Directed by: Jackie Kong
Written by: Michael Sonye
Starring: Rick Burks, Carl Crew & LaNette LaFrance
While reminiscing about video rental stores in my post about my local Blockbuster Video closing down, I was reminded of one of the biggest reasons why I loved visiting video stores when I was younger. While it was great to rent a couple of movies, sometimes it was just fun walking up and down the aisles looking at all of the great artwork on each movie box. Horror in particular had some rather eye-catching artwork, resulting in me renting numerous titles that helped shape my love of the genre. One title I came across early on was Jackie Kong’s horror-comedy Blood Diner, a somewhat remake to splatter legend Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast.
The film is about two brothers, Michael (Rick Burks) and George Tutman (Carl Crew), who were brainwashed at a very young age by their serial killer uncle, Anwar (Drew Godderis), in setting out to resurrect an ancient Lumerian goddess, Sheetar (Tanya Papanicolas). Anwar’s plans were thwarted, and he was gunned down by the police. Several years later, the now adult Michael and George perform a ritual that brings Anwar back from the dead, though he is merely a brain and a set of eyes in a jar, who guides them in completing their task. The duo must collect body parts of women, sew them together and use it as an offering for Sheetar to return. The parts of the bodies from women that Michael and George don’t need get used as food for their vegetarian restaurant. Hot on their trail is Sheba Jackson (LaNette LaFrance) and Mark Sheppard (Roger Dauer), two inequitable detectives.
I was five years old when I started to get into horror films, and since most of them scared the living daylights out of me, Blood Diner was quite an odd experience. Sure, there were some pretty horrific things happening in the film; women getting butchered, a man getting his head crushed under the wheel of a car and a man being gunned down in front of children. But, Blood Diner isn’t a horror film as much as it’s a black comedy. Sure, many of the things happening in the film are gruesome, but they are done in a tongue-in-cheek manner that I hadn’t seen before when I first saw the movie.
Blood Diner quickly became one of my favorite horror films growing up, one that I enjoyed watching over and over again. It wasn’t until recently that I felt the need to watch the movie again, after losing touch with it for about twenty years. At the time that I was seeking a copy of the movie it wasn’t available on DVD here in America (though it is now, but only in a collection with a handful of other b-grade horror and sci-fi movies), so I had to settle on getting an old VHS copy.
Revisiting with a favorite film of your youth is always risky business. I used to be in love with Howard the Duck (I know… I know) as a child, but find it impossible to get through the damn thing in one sitting as an adult. So, I was a bit worried when I popped the clunky cassette copy of Blood Diner into my player a few years ago and hit play. Luckily, everything I thought I loved about the film remained the same. Its dark humor, over the top gore and eccentric characters still amount to a fantastic hidden gem of 80s horror.
Aside from the outlandish death scenes scattered throughout the film, Blood Diner succeeds because of its two central actors, Rick Burks and Carl Crew. Despite all of their murderous deeds, the Tutman brothers are a pair of charismatic individuals, which shines through due to the charming nature of Burks and Crew. There is something enjoyable about the over the top way the two murder people, especially with how much fun the two are having while doing so.
Perhaps it’s because I grew up during the 80s, but I find that many of my favorite oddball horror films come from that era. Blood Diner is one of the most unusual, but highly enjoyable horror films you could ever experience. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and knows how to have fun with its bizarre premise, all while offering a bloody good (and hilarious) time.
The Greatest Bond Theme that (Sorta) Never Was
With twenty-three films presently comprising the James Bond series, there are plenty of staples that have been established that you expect out of each film. Something I always look forward to are the opening themes that follow each film’s action-packed intro scene. “Goldfinger,” sung by Shirley Bassey, has always been my personal favorite Bond theme, with “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” “A View to a Kill” and “Skyfall” following closely behind. There is one theme that I do admire, but due to a last minute change from the studio the song was replaced with another theme and then later pushed to the end credits of the film.
