A look back at forgotten VHS favorites from the video store era one rental at a time, it’s Video Rewind! This month’s movie is “My Boyfriend’s Back”.
The first film Adam Marcus directed was released in theaters on August 13, 1993. Marcus was a mere 23 years old, and the film was kind of a big deal: the 9th part in a long-running horror franchise about a killer in a hockey mask. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is the most divisive entry in the series, and writer/director Adam Marcus took a lot of criticism for how he handled the story. Whether that criticism was deserved or not is one of the hottest debates in Friday the 13th fandom.
And if it weren’t for Disney (of all companies), Jason Goes to Hell could have been immeasurably different, and Adam Marcus would have directed a teen rom-com that premiered in theaters a mere week before the supposed “final” Friday.
Producer Sean S. Cunningham of Friday the 13th fame hired Adam Marcus right out of NYU Film School to direct his latest project for Touchstone Pictures, a zombie teen comedy/fantasy written by Marcus’s friend Dean Lorey titled Johnny Zombie. Cunningham even brought on Friday the 13th composer Harry Manfredini to score the film, with a story that centers around a teenage boy who comes back from the dead in order to take the most beautiful girl in his high school to the prom.
Walt Disney Studios, the parent company of Touchstone Pictures, wasn’t keen on a first time director handling the project and opted to remove Marcus from the film. Peter Jackson (Dead Alive) was offered the job, but turned it down. Directing duties ultimately went to Bob Balaban, an experienced character actor who directed similar, dark comedy material in 1989’s Parents, the cannibalistic horror/comedy starring Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt.
Adam Marcus was then handed directing duties for Jason Goes to Hell from a script he worked on with Johnny Zombie writer, Dean Lorey.
With a budget of $12 million, Johnny Zombie began filming on location at C.D. Fulkes Middle School in Round Rock, Texas in the Fall of 1992.
Andrew Lowery, starring as the titular role of Johnny, was having a good year in his young career with the releases of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in July and School Ties starring hot new Hollywood star Brendan Frasier in September. Playing opposite Lowery as Missy (the most beautiful girl in high school), was Traci Lind, a model turned actress who was coming off a role in Barry Levinson’s Bugsy starring Warren Beatty, a film that garnered 10 Academy Award nominations in 1991, including Best Picture.
The six week shoot continued in and around the Austin, Texas area until just before Christmas. Shortly before the film’s theatrical release on August 6, 1993, the title was changed to My Boyfriend’s Back.
The film opens with narration over comic book drawings describing a very young Johnny’s love for an also very young Missy, saying how from age six Johnny “lusted” for Missy. This may seem a bit extreme for two six year old kids, but let’s face it, sometimes another human being can really cement one’s sexuality, even when both are still using training wheels on their bikes.
This opening has an Archie comics vibe to it, a nice precursor to the suburban paradise backdrop of the film, much like Balaban’s 1950’s aesthetic in Parents.
And as movie-goers know (as well as anyone familiar with Parents), these picturesque suburban towns are often home to odd characters and strange goings on.
Perhaps the nod to this specific time period is why the studio changed the title to My Boyfriend’s Back, in reference to the 1963 hit song of the same name by The Angels. But that’s anyone’s guess.
In addition to playing second fiddle to Missy’s hunky, jock boyfriend, Buck (future Party of Five and Lost TV star Matthew Fox, in his first film appearance), Johnny is a victim in his own sexual fantasies. When daydreaming in class and about to do the deed with Missy (in front of a raucous crowd of his fellow students in the gymnasium), Johnny gets flagged by an onlooking referee for not having a “regulation size unit.”
This kind of juvenile humor may have propelled many goofy teen comedies to legendary and cult status in the 1980s, but by 1993 it didn’t seem to play so well with audiences.
This style of comedy in teen movies wasn’t very abundant in the early to mid 1990s, but would make a huge comeback in 1999 with the release of American Pie.
Saving Missy’s life during a planned robbery with his friend is the idea that Johnny comes up with to get Missy to go to the prom with him. Who could say no to that? But when the planned robbery turns into a real robbery, our oblivious Johnny actually takes a real bullet for Missy, with his dying words asking her to the prom.
