The horror comedy can be a tricky genre to pull off, even though both horror and comedy have striking similarities. Both genres rely heavily on timing and tension and both often feature over-the-top characters with wildly specific behaviors. Yet horror comedies frequently fail because they can wink too much at the audience or are just generally sloppy movies with bad pacing and terrible performances.
In Blood Diner, Michael and George Tutman (Rick Burks and Carl Crew) are two brothers who have been inculcated into the cult of Sheetar, an ancient Lumerian goddess, by their serial killer uncle Anwar (Drew Godderis) from an early age. As adults, they bring their Uncle Anwar back from the dead, and for the rest of the movie, he is a disembodied brain and eyes speaking with a comically thick, vaguely Middle Eastern accent. In order to summon Sheetar, the two men must create the perfect woman from the body parts of multiple women and then feed a virgin to her. Michael and George also own a successful health food restaurant, so their quest for attractive women to murder is much easier.
When Jackie Kong directed Blood Diner, she wasn’t necessarily trying to break new ground in this specific genre. In fact, horror comedies were not really a thing during this time. If a horror movie worked as a comedy, it was typically in the “so bad, it’s funny” kind of way. The script by Michael Sonye was meant to be a sequel to Blood Feast, which was a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie whose comedic intentions are not overt. In an interview, Kong describes the original script as “serious as a heart attack.” She realized the need for some humor and she delivers in spades with some of the grossest, most ridiculous horror scenes ever put to screen. Perhaps the most memorable kill has to be the woman that Michael kills at his home by covering her with batter and then frying her head, turning it into a ball of dough. To add injury to insult, Michael takes a golf club to her head as he runs away and knocks off her dough-covered head into the next room where George is making out with the dead woman’s friend.
While Blood Diner does feature the rampant violence against women typical of many horror movies, there are many sly feminist touches as well. When women got to direct horror movies around this time period, it was usually for schlock meister Roger Corman. One of Corman’s main tenets for the many movies he produced was that there had to be sex and nudity, only female. Since Kong didn’t work for Corman and faced relatively little restriction from her producers, her use of female nudity is quite different and not nearly as exploitative as it was in Corman pictures. A scene where the brothers try to kill a couple in the park is turned on its head when the naked woman one of them is pursuing unexpectedly uses karate on him when she is cornered. Often the excess of nudity in Blood Diner is a criticism in and of itself. For example, a nude female aerobics class serves the double purpose of ostensibly fulfilling the unofficial nudity quota and as a parody of fad workouts that were popular during the 80s. (Funnily enough, nude aerobics would actually become a thing after this movie.)
Beyond the feminist touches, there are critiques of mass American culture during this time as well. In fact, Blood Diner is also a satire of the American health craze of the 80s, as the nude aerobics scene might suggest. For example, the secret sauce that makes the brothers’ vegetarian food taste so good is actually a mixture of animal parts from a recipe that Uncle Anwar gave them. Even the casting of the two male leads was a comment on masculinity. The two brothers are handsome, attractive men, and are comparatively quite straight-laced compared to the LA counterculture they were immersed in. Kong said that she wanted to model them after the holier-than-thou types who would bomb abortion clinics to show that often even the most clean-cut, well put together people can be guilty of the most twisted deeds.
Blood Diner manages to capture a spirit of the time while focusing almost exclusively on its counterculture. The era of Reaganomics and how it manifested in mass consumerism and commercialization even at its lowest levels is a subtle but very real backdrop to the horror mayhem. The objectification of women by a society that endorses it is present in a time of sexual prudishness that deliberately excluded anyone that wasn’t straight and cisgender. One need only look at the AIDS crisis and the devastation it wreaked on the gay community for an example of this deliberate ignorance. By presenting its almost polar opposite (there is no significant LGBTQ representation in this movie), Blood Diner works in the way that John Waters movies do to criticize the “straightness” that it explicitly does not engage in. And it does all this with the lightest of touches.