Johnny Gruesome (2018)
Directed by: Gregory Lamberson
Written by: Gregory Lamberson
Starring: Anthony De La Torre, Aprilann, Byron Brown II, Chris Modrzynski, Kim Piazza, Madison Amey, Michael DeLorenzo, Richard Lounello
JOHNNY GRUESOME (2018)
Written and Directed by Gregory Lamberson
After being suspended from school for getting into a fight with a bully, metal head Johnny Grissom gets wasted and tries to end his life with his three pals, including his girlfriend, in the car with him. Preventing him from driving them off a bridge into a ravine, Johnny’s mate Gary rear naked chokes him until his last breath exits his body. Attempting to justify his actions as being in self defence, Gary convinces Karen and Eric to help him make Johnny’s death look like an accident. Having got away scott free with Johnny’s murder, Gary, Eric and Karen attempt to get on with their lives but it seems that Johnny’s spirit isn’t too keen on letting this act go on punished as he rises from the grave to exact revenge against those who wronged him.
Based on the novel by Greg Lamberson, published in 2008, the author has finally got his vision on screen as he takes up writing and directing duties on the film, a whole 29 years after first penning the screenplay. Focusing on a rebellious teenage rocker who’s battling with school authority, school bully Todd who calls him “Gruesome” instead of “Grissom”, and his alcoholic father, it’s very easy to get to know the character of Johnny (Anthony De La Torre). Despite his issues, he’s surrounded by his beautiful girlfriend Karen (Aprilann) and best mates Gary (Chris Modrzynski) and Eric (Byron Brown II) who he thinks has his back until he finds himself fighting for oxygen after taking them for a fast drive towards the edge of a bridge. Being killed by his so-called friends isn’t something that sits well with Johnny and no sooner have they buried him, he’s climbing out the coffin and making a beeline for his first victim… Todd.
In many ways, JOHNNY GRUESOME is more of a teen horror comedy than a straight-out slasher. A nervous headteacher walking the school corridors, a jumpy schoolteacher and a dumb yet headstrong Gary trying to make it with Karen all make for humorous moments. The script manages to balance the laughs and drama with the horror of the savage kills that live up to the film’s title. For an indie horror, particularly one with this particularly vibe, I didn’t expect it to be as graphic as it is. We see knives being pulled out of heads and faces falling apart, all thanks to practical effects with a blend of CGI, and although some of the scenes rely on strategic camera placement, there’s more than a fair share of blood and general gruesomeness to indulge in.
This isn’t just Johnny’s show though despite how awesome his dead makeup is. For a large part of the film, we follow Eric who seems to be the only one not comfortable with Johnny’s death. Though he tries to move on with events, including starting up a relationship with fellow student Rhonda (Madison Amey), he can’t seem to shake