Of course she says yes, probably assuming it would comfort him in his final moments and not foreseeing his rising from the grave to take her up on her commitment. In this way, Traci Lind makes Missy both drop dead gorgeous and rise from the grave gorgeous.
“You look a little pale today, son,” to which Johnny nonchalantly replies, “I’m dead, dad.” His teacher doesn’t cut him any slack either for being late to class the day after rising from the dead. “Just because you’re dead does not mean that you can come waltzing in here whenever you like.”
Johnny being dead doesn’t seem to surprise many people. If anything it’s more of a simple curiosity.
Being dead and all, there’s now an otherness to Johnny that turns a lot of the townspeople off, a clever parable for race relations (that whole 1950s thing plays wonderfully here). But the deadpan humor is what anchors My Boyfriend’s Back, and it all plays off the fact that Johnny is dead.
The entire cast does a great job at saying some ridiculous dialogue and really selling the humor, a credit to director Bob Balaban and his ability to unify the cast around a desired tone and vision.
This goofball comedy is loaded with Oscar-winning talent.
Although two out of the three winners who appear in the film didn’t know it yet, and another winner didn’t make the final cut. 1972 Best Actress in a Supporting Role winner Cloris Leachman has a small, but vital role as the all important Maggie the Zombie Expert (our boy Johnny would have been lost without her).
Future Best Actor winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (billed here simply as Philip Hoffman), is hilarious in a small role as the bully sidekick to Matthew Fox’s Buck. Hoffman is a mouth-breathing bundle of intensity wearing a backwards baseball hat who speaks in quick bursts of insulting one liners, a very memorable early performance from the late, great actor.
My Boyfriend’s Back also features the first film appearance of future Best Actor winner Matthew McConaughey (as Guy #2), beating the theatrical release of his breakout role in Dazed and Confused by one month. Another future Oscar winner, Renee Zellweger, was set to appear in the film and even had a few lines, but ultimately her role was cut during editing.
Oddly enough Zellweger had her first film appearance one month later alongside McConaughey in Dazed and Confused as Girl in Blue Truck. The two would share the screen again in 1995, this time as the two leads in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. Indeed, Hollywood can be a small town.
Speaking of Oscar winners, it’s thanks to Hoffman’s bully treating Johnny like shit that puts Missy on Johnny’s side, agreeing to go on a date with him.
The beginning of the date is introduced in the same comic book format as the opening of the film, a nice touch that continues the modern day fairy tale feel of the film. Notice when they are entering the movie theater (seeing a zombie double feature of course!), and one of the movies on the marquee is called Johnny Zombie, a nice nod to the original title of the film.
While parked outside of Missy’s house after their date (the same house used as Nancy’s house in A Nightmare on Elm Street), Missy accidentally bites off Johnny’s ear during a make out session. Talk about a mood killer! Naturally, Johnny goes to the town doctor, the kooky Dr. Bronson (a hilarious Austin Pendleton), where the fascinated doctor says “hello hello” into the ear and asks if he can keep it.
It’s so dumb but so funny. Pendleton excels at this kind of humor with spot-on delivery and timing, generating a lot of laughs throughout the film.
Johnny learns that he needs to fight off the decaying of his body in order to survive long enough to make it to the prom with Missy.
The only way to buy more time is…to eat human flesh! Johnny is officially a zombie (“I ate someone for you,” Johnny desperately pleas with Missy in one scene, to which an incredulous onlooker observes, “my boyfriend won’t even pump gas for me,”).
To help Johnny realize his life (now afterlife) dream of taking Missy to the prom, the good Dr. Bronson creates a serum that reverses the effects of decay. But now the not-so-good doctor may have more nefarious ideas in mind when he realizes his serum could make him millions (cosmetic surgery without the surgery is how he plans to market it).
When the doctor has Johnny in his office, strapped to a chair, looking to just take “30 or 40 pounds” off him to maximize his new gold-mine serum, a mob forms at his building’s door looking to drive the unwanted, undead Johnny out of their town. Complete with torches and a battering ram to knock the door down, this scene is a funny nod to Frankenstein as the townsfolk want the zombie monster gone for good.
