3K joke alert!) compared to such classics as “Return of the Living Dead”. Well, the comparison would be “Return of the Living Dead was really good. This movie sucked”.

Rural Texas is the location for all the fun and games, and we start in gentle fashion with a farmer, doing farming things. Then there’s a wind, although it’s more a noise than actual wind (the trees in the background are entirely immobile, for example), and said farmer starts retching before collapsing, blood spewing from his mouth. A few seconds later and he’s up! But with a grey face, hideous distended black veins and a mean look in his eyes.

Now, we could have gone either way at this point. It’s cheap but cheerful, and as the opening credits play there’s one of my all-time favourite things, the custom-written theme song (“They’re Out For Blood”). I have a lot of love in my heart for micro-budget regional horror-comedy, but things go off the rails quite quickly. I’m going to avoid just recapping everything, because who cares? There’s two brothers, one of whom works at “Research City”, an army-related science place, and the other of whom, Jeff, is a photographer for a local paper. Jeff is our hero, sort of, although he’s such a whiny little git that when his car breaks down at the side of the road he smashes it with a crowbar and just abandons it. He’s really difficult to get behind.

Luckily, into his life comes a woman, Julie (Laura Ellis, in her only movie appearance) who just picks him up from the side of the road. He expresses a desire for a joint, she has a tank of nitrous in the back seat, and they both happily huff that while getting to know each other. It’s the magic sort of nitrous that has absolutely zero effect, but they’re happy I guess. Anyway, they go and have sex, and the movie becomes them versus a rapidly multiplying horde of the undead.

What you’re most likely to find out about this movie is that it really tries to be funny. There are endless glances to camera from the main pair, and stuff like Julie saying “oh no, not another kung fu scene” and just walking out of shot. I wish they’d really steered into it, “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” side, and had the cast jaw-jacking with the crew and messing around like that, but they limit it to a few limp gags. I did laugh a few times, definitely, such as the discussion of careers that goes on and the polite wave their zombie aunt gives them as they drive off, so I’d call it a mixed bag maybe? The final gag is a pretty good one too.

As our heroes go through the most bleak-looking bit of rural Texas I’ve ever seen (I googled one of the small towns they filmed in, in 1984, and that same block of stores is there today, even more run-down and miserable), we eventually sort of find out why random people have been turned into blood-sucking monsters by a gust of evil wind. They’re aliens who drifted in, in dust form, and are trying to take over our planet. Probably. They seem really interested in Jeff, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, so you can ponder that if you like. And there’s a subplot with a trigger happy General wanting to use a nuke to clear the entire area, but it’s best not thought about as it’s just terrible.

It’s definitely a mixed bag. I mean, for a movie made for pretty much no money by an amateur cast, on weekends and whenever time could be snatched, it’s pretty damn good, but it’s still probably not good enough to be enjoyed. Even though the rest of the crew didn’t like her due to her reluctance to go topless (having been hired, allegedly, due to her being okay with nudity), Laura Ellis is a surprisingly good equal partner in the mayhem and it’s a shame she appears to have been turned off by the whole movie business. It’s incredibly cheap and moderately cheerful.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

6-Headed Shark Attack (2018)

Well, dear reader, it appears adding a head was the way to go because the difference between this and the same year’s “5 Headed Shark Attack” is night and day. While it’s a very long way from being a great film, it’s still a lot of fun, better paced and better acted than its predecessor.

That might be related to director / co-writer Mark Atkins, who got his start as a cinematographer for The Asylum (“Snakes On A Train”, “Transmorphers: Fall Of Man” and many others from their mockbuster era) and has directed his fair share too – “Sand Sharks”, an ISCFC favourite, was one of his, and he’s also responsible for a series of movies (beginning with “Empire of the Sharks”) where sharks have taken over the world after the melting of the polar ice caps. Will there ever be an end to shark movies? It appears Atkins is one of the bigger talents working in this low budget world, and this movie just adds to the plus column on his resume.

In the Isla De Corazon area of Mexico, William (Brandon Auret) runs a marriage boot camp, with four dysfunctional couples attending. Well, it’s a wooden structure and a few shacks, the actual camp is hinted at more than shown. Well, it’s not even hinted at, the Asylum long since stopped caring about such things. The four couples are…interesting, visually? Two of them are young women with much older men – oddest of all, contract lawyer Mary (German-South African actor Thandi Sebe) and her angry husband James (Cord Newman, better known as a stunt performer and possessed of one of the oddest heads of hair I can remember).

Shark! The cold open of the movie is the shark’s first attack, from 1984, against the members of a scientific base – a base which appears to be nothing more than three different pontoons, tied together, with a rack of test tubes and a few papers lying around – you know, like all high-end scientific establishments! This, at least, provides some explanation for the titular creature, who’s the result of experiments at this base. The five-headed version was just…there?

The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time getting going, which is nice. The couples bicker, William and his estranged wife, his partner in the boot camp, are getting divorced (irony!), and they keep getting chased or eaten by the shark. I like Duke (Jonathan Pienaar), one of the older men, who turns into a natural hunter when the rest of the men are panicking. He doesn’t last all that long, but he has a great impact.

So the movie rips along, and it has a shark with, as advertised, six heads (none of that oddness with the last head being in the tail, like in the previous movie). But it does have some problems. Firstly, they all wear wetsuits – which they keep on for the rest of the movie – for a relatively short swim from the shore to a party pontoon that William owns. Now, this would be pretty unlikely if you’re in the nice warm waters of Mexico; completely normal if they were filming somewhere like Canada or Eastern Europe, where lots of movies are located and where it’s quite cold. Obviously, two of the women constantly remove the top half of their wetsuits so you can see them in their flimsy bras, I mean, this is still low budget cinema we’re talking about here.

Later on, the female half of the hippy couple says she’s a meteorologist and there’s a storm coming; William suggests they shelter in a nearby lighthouse but she says there’s not enough time and they should shelter in that same base from 1984, which is still floating off the island and still containing the exact same items in the same condition as they were 35 years ago. Not enough time to get to the lighthouse, because of the storm. Want to guess if that storm ever shows up? And if they eventually go to the lighthouse and ignore the hippy lady? It’s possible she’s just a really bad meteorologist, which would be sort of a fun twist.

I would like to talk about the shark now. Six heads, as advertised, but the only two that do anything are the front ones. The four at the side are only used as – wait for it – legs when the shark starts attacking them on land! The back two “heads” have a pretty rough deal of it, if we’re being honest, and I feel sorry for them. Thank heavens they share a stomach, I guess. I presume the special effects people just used a crap template and mapped shark features to it, which gives the poor creature a very peculiar look.

There’s oddly timed deaths, an implausible growing romance at the centre of things and stuff like the shark swimming so fast in a circle it causes a whirlpool which capsizes a boat, and the volume of silly stuff happening without it being pitched as a particularly camp movie does wear after a while.

But, you know, after such a miserable previous instalment, I can’t complain about this one. The acting, especially Brandon Auret as William, Jonathan Pienaar as Duke and Thandi Sebe as Mary, is strong (fun fact: Sebe’s sister Naima is one of the other people at the marriage boot camp, it might have been fun if they’d done some “you look familiar” jokes). The effects are cheap but okay, there’s only one egregious “it was daylight, then night really quickly, then daylight in the next scene” transition, and despite a little lull as they realised they started things off quickly and had nowhere to go for act 2, it’s a fine little movie.

Let’s hope that, after this, the final “Sharknado” is my last encounter with Asylum, having promised to stop watching their cheap-and-un-cheerful movies several times now.

Rating: thumbs in the middle