04th Dec2018

‘Johnny Gruesome’ VOD Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Anthony De La Torre, Byron Brown II, Aprilann, Michael DeLorenzo, Chris Modrzynski, Kim Piazza, Richard Lounello, Madison Amey, Travis Torlone, Tim O’Hearn | Written and Directed by Gregory Lamberson


High school students Eric Carter and Johnny Grissom are best friends. Johnny is a heavy metal rebel nicknamed “Johnny Gruesome” by his classmates. When Johnny is murdered while on a drunken joyride, his killer persuades Eric and Johnny’s girlfriend to help him make the murder look like an accidental death. Johnny returns from the grave as a murderous, wisecracking zombie hell bent on revenge.

Writer/director Gregory Lamberson adapts his own novel, which was originally produced as a screenplay way before Lamberson would go on to direct cult hit Slime City in 1986, a story that was also filmed – as a short – back in 2007. And given that Lamberson’s original screenplay was written in 1984 it seems apt that the film feels, even though it was filmed this decade, very much like a product of the 80s.

You see, films like this – high-school supernatural revenge movies – were very much a staple of 80s cinema. Films like Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2, The Wraith and even Evilspeak (though that was a military academy not a high school). And like these films, which are all themetically similar to Lambeson’s, Johnny Gruesome also has a killer metal soundtrack – reminding me very 80s flick Trick or Treat in particular – performed by Canadian husband and wife Giasone Italiano and Marcy Italiano, who created an entire Johnny Gruesome album based on Lamberson’s novel!

If you’ve seen any of Gregory Lamberson’s other films you’ll know he has a good handle on mixing horror and comedy; and Johnny Gruesome is no different – in fact it’s the humour, both subtle and in-your-face that really makes the film work. Along with the fantastic special effects!

The effects work, from Craig Lindberg (who also worked with Lamberson on 1991’s Undying Love) is great – from the decaying features of Johnny to the severed heads, intestines and various other viscera that proliferate the screen in the aftermath of Johnny’s actions, Johnny Gruesome is packed with gore; and there’s even a nice homage to the “homemade” look of the melting corpses of Evil Dead thrown in too!

In terms of humour, the film includes the likes of a hilarious scene in which the two gravediggers debate their future careers whilst the now-undead Johnny shuffles across the background, having just crawled out of his own grave; and another scene in which one character saves herself by getting into the shower – a scene presented entirely out of context and it’s not until later that it’s revealed that whilst Johnny looks like a zombie, he is in fact a revenant – whch explains why he’s deathly afraid of running water! But the film is not just about sight gags, there are some great lines in the script too: such as when the undead Johnny tells his former girlfriend to scream till she’s blue in the face… so they can match! And pretty much all of Chris Modrzynski’s role as Johnny’s “friend” Gary is written as deadpan as possible – and Modrzynski delivers it that way too, even when dealing with the decapitated head of a school friend!

Speaking of the script, it seems Lamberson is going for part-homage, part-parody of the genre with Johnny Gruersome – the film walks a very fine line between the two but it does so with great panache, and a knowing wink to those in the audience that grew up with this kind of movie. Which it why I think it appeals to me so much: it captures everything I like about high-school supernatural revenge movies but then it also plays with the tropes of the genre too; and like I said earlier, it’s funny, really funny. In the best gallows humour fashion.

Johnny Gruesome is anything but gruesome, in fact… Despite the wealth of superb genre films released in 2018, Gregory Lamberson’s movie is one of my favourites of the year!


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