Johnny Gruesome (2017)
Writer/Director – Gregor Lamberson (based on his book of the same name)
Runtime – 88 minutes
Red Hills Movies LLC
A Slaughtered Lamb Production
Before I lay down my thoughts I’d like to mention why this film appealed to me a little more than others. From where I originally hail a “Johnny” is a prophylactic (a contraceptive device, often latex but sometimes a more ‘luxurious’ material, donned by the male of the species, ad if you required further explanation) you can only imagine what images therefore slammed around in my jaded cortex when I was faced with this films title. Something akin to that contained within the grossout fest that is Chillerama perhaps, though probably more imaginable and grotesque based on the fact I exist on a diet fueled by jaded celluloid and extreme audio.
Anyhoo, Back on track…
The film commences with a ‘pumpin’ (gotta love that work and the images it conjures) rock soundtrack and takes no time to introduces the viewer to the films main characters. As if shirts saturated in well known rock legend monikers (Ramones and Manowar, are they making a comeback? I’m asking for a friend) weren’t enough Johnny (yep, He who the film is named after) also has a ride doused in flames emblazoned with a screamin’ skull.
What follows is the typical hierarchy and cliche of high school as displayed in most cinema where it’s an important part of the feature. Yes, there are ‘jocks’ and a plenitude of other ‘clicks’. Naturally, the jocks and ‘headbangers’ don’t see eye-to-eye. So whadya know, fisticuffs occur. And surprise, surprise Johnny knows how to fight, but gets suspended for his efforts displaying obvious bias coming by way of the bespectacled principle.
Johnny celebrates by taking his closest friends out for an evening joyride, flames, over sized rear tires rock music and all. But thats not all. Wait for it…alcohol and a plethora of drugs are prominent on the menu and Johnny, being Johnny, decides he will see how fast his car will go and how far it might jump from the towns bridge (with his friends are still in the car).
Somehow the car is stopped, drama ensues, lots of crying occurs, make up runs, and Johnny is choked out by one of his friends Gary. Not just choked out, but choked OUT! Don’t worry I haven’t spoilt anything yet, this should all be plastered across the box when the film finds its release on DVD (or VHS? Do they still make/mass produce them?)
The film progresses, Johhny returns, obviously else the movie isn’t as it’s prognosis might suggest and various diabolical schnanigans occur.
At first it appears that Johhny might have an agenda, but after a while, it doesn’t take too long, it seems he’s just having fun rather than jaunting merrily down the path of unholy vengeance with blinders on. As well as displaying a multitude of numerous other cliches the film slowly begins a descent down a steep gradient gravelled with silliness. In fact, it seems confused as to what it wants to be. A serious film or a horror comedy for there’s certainly elements of both on display. The soundtrack tells the same story and varies from soap opera drama to Grindhouse/Cult Italian synth and most everything inbetween. To make matters worse the characters on screen display barely an iota of empathy for what’s recently transpired although this could well be the fault of the calibre of acting on display. This is a B feature folks but honestly this is barely a notch above High school drama club.
The book on which this is based.
Let’s discuss the soundtrack/score a little more. It has its moments for sure, it often gives the film a shade of a Tim Burton vibe courtesy of a Danny Elfman audio aura. There’s even some classical maniacal wrangling which might put some in mind of timeless celluloid output by a certain Argento fellow. However there’s a re-occuring ‘manufactured’ rock theme which dragged me deep into annoying waters. On account of the percussion and lyrics which are more than merely ironic, bothersome and tiring is much more fitting. Perhaps the production team couldn’t splurge for better known tunes, breeding familiarity, or perhaps they deemed them too “over used” in the current climate? Whatever the reason this decision, in my mind, wasn’t the best.
In regards to the story, it had few moments that showed promise. One line ” …you can scream till you turn blue in the face and then we’ll match.” had me smirking for a brief instant but for the most part it’s a theme that’s been hashed out before (and often) along the same formula with little deviance from the same well-worn track. Pleasingly however, there were a plethora of nods to both the metal world and the horror genre. One of the production companies showed an unmistakable appreciation for the British standout An American Werewolf in London whilst names dropped throughout the film hinted at interest in other fields. One example hinted at Morbid Angel worship shown by way of the name (David) Vincent. Shit, there was even a nod to Evil Dead in the films brief use of claymation wherein facial features melted showing a (screamin’) skull beneath.
I’d be remiss not to mention the effects. A guts-in -a-bag (A delicacy in some regions I’ve heard) scene had me flash a smile while a disembodied head in a locker had me rolling my eyes (I’m puntastick folks!). Johnnies make up, though not horrid, seriously resembled more a sweaty Juggalo than a corpse (hey, I’m being honest here!) And although the team attempted to add sound effects to make it appear as if his joints were cracking or dislocating (quaint) when he attempted strenuous activity, it appeared as if they gave up deciding a fist fight between him and his ‘bestie’ made better entertainment even without them. If only the creators would’ve chosen to add something, perhaps a great deal, more in the effects department, an outrageous couple of touches in addition, to leave an impression, to make a mark I believe this would’ve worked better to grab the attention and spark discussion.
But all in all it just wasn’t enough and I was left disappointed by a film I really wanted to like. Feel free to look it up and disagree, I’m always open for comments, suggestions or reccomendations.
Your slave to cinema which isn’t always as great as I hoped it would be, even though all the ingredients are at hand.