With the release of Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies, I decided to compile a list of my favourite films that take a non-traditional approach to the living-dead canon. More specifically, they all blend romance and the undead. I can’t guarantee any of these films will make you believe in the power of love, nor that they will sidestep the idea of necrophilia, but each is charming in their own unique and twisted ways.
Note: It took me longer to decide what I should or shouldn’t include on the list, than to actually write the bloody thing. So in the end, I figured I should narrow down my choices to zombie movies about falling in love. Thus I am not including Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, nor Ed and His Dead Mother, since those films both deal with a boy’s love for his undead parent. I am also excluding films like Fido and Shaun of the Dead, since they focus more on friendship.
This is the second of what of a two part article.
My Boyfriend’s Back
Directed by Bob Balaban
Written by Dean Lorey
Actor-turned-director, Bob Balaban, directed this black comedy about a young teenage boy who comes back from the dead in hopes of taking his dream girl to the Prom. Balaban seemed like the right choice since his previous film, and directorial debut, the off-beat 1989 film Parents, also dealt with teen angst and cannibalism. Unfortunately, Balaban was put in an awkward situation of trying to direct a horror comedy to please … get this … Disney. The result is a strange marriage of fantasy, comedy, and parody, and a wicked satire on teen-age brutality, puberty and small-town bigotry.
Andrew Lowery stars as Johnny, a high school outsider who tries his best to impress Missy McCloud, the girl he’s been in love with, all his life. Desperate to get her attention, and quickly running out of hope, Johnny conceptualizes a scheme involving a quick stop robbery. However, things go sour, and Johnny catches a bullet to the chest while trying to protect Missy from harms way. Luckily for Johnny, he’s given a second chance, and rises from the grave as a flesh eating zombie. But this isn’t your ordinary zombie flick. The film’s principal joke is that every so often, someone in the town, rises from the grave, and so it isn’t a big surprise for the local townspeople who go on with their daily rituals.
With Friday The 13th director Sean S. Cunningham producing, and Balaban directing, one gets the feeling that this was meant to be a much darker film. My Boyfriend’s Back might have a lighthearted tone, but this isn’t exactly family material. Johnny’s sudden decomposition is just the start of his problems. He also has to deal with his high school bullies Chuck (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Missy’s now ex-boyfriend Buck (Matthew Fox). Even worse, no one in the town is happy about a zombie moving in and a prejudice begins to rise amongst the townspeople. Johnny isn’t happy to learn that in order to prevent his body from decomposing, he must feed on human flesh – and if that wasn’t enough, he is later taken captive by the town’s deranged doctor (Austin Pendleton), who believes his undead flesh might be the key to a new eternal youth vaccine.
This morbid black comedy is rather silly, but there is a sort of charm about the nonchalant way, everyone treats Johnny’s return. His parents make an effort to kidnap local children and bring them home for Johnny to eat, and Missy doesn’t seem to mind making out with Johnny, despite his body parts falling off. There’s plenty of amusing moments, a few odd sex fantasies and a unique comic-book quality in which many of the scenes begin as animated panels before transitioning into live-action sequences. It also features a surprising good cast, delivering deadpan performances. Look carefully, and you’ll see the first appearance by Matthew McConaughey.
My Boyfriend’s Back is a hilariously tongue-in-cheek send-up of both zombie movies and romantic teen-comedies, with a touch of social satire. Fans of the genre, or just anyone looking for a demented Disney comedy, should find something to like.
It is said that Disney/Touchstone changed the original title of Johnny Zombie because they felt it wouldn’t reach a wide enough audience. So instead, they named it My Boyfriend’s Back, which makes little sense since it isn’t the boyfriend who comes back from the dead, but rather a creepy stalker.
Dr. Bronson: Okay, well, you’re dead. Which is unusual, because we don’t normally see this much activity in a dead person.
Johnny: I heard someone my age is supposed to be comfortable with the way their body changes, but given the circumstances, this was too much.
Big Chuck: GOOD girls don’t hang around with dead boys.
Johnny: Just because I crawled out of a grave doesn’t make me a frickin’ zombie.
Sheriff McCloud: Honey, let the zombie go and I’ll buy you a pretty dress.
Directed by Victor Halperin
Written by Garnett Weston
In this haunting, low-budget, lyrical melodrama, director Victor Halperin brings into play, voodoo, possession and a virgin bride cursed to walk with the living dead. Bela Lugosi stars as voodoo master Murder Legendre, a devilish figure who exercises supernatural powers over the natives in his Haitian domain.
Made by a small indie company on a miniscule budget, White Zombie was a huge box office hit on its initial release; yet it proved to be less popular than other horror films of the time, opening to negative reception. Even worse, it remained out of circulation for quite a while due to various legal battles.Most independent productions of that era are downright awful, but White Zombie is a truly remarkable film.
The film was shot in only eleven days, borrowing many props and scenery from other horror films shot on the Universal lot. Halperin’s rough visuals filled the screen with surprisingly poetic images. The command of mood and emotion on display suggests a work from a master filmmaker, yet Halperin would never achieve anything greater. Halperin did an astonishing job pushing the technical limitations of its day, with extravagant sets, multi-layered compositions and a killer split screen sequence; all elevating the film above simplicity, to near-operatic. The unique result lands somewhere in between classic Universal horror and Val Lewton productions.
The sugar mill sets are to this day, extraordinary. A repeated shot of Madeline walking down a grand staircase in Legendre’s castle is breathtaking, and the crossfade from Madeline and Neil into a shot of Lugosi’s deep penetrating stare is legendary. Many claim his performance here to be his absoulite best, and I’d agree. Lugosi’s character here is one of his most fascinating creations. He never found a better role that could flaunt his range of expressions and his uncanny ability to deliver dialogue quite unlike anyone else.
White Zombie is considered the first feature length zombie film, and thus essential viewing for any true horror fan.
7: I’ll See You in My Dreams
Directed by Miguel Ángel Vivas
Written by Miguel Ángel Vivas and Filipe Melo
The most expensive short ever produced in Portugal, also happens to be a zombie flick. Set in a small village that is haunted by the undead, residents are slaughtered in record time, while the remaining survivors barricade themselves inside. A man named Lucio steps up, and takes the initiative to stop the plague, after his cheating wife becomes one of them. Now that she is a zombie, he keeps her locked up by him, because of his inability to destroy her.
I’ll See You in My Dreams was so popular, it screened ahead of the theatrical release of Exorcist The Beginning in Portugal. There is plenty to enjoy here; solid acting, superb direction, gorgeous widescreen visuals and great special effects.
Eventually, Miguel Ángel Vivas’ went on to direct the home-invasion thriller Kidnapped, a harrowing real-time tale of an assault on a remote family home.
Watch the film below.
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