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{FrightFest} Eating Miss Campbell

Homage horror Eating Miss Campbell puts a comically twisted spin on high school drama with its cannibal story and tongue-in-cheek, politically incorrect humor.

Liam Regan, already behind the camera of My Bloody Banjo, returns to FrightFest for the world premiere of his latest film, a genre-bending, self-aware pastiche that’s heavy on cult classic references. 

Eating Miss Campbell follows a vegan goth teen with an unusual appetite

Shot on location in Sheffield, UK, the film follows goth vegan teenager Beth Conner (Lyndsey Craine) as she’s longing to leave her living days behind by way of a loaded gun. Except she doesn’t have one. 

This disillusioned misfit’s life has been “going straight to video for 17 years”, Beth says when breaking the fourth wall in the prologue, a narrative device she keeps resorting to throughout the film. Stuck in a cliché-laden, horror fictional universe, the protagonist wants to pick her own genre. But it seems that she can’t escape the horror cycle when her high school, the somewhat pretentious, cliquey Henenlotter High, suggests a bloody way to find funding for next year. 

Under the new American headmaster Mr. Sawyer (Vito Trigo’s returning character from My Bloody Banjo), Henenlotter will organize the first All You Can Eat Massacre and sell the streaming rights to the platform willing to pay the highest price. Whoever wins will have the chance to either commit suicide with a handy loaded gun or use it for a school shooting.

Courtesy of Fright Fest

Meanwhile, Mr. Sawyer isn’t the only American coming to Henenlotter. During the school assembly, he introduces the titular Miss Campbell (Lala Barlow) as the new English teacher. From the moment Beth lays eyes on the Batty Page-like character, the protagonist experiences an unexpected attraction, while also wrestling with a problematic appetite for human flesh.

It’s Sex Education meets Heathers with a touch of cannibalism

A satirical horror comedy, Eating Miss Campbell is too chaotic for its own good. Regan’s film dishes out jokes about veganism and Nazis, while also offering some superficial form of social commentary about patriarchal constraints and sexual violence that doesn’t attempt to cut too deep. 

The movie stands out when commenting on the film industry and the horror subculture, as Beth does in a funny, meta exchange with the director in the first few minutes. After that, Eating Miss Campbell tries too hard to appeal to fans by pushing references down their throats, taking the excitement out of spotting connections for themselves.

Reversing its own tagline (“Nostalgia is cancer”), this movie exists at the intersection of beloved, recognizable tropes resulting in several subplots, at times overpowering the main story with a confusing effect. After all, shocking the audience out of their comfort zone may be the point of the film, the love child of Netflix’s Sex Education and Heathers, if Winona Ryder’s character were all about eating people. 

Courtesy of Fright Fest

Liam Regan directs a British Troma movie

A Troma Team release, Eating Miss Campbell is the product of Regan’s genuine appreciation for those brutal, hilarious, low-budget horrors. Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman appears in a cameo as Dr. Samuel Weil and serves as a producer, but one of the independent horror key figures that pop in this film.

From indie scream queens Dani Thompson and Annabella Rich to The Human Centipede 2 and 3’s Laurence R. Harvey, who reprises the role of Clyde Toulon from My Blood Banjo, Eating Miss Campbell is a raucous, campy celebration of scary B-movies.

Drawing straight from teen comedies like the already mentioned Heathers, as well as Jawbreaker, Mean Girls, and horror Tragedy Girls, Eating Miss Campbell sees Beth against the Queen Bee of Henenlotter High, bully Clarissa (Emily Haigh), and her two acolytes, Sabrina (Sierra Summers) and Melissa (Michaela Longden) — all clad in neon-colored 1980s jackets.

Each character wears a uniform of sorts. From the protagonist’s Wednesday Addams-inspired black little dress with a giant dagger collar to the school board members’ twee, whimsical, Wes Andersonesque attires, everyone is performing a precise role signaled by their wardrobe. Eating Miss Campbell’s costumes, makeup and over-the-top practical effects are a joy. Together with its killer soundtrack, they end up stealing the show in this style-over-substance cinematic cacophony.

Eating Miss Campbell doesn’t explore its cannibal plot fully

The characters’ consistent appearance seems to be more important than their virtually non-existent arcs. It wouldn’t have hurt to have a meatier cannibalism plot (hehe), exploring Beth’s relationship to her newly-found urges, but the movie never really goes there. The lead’s self-discovery ends up being sidelined so that the movie can lean into the absurdity of this surreal, subverted world where the UK would love to compete with the US for the number of school shootings. At Henenlotter, eating flesh is just another teen fad to sanction with a slap on the wrist and used for shock value rather than a way to explore sexuality and identity.

Among killers and sexual predators, there’s one category that features in Regan’s movie: groomers. The adults who have sex with underage minors here are women of the conventionally attractive type, their storylines seemingly fulfilling a voyeuristic fantasy rather than having a real purpose to advance the plot.

Eating Miss Campbell is guaranteed to excite B-movie fans and offend a large portion of mainstream audiences. Yet, the film’s greatest offense is believing that it could run on homages and Easter eggs alone. It certainly entertains, but its flimsy story is forgotten before one could say “cannibalism”.