Video buffs who chanced upon Bob Balaban's directorial debut, Parents (1989), eagerly awaited his next project.
Balaban, a memorably weedy character actor in movies including Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and A Mighty Wind (2003), packed a lot into his first film: a hyper-real visual style reminiscent of Tim Burton and David Lynch, and a disquieting plot adopting a paranoid child's point of view within a grotesquely dysfunctional family.
My Boyfriend's Back is not as edgy or subversive as Parents, but it exploits a similarly disconcerting combination of elements. It is Touchstone Pictures' attempt to colonise the tasteless-horror-comedy genre exemplified by the Return of the Living Dead series, drawing upon the off-centre sensibilities of both Balaban and the B movie producer Sean S. Cunningham (Friday the 13th, 1980).
As in several of the best films of this genre – I recall with particular fondness the Canadian gem Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987) – the gross comedy of zombies and their unruly, decaying body parts is encased in a plot that resembles a deranged version of a '50s rock'n'roll ballad.
Johnny (Andrew Lowery) hopes to romance Missy (Traci Lind) at the school prom but death intervenes, enabling him to pursue his dream in a different fashion. (Watch also for Renee Zellweger, then in her early horror phase.)
Much of the film is given over to a cockeyed comedy of manners in which the undead are equated with other oppressed social groups who suffer vilification and discrimination – mortally challenged, as it were.
Beyond this mild satire of social mores in the time of political correctness, Balaban's direction really comes to life in the gruesome decidedly feel-bad set-pieces that mix love and death, sentiment and savagery.
© Adrian Martin September 1994