Cannibalism seems to be making a comeback in horror lately. In past generations of filmmaking, it was usually something done by an “other,” be it a long lost tribe like in Cannibal Holocaust or a devious doctor like Hannibal Lecter, there was always a degree of separation. Now, that separation seems to be gone, with most recent horror films involving the subject matter having the protagonist as a willing participant, often yearning for it. That being said, does Troma’s new film, Eating Miss Campbell, delve deeply into these themes, exploring them like RAW or other recent films?
Synopsis for Eating Miss Campbell:
WHAT IS MORE POETIC & AMERICAN THAN A HIGH SCHOOL MASSACRE?
A vegan-goth high school student falls in love with her new English teacher and develops a problematic taste for human flesh.
Absolutely not. Instead, director Liam Regan (My Bloody Banjo) makes an edgy, gleefully grisly horror comedy that pays homage to female-centric high school horror and dark comedies, all while carving its own niche. The film makes it clear from the first scene that if you need trigger warnings, Eating Miss Campbell is not for you. Especially owing to genre classics like Heathers, the film covers a gamut of topics and taboos, almost never tastefully, but always in service of the bit and trying to make the audience laugh.
In fact, in my screening notes, the one tasteful touch I did record was actually the relationship between the titular Miss Campbell (Lala Barlow) and the protagonist, Beth (Lyndsey Craine: Book of Monsters – our review here). In a film full of jokes about school shootings, gun safety, and the Weinsteins, one could easily expect a WLW relationship to be depicted solely as titillating. Instead, it spends a fair amount of time making it seem wholesome and genuine (as much as a relationship between a serial killer and a cannibal can be).
Taboo is not the only way Eating Miss Campbell seeks to get a reaction out of the audience, however. It’s obvious that the director wanted to make a horror movie Easter Egg hunt within the film to encourage re-watches. The setting is a place called Hennenlotter High, likely named after gorehound director Frank Hennenlotter (Basket Case 1982 – our retro review). One of the teachers, Mister Toulon, is another nod, being named after the Puppetmaster himself and played in giddy creep-factor by Laurence R. Harvey (Human Centipede 2).
Sometimes, the references can reach overload, however. The mean girls of the school are literally called “mean girls,” dress exactly like the Heathers from Heathers, and are addicted to the movie Tragedy Girls, right down to wearing their masks in a montage. Troma fans will be pleased to see them in makeup later in the film, with one of of them choosing to go as Troma staple Sgt. Kabukiman.
While Eating Miss Campbell certainly has a lot of edgy and referential humor, I think it worked best in its subtle, less obvious absurdist bits. Many of the adult characters seem to be played by actors much younger than their teenage counterparts, and it is never blatantly called out in the film, making it all the more hilarious. I hope it’s an inside joke meant for pointing out the major Hollywood production’s habit of casting late 20something/early 30s actors as high school sophomores to get around union and labor laws.
The glorious peak of absurdity and perhaps unsung star of the film is Vito Trigo as Mister Sawyer, the new replacement Headmaster of Hennenlotter High, a magnificent madman this side of Dr. Strangelove who looks like Charles Darwin and comes up with an insane plan to save the school from obscurity: an end of semester eating contest that will provide the winner with a loaded gun to do with what they will. This character does not have a single foot in reality and is a blast to behold.
Overall, the film has a lot of thoughts on hot-button issues, but not enough to say on any one of them at a time, so it decides to go all out and throw out any thoughts it can onto the screen. Some stick and some fizzle out, but if you can handle the Troma shock factor, you may enjoy Eating Miss Campbell quite a bit! That being said, if you need trigger warnings at all, for anything, avoid it. Absolutely nothing is sacred or off limits here.
This film was screened as a part of the 2022 GenreBlast Film Festival.