I’m talking about “Surrender,” sung by k.d. lang, which was originally titled “Tomorrow Never Dies” until the studio went with Sheryl Crow’s submission for the film. There isn’t anything particularly bad with Sheryl Crow’s song, it’s just that like most of the opening theme songs during the Pierce Brosnan run of the franchise it really doesn’t have much to do with the actual movie (listen to the opening theme to GoldenEye and tell me those lyrics fit with anything that happens in the movie). It just doesn’t succeed at setting up the story that is featured in Tomorrow Never Dies.
If you don’t know the plot to Tomorrow Never Dies, here it is in a nutshell; James Bond is up against a media mogul who is masterminding war in order to further his control over world news. Listen to the lyrics to Sheryl Crow’s song and you don’t get that impression. The k.d. lang song, however, does establish the story of Tomorrow Never Dies. Plus, the song is done in a similar fashion to the opening theme of “Goldfinger.” Brassy and operatic, it’s the sort of Bond theme that the franchise hasn’t had for a long time.
I get that Sheryl Crow was a bigger name at the time, so I understand why the studio went with her song instead. But, a little more work could have gone along with this decision. Something that’s always bugged me is that the melody to “Surrender” is still featured throughout the movie, with no trace of Sheryl Crow’s song popping up at anytime during the film. Again, since this was a last minute decision to switch songs I understand why it would have been impossible to rework the entire soundtrack to the film in time for the movie’s release.
This was a pointless rant, but it’s been something I’ve always wanted to ramble on about. To those who are curious about k.d. lang’s theme, above is a video that has the song incorporated into the actual opening credits of Tomorrow Never Dies. The song doesn’t quite sync up to the video, but it at least gives an idea of how awesome of an opening this could have been if the studio made the right choice and went with this song instead.
This Used to Be My Playground - A Personal Retrospective on Video Rental Stores
The first video rental store I went to was a locally owned one called Luciano’s Pizza & Video. It was a neat little spot that not only offered video rental, but also had a small diner you could eat in or order take out from. This was also the first place I got to experience arcade games at (Pac-Man and Tapper). This all happened around the same time that I was really getting into movies, and since the selection was so large (at least to the five year old I was) it was sometimes just fun browsing through the many titles and admiring the great cover art (particularly the horror films). A couple of other locally owned video stores popped up, my favorite of which was called Video Empire (they had two locations, both with a much larger selection of horror titles than any of the other rental stores, as well as video games!!). Things changed with the arrival of Blockbuster Video.
Quickly, the locally owned shops found that they couldn’t compete with Blockbuster, whose store was three times larger than the biggest of the locally owned stores, they had more copies of movies (though their horror section sucked) and could offer better pricing. So, it wasn’t long after Blockbuster rode into town that many of the smaller video stores I enjoyed visiting on a regular basis started closing up, until about ten years ago when Blockbuster Video became the only rental store in town.
As I’ve gotten older, I find that my time isn’t as open as it used to be. Whether it be spent on work, family, friends or sleeping, I just couldn’t find the time to stroll down to Blockbuster and rent a couple of movies, let alone watch them before they were due back. My love of films was still as strong as it had ever been, but actually going to a video store was becoming rather inconvenient. With the advent of video-on-demand (VOD) and services like Netflix, it was easier to obtain movie titles in a fashion that was a little more accessible and at my own pace. Pretty soon the thing I used to love doing (going to the video store) became something I just didn‘t care to do anymore.
About two weeks ago the Blockbuster Video (pictured above) in my area announced that it would be closing up shop on June 6th, and was currently in the process of selling all of their DVDs, Blu-Rays and miscellaneous inventory (candy, magazines, posters, toys, key chains…) at a reduced cost. Even though I hadn’t been in that store for well over seven years I still found it heartbreaking to see that it was closing down. I’m not surprised that it’s shutting down (rather, I’m more surprised at the fact that it’s stuck around for so long), but that old nostalgic feeling I have for video rental stores stirred up inside me when I read that “Store Closing” banner and reminded me of the joy I once felt as a kid whenever I walked into one of those buildings and saw all those shelves lined with movies.
I understand why places like Blockbuster Video are closing up, but it’s still a little sad to see it happen. I suppose it’s more over the fact that there won’t be the chance for kids anymore to experience the feeling of walking into a video rental store and seeing all those movies available for rental like I did (though I’m sure being able to look up a movie on Netflix and have it stream right on your television or computer right then and there is a pretty impressive site for kids).
I have no idea where the distribution of movies on home formats is headed, but I suspect that even DVDs and Blu-Rays will one day become obsolete, and that VOD will become the primary source for people to see movies at home with. And maybe one day I will write a blog about how sad seeing Netflix mail service disappear has made me. Till then, I’m happy to open up my mailbox and see those red envelops with a movie waiting for me to watch. Pity this joy is one of the many reasons why Blockbuster is going the way it is.
How Zombies Became My Favorite Movie Monster - Part 1
I can still remember the feeling I had after sitting through George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead for the first time. Though technically the second zombie movie I encountered (I saw bits and pieces of Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror about a year prior), Day of the Dead was the first zombie film I watched from beginning to end. Might not sound like much of an achievement, but it was for that scared little five year old I was when I saw the film. I was in kindergarten at the time, which was split into two classes, AM and PM. I was in the PM class, which meant I didn’t have to be at school until about 11:30 in the morning. So, most mornings were spent with my dad watching movies before he went into work. One morning he happened to put a copy of Day of the Dead in, and didn’t think much that his five year old son was sitting in the living room with him. Regardless of whether or not this was bad parenting, this experience forever changed who I was, and started a lifelong obsession with zombies that is still going strong today.
As I try and rediscover my love for movies with this blog I thought it only fitting that I spent a little time revisiting with my favorite movie monster, zombies. Even though I was that scared little boy watching Day of the Dead the movie fascinated me. When the movie reached its climax, and one of the central villains (I won’t spoil who for those who haven’t seen the movie yet) gets ripped in half I was sold on zombies. Shortly after viewing this entry in the series I immediately followed it up with the other two zombie films Romero had made. Dawn of the Dead was the next film I watched, and I loved that one even more than I did Day of the Dead. Night of the Living Dead was the last of the original Dead Trilogy for me to watch, and since it came at a time when I was getting into classic cinema, the film quickly became my favorite of the series, and to date remains my favorite zombie movie of all time.
In the years since I first watched Day of the Dead my opinion on the film has altered a bit. I still love the movie and enjoy watching it from time to time, but when you compare it to the first two films it doesn’t stack up very well. This is largely in part to the fact that Romero had a much grander vision for this third, and what was supposed to be final entry in the series. But, due to budgeting issues with the studio things had to be scaled back and Romero’s vision was trimmed down to what you see on the screen now. It’s not a bad movie, just not a particularly great one.
The characters aren’t as strong or as compelling as the ones in Night and Dawn, but there are some good ones in the mix. The villainous army characters and most of the scientist are underdeveloped, with Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) being a cardboard cutout of a typical control freak and Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) feeling more like a mad-scientist reject. But, there are great characters like the alcoholic Bill McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) and helicopter pilot John (Terry Alexander) to pick up the slack. John in particular is the strongest human character in the film, and gets to say the most intelligent and well thought out dialogue that Romero put into Day of the Dead.
Then, of course there’s Bub (Sherman Howard), Dr. Logan’s prized zombie pupil. Day of the Dead was the first in the series to introduce the idea of smart zombies, a topic that would get explored more with Romero’s next zombie film, Land of the Dead (which was released nearly 20 years after Day of the Dead). Aside from the great make-up that Bub, as well as the other zombies, has (headed by legendary make-up artist Gregory Nicotero) the character stands out because of the great performance that Sherman Howard gives in the role. Dare I say that Sherman Howard plays what I consider to be the greatest zombie in cinema history? I do indeed.
