Now available on DVD
Samantha Mumba as Jessica
David Leon as Nathan
Tadhg Murphy as Diggs
Laurence Kinlan as Henry
Sara James as Cheryl
Mark Huberman as Samson
Directed by Stephen Bradley
It wasn’t long after George A. Romero invented the modern zombie genre with “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968 that filmmakers were inspired to spoof the undead. The first attempt came with Bob Clark’s 1972 “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.” And when Romero himself returned to the land of the undead in 1978 with “Dawn of the Dead” he leavened the bleak intensity of “NOTLD” by using his zombies as the frequent butt of jokes rather than as figures of dread, at one point hurling cream pies in the faces of his zombie hordes. So while the phrase “horror comedy” is almost always met with derision by genre fans, zombie comedies are typically exempt from that disdain and are not just tolerated but often celebrated. After all, who doesn’t consider “Return of the Living Dead,” “Re-Animator,” “Dead Alive,” and “Shaun of the Dead” to be among the high ranks of modern classics? But while it may look easy to get laughs from zombies, the proper mix of gore and gags takes a deft hand. For every cult favorite like “Shaun of the Dead,” there’s a “Dead Heat” to be found.
Hailing from Ireland (and dating way back to 2005 â just now making its Stateside bow), “Boy Eats Girl” is more reminiscent of 1993’s high school-set, zombie-meets-girl romance “My Boyfriend’s Back” than it is of “Shaun of the Dead.” As in “My Boyfriend’s Back,” death thwarts young love in “Boy Eats Girl” â but only temporarily. Written by Derek Landy, Boy Eats Girl introduces us to sensitive schoolboy Nathan (played by David Leon) who has been nursing a crush on his schoolmate and friend Jessica (played by former UK pop star Samantha Mumba) for years. His gawky chums Henry and Diggs (played respectively by Laurence Kinlan and Tadhg Murphy) are pressuring the lovelorn Nathan to tell Jessica how he feels but Nathan is too afraid that he’ll lose the friendship he has with her.
When a meeting between them is arraigned with Nathan working up the nerve to be upfront with Jessica, Nathan waits on a rainy night for his dream girl to show â spending his time at their destined rendezvous point writing and then discarding letters that will tell Jessica everything he can’t say out loud. But when Jessica doesn’t show and he goes out looking for her, he has the misfortune to catch a glimpse of her in what looks like a compromised position. It’s an innocent misunderstanding but the wounded Nathan takes what he’s seen at face value and tearfully hurries home to hit a bottle of whiskey.
Unfortunately, besides booze Nathan also has a noose in his bedroom that’s conveniently tied and ready to go. A teddy bear is hanging from it â Nathan’s clearly into making sardonic statements with his room dÃ©cor â but Nathan impulsively puts it around his neck as he contemplates the bitch that betrayed him. Now, from the preceding plot description you might already have an inkling of what Boy Eats Girl’s main problem is â it’s not terribly funny. Nathan is a total drip with his earnest quest for True Love but yet watching him contemplate suicide isn’t likely to put anyone in stitches.
My thoughts throughout the first half of “Boy Eats Girl” were chiefly along the lines of “just who is this movie being made for?” It’s not working for the horror crowd, it isn’t funny (even Kinlan and Tadhg as Nathan’s school buds come off like stereotypically ‘funny’ characters rather than characters who actually are funny) and the characters are too underwritten (Deirdre O’Kane as Nathan’s mother is especially poorly served) and the performances are too flat to sell the kind of teen angst that Landy’s script introduces.
But then Nathan hangs himself and things get better.
Whether or not Nathan means to do himself in is unclear. But unless you really want to die, it’s probably not the best idea to put your head in a noose and stand on a chair â it’s too easy for someone like your mother to barge into the room unexpectedly to knock you off your perch and make that decision for you. That’s what happens to Nathan here but luckily his mother spied an ancient text while at her day job in an old church. She steals the book from its hiding spot in a hidden crypt and follows the book’s do-it-yourself voodoo guide to resurrection. So when Nathan wakes up in his bed the next day, he has no memory of being dead. Unfortunately, a page was missing from the final page of the spell so complications are due to arise.
When Nathan goes to school, we see that this film’s version of becoming a zombie isn’t quite in step with current standards. He aptly comes back the same bland personality he died with, and it takes him some time to realize only human flesh will satisfy his new appetites. But when he does help himself to some available flesh, the film perks up. Director Stephen Bradley is no Peter Jackson but he does manage to stage enough gory set-pieces to make his film pay off for patient horror fans. You’ve seen it all done better and bloodier elsewhere but the multitude of FX gags here (supervised by Bob Keen of “Hellraiser” fame) are very accomplished and the final half hour or so delivers some nice bits.
There’s even an attempt to outdo one of “Dead Alive’s iconic scenes where instead of plowing through a room of zombies with a lawnmower, one character shows up with a giant backhoe to liquefy a whole horde of zombies (scripter Landy must know his genre films as there’s also a scene where Nathan tries to get himself arrested that plays like a reference to a similar scene in “An American Werewolf in London” where David Naughton vainly tries to get himself jailed).
In the end, while “Boy Eats Girl” didn’t elicit a single laugh out of me (honest!), the onslaught of practically realized gore FX in its second half nudged this into a slightly higher rating. “Boy Eats Girl” lacks the vivid characterizations that a good horror comedy should have but as a gorefest it proves to have some merit. Recent films like “Hatchet” have made a name for themselves among fans by practicing an old-school brand of CGI-free splatter and “Boy Eats Girl” compares well in that company. It’s not enough to make anyone fall in love with it, but it’s a harmless way to spend 80 minutes while you wait for the splatter film of your dreams to come along.