My Boyfriend’s Back wasn’t well received by audiences or critics alike when released in the Summer of 1993, generating only $3.3 million of total box office revenue.
Variety called it “an idiotic offbeat comedy.” Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas called it “an awful teen horror comedy.” Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune wrote, “The movie is full of nonsensical plot twists, embarrassingly broad performances and unappealing characters,” calling Lowery “the least interesting movie zombie ever.” Yeesh!
And finally, Jeff Shannon of the Seattle Times wrote, “Simply put, absolutely none of it works.”
But hey, Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote, “If My Boyfriend’s Back is an irredeemably silly movie, it has an engaging lightness of tone and uniformly impeccable performances by a cast that maintains just the right attitude of deadpan parody.” Take that, Mark Caro!
Mr. Holden totally got the tone of the film and seemingly gave it one of the few fair reviews it deserved.
Andrew Lowery didn’t do much after My Boyfriend’s Back, appearing in a TV mini series about JFK, 1994’s Color of Night with Bruce Willis, and starring as Dante in the pilot episode of the never picked up Clerks TV show. After a few small roles, Lowery called it quits in 2003 and left acting altogether.
Unfortunately, actress Traci Lind’s career didn’t fare much better. Before My Boyfriend’s Back, Lind appeared in the excellent Fright Night Part 2 in 1988 (which got caught up in a tangle of legalities and completely botched upon distribution), and Don Coscarelli’s Survival Quest (1988).
Her highlights after 1993 include a role in The Road to Wellsville (1994) alongside big Hollywood stars Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, and Matthew Broderick, and starring in the Wim Wenders directed The End of Violence in 1997. After a handful of years that consisted of smaller roles, Lind left the acting business in 1997.
My Boyfriend’s Back is a goofy, probably even stupid movie.
But it’s sweet and breezy, and with a run time of just 85 minutes, is as quick as a kiss goodnight.
If the film had been released 6 or 7 years earlier, it’s easy to imagine Patrick Dempsey in the lead role and it becoming a cult favorite of 1980s goofball teen comedies. But here we are, 27 years later and My Boyfriend’s Back is a lost film.
Admittedly, there’s little that makes the film memorable, except it’s sheer audacity and ridiculousness, an on-the-nose approach that plays like a satire and offers plenty of laughs. One scene has Johnny’s parents bringing home a little kid, lollipop in hand, for Johnny to eat. When he refuses, his mom casually says, “they’re are plenty of hungry people all over the world who would be happy to eat him.”
This kind of absurd, deadpan humor is in every single scene, and is irresistibly funny. That alone is enough to want My Boyfriend’s Back to rise from the VHS graveyard and stumble into the nearest VCR. Just remember to adjust the tracking.
MAKE IT A DOUBLE FEATURE!
Top off your zombie/comedy evening with another film featuring a group of those gosh darn mischievous teens who just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. Opening in the 1950s, Night of the Creeps shows an alien crashing to Earth. Fast forward to 1986 and, in order to be accepted into a fraternity (to impress a girl of course, the lovely Jill Whitlow), two college kids need to steal a dead body from the cryogenics lab and place it on the doorstep of a sorority house.
Easy peasy…except when the frozen body you steal is infested with alien slugs and turning the town into zombies!
Jason Lively of National Lampoon’s European Vacation fame is Chris Romero, and his best friend (Steve Marshall) is J.C. Hooper, both named after horror filmmaking legends George Romero, John Carpenter, and Tobe Hooper. Writer and director Fred Dekker placed these names everywhere in the film (Corman University!) as a loving tribute to his horror heroes.
Released in August of 1986, the film bombed at the box office but has since gained a large cult following. And deservedly so. It’s a love letter to 1950s horror with a 1980s attitude that is fun as hell. The great Tom Atkins, who plays Det. Ray Cameron, has said that Night of the Creeps is his favorite movie that he’s starred in. Thrill me!