With Romero’s original vision for Day of the Dead, the smart zombie (ones that were taught to perform menial tasks, and even fight other zombies or humans on command) was to play a large part in the story. You can see shades of it with Bub, but not enough for the idea to truly blossom into greatness. It’s a fantastic concept that unfortunately got watered down, and was never given a fair chance of coming to life on the big screen like it should have.
Regardless of the film’s many shortcomings, Day of the Dead is still a favorite of mine. Some see this as the best in the series, but most view it as the weakest of the original three. But, almost no one holds it against George A. Romero for not being able to deliver the goods with this one. Besides, the movie played a pivotal part in the development of my obsession with zombies. And I will always have a special place in my heart for it.
I always joke that I either had really cool parents growing up, or really negligent ones. The majority of my childhood memories consist of me sitting in front of a television set watching a movie. Ever since I can remember I’ve always had a love for movies. Throughout my lifetime I have seen more films than I could list, and enjoyed discussing them with the people around me. About ten years ago I started using Rotten Tomatoes in order to share my opinions about movies for the world (or at least RT users) to read. I made a couple of good friends during my time with Rotten Tomatoes, and built up the confidence to venture out into running my own blog, which was up for nearly three years before I made the difficult decision to call it quits. I struggled with the idea of ending my site. I mean, this thing was my baby! Was I truly prepared to give up on something so important to me?
I suppose the first question is why I felt like I needed to quit my blog. For starters, I found my passion for movies was slipping (something that often occurs when I push myself to watch film after film, solely just to have a list of titles to ramble about on the site). Instead of enjoying the movies I was watching I was more concerned with what I was going to say about them in my reviews. Pretty soon I found that I was watching movies purely so I could keep up with my minimal five reviews per week quota I foolishly set for myself. And since I was watching new movie after new movie I couldn’t find the time to sit back with an old favorite and revisit with it. To say the least, what was once a passionate hobby of mine had quickly turned into a tedious chore.
Secondly, the site was taking up too much of my personal time. Instead of going out and doing things, like hanging out with friends or just hitting the road and seeing what I could discover, I was sitting either in my house or at the theater watching movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies! But somehow they became everything about me. It wasn’t until I abandoned my blog that I started getting into things like music, as well as just going out and visiting places for no real reason other than just to have fun (I recently hit up D.C. and visited Chinatown one weekend just because!)
Lastly, things were beginning to feel stale with my blog. Every review was similar to the last one (a picture with a witty quote, five paragraphs of my opinions and then finished up with a star rating). After a while I began not to care what I had to say about the movies I was watching, I was just going through the motions. And even worse, I wasn’t having fun doing it. I used to enjoy writing reviews, and found the words came easily to me. The past couple of weeks I would be sitting at my desk at home, computer fired up and the movie to be reviewed still fresh in my mind, but finding it difficult to get the words out. The last movie I tried to write a review for was Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. I struggled to find the right words to use to express my love for that movie, and ultimately wasn’t able to find them. That was when I finally realized that I needed a break.
I must admit that my time off from blogging has been invigorating, but I’m not ready to give up on it all together. I’m not sure where I’m headed with this new blog, but I know that things are going to be different this time around. Movie reviews will still be an important part of what I do here at Hot Dogs in the Dark, but not the only important thing. Since I sort of lost my love and passion for movies, I want to use my blog to help me rediscover it. It’s a journey that I enjoy, and one that I want to continue for the rest of my life. I hope that I haven’t lost too many of the followers that I have earned over the past decade (though I understand if people have given up on me) and hope to attract more in the coming years as I try to get my act together.
Hot Dogs in the Dark is here to stay, at least for the time being. Haven’t quite figured out what I intend on doing with the blog, but be assured that it’s going to be different from what I’ve done in the past.
- Bryan “thirdman” Gomez