Episode #27 of The Swampflix Podcast: Beyond Society – Brian Yuzna’s Collabs With Screaming Mad George & Blood Diner (1987)

Welcome to Episode #27 of The Swampflix Podcast! For our twenty-seventh episode, Brandon makes James watch the blood-soaked horror comedy Blood Diner (1987) for the first time. Also, James & Brandon discuss all ten collaborations between director Brian Yuzna & “surrealistic” special effects master Screaming Mad George, the monstrous creative team behind the horror classic Society (1992). Enjoy!

-Brandon Ledet & James Cohn

The Being (1983)

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three star

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After falling in love with Jackie Kong’s weirdo live action cartoon horror comedy Blood Diner, I was intrigued to see what other hidden gems the director managed to deliver in her modest four film career. Besides a couple mid-80s comedies (one featuring Andrew Dice Clay, yikes), Kong had only directed one other horror film, a creature feature titled The Being. Part The Thing, part Toxic Avenger, and released in-between the two, The Being is unfortunately not nearly as idiosyncratic as Blood Diner in terms of tone or context. It finds Kong younger and more restrained in both her bravery & her budget, aiming for a more generic drive-in horror aesthetic than what would later be delivered in her midnight movie circuit cult classic. It’s still impressively entertaining for a dirt cheap slice of drive-in schlock, though, and you can easily detect that Blood Diner sense of humor informing every scene of monster-driven mayhem.

Twilight Zone-spoofing narration reports the strange disappearances of young children in the small town of Puttsville, Idaho in an opening scene that plays more like a trailer than an actual movie. These mysterious disappearances seem to be tied to the town’s crisis of radiation-contaminated water from local, uncaring Big Business jerks. The company guilty for this Flint-reminiscent offense makes no effort to hide the fact that they’re dumping toxic chemicals into the water supply; they just have their evil PR stooge (Martin Landeau, the film’s only recognizable face) claim in public forums that the pollution is harmless. Of course, the pollution is far from harmless, unwittingly giving birth to a horrific monster (the titular “being”) who swoops in for frequent kills, the source of the film’s central disappearances. The company is aware of this mutated beast, but deflects attention by claiming the citizens of Puttsville really need to worry about the moral contamination of the sins of pornography peddlers & massage parlors. The product they’re protecting by covering up these supernatural murders? Potatoes.

Jackie Kong employs a much subtler hand in her blood-soaked satire here than she does with Blood Diner, but both films reveal her to be a great talent at surprising audiences from within the familiar. She keeps the titular mutated beast from The Being in the dark for the majority of its runtime the way most cheap horror films would, mostly just showing its gooey, demonic arms reaching for victims in its flights of murderous rampage. There’s plenty to be entertained by in the details even while the film’s withholding, though: a trucker decapitated while driving, a drive-in audience attacked through blood-oozing cars & screen, a bizarre Wizard of Oz-inspired black & white dream sequence. And when the being’s full body is revealed, Kong makes her limited effects budget count for all that it can, constructing a uniquely uncanny creature that resembles a gooey, organic version of the monster from Hardware.

The Being is less confident in its spooky-goofy tone than Blood Diner, but by the time the film ends on a comedic “Where are they now?” gag before the credits roll, it’s clear that Kong had not delivered just another by-the-books creature feature. Her sense of humor and her punk rock pranksterism are readily apparent in this earlier, less-formed work and it’s a shame she never had the chance to make a dozen more monster-driven horror movies after she had pushed her horror comedy formula even further. Two Jackie Kong horror titles aren’t nearly enough. Event though it’s been a few decades since her last film, I’m hoping to see her return to the director’s chair and crank out some more pictures ASAP.

-Brandon Ledet

Blood Diner (1987)

see no evil

fourstar

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“While it is a sad fact that mass homicide and practitioners of Blood Cults infest our society, the producers of this film wish to express that they do not condone, nor do they want to inspire, any of the human butchery or violence portrayed in this film. If you feel you will be offended by such material, please leave the theater at once . . .”

Opening with that grave, overly serious warning, you might expect Blood Diner to have the gritty grindhouse exploitation vibe of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (an obvious point of reference for that tongue-in-cheek disclaimer). However, the truth is that Blood Diner is much more in line with the energetically violent slapstick comedy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, except that its humor is a lot less shrill and the movie does a much better job of distancing itself from its own predecessor. A supposed sequel to the grindhouse “classic” Blood Feast (a film I have zero affection for), Blood Diner is pure 80s splatter comedy mayhem. It boasts all of the shock value violence & misogynistic cruelty of its predecessor (this time at the hands of a female director, Jackie Kong), but has a lot more in common with ZAZ spoofs or Looney Tunes than it does with its grindhouse pedigree. Everything in Blood Diner is treated with Reagan-era irreverence to the point where this pointlessly stupid horror comedy starts to feel like inane poetry. It shocks; it offends. Yet, Blood Diner is so consistently, absurdly mindless that all you can do is laugh at its asinine audacity in its cheap midnight movie thrills.

Two young children play in a Pee-wee’s Playhouse version of the 1960s, complete with kitsch toys, Cadillacs, and a radio broadcast of doo-wop singers maniacally crooning “Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy” on a seemingly endless loop. This nostalgic reverie is disrupted when their serial killer uncle, announced on the radio to be responsible for the “Happy Times All Girls Glee Club Slaying” & “armed with a meat cleaver in one hand and his genitals in another” bursts through the door like Leatherface to say his final goodbyes before the police gun him down. In this final exchange, he takes the time to make sure that his ancient blood ritual religion has stuck with the children. Boy, did it ever. The brothers grow up to be screwball sociopaths, casual serial murderers who think nothing of ending a life for the sake of a punchline. They resurrect their uncle after a 20 year delay by grave-robbing his somehow still-intact brain & eyes and storing them in a mason jar in their hip vegetarian restaurant. Their uncle’s brain continues to brainwash them (ugh) from the comfort of its jar, pressuring them to collect female body parts from fresh victims to resurrect the ancient goddess they worship for an all-important “blood buffet” that’s ultimately staged at the city’s slimiest rock club. Their mission is, for the most part, a success.

Essentially, none of this matters. Minus the part where the brothers serve human meat to their vegetarian restaurant’s loyal patrons, the plot of Blood Diner falls somewhere between the female body reassembly of Frankenhooker and a version of Weekend at Bernie’s where every character is a potential corpse to play with. It’s somehow treated with less reverence than either of those titles. This is a film that survives entirely on a diet of small moments & constant sight gags. A mannequin is treated like a normal human character, his nature as an inanimate object never being mentioned. A shovel to the back of the head pops out a victim’s eyeballs with ease. One of the chef-brothers gets to live out his dream of becoming a pro wrestler and takes on a heel named Jimmy Hitler in the ring. A shitty new wave concert erupts into a nonstop orgy of metaphysical violence. This kind of irreverent mayhem can often feel grotesquely misogynistic, like when a nude aerobics class is gunned down by a killer in a Ronald Reagan mask. Even that line of gore comedy can be deliciously amusing, though, like when a female victim’s head is deep fried and emerges looking like a gigantic hush puppy. Taking a ZAZ-style approach to its live action cartoon cruelty, Blood Diner throws so many stupid jokes at the wall that eventually you’ll let your guard down enough for a fair number of them to stick and you’ll earn a hearty laugh.

It’s possible that because Blood Diner is so cheaply made and so blatantly stupid that I’m giving it more credit than it deserves, overlooking some of its more glaring, misanthropic faults. I’m definitely the kind of audience that’s willing to forgive the mistakes made by a scrappy production written around a terrible “blood donor” pun just so I can indulge in some aggressively juvenile humor about unwitting cannibalism and nudist Kung Fu. Blood Diner feels like a genuine version of The Greasy Strangler that was discovered in the wild instead of designed in a lab. It’s the experience I expected to have with Tobe Hooper self-parody in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II instead of the the disappointing one I got, a rare schlock cinema balance where the grotesque humor is exhaustingly inane, but still impressive in its success rate. I’m curious to see what other atrocities Jackie Kong unleashed upon the world in her heyday, because she seems to have a strong comedic mind for someone who only managed to get a handful of projects off the ground. Even if Blood Diner is her only success, though, it’d still be a career worth being proud of, thanks to a grotesque cinematic prank that’s an outright miracle in the way it tests patience, outwears its welcome, and spits in the viewer’s face, while still feeling oddly endearing in its own dinky way.

-Brandon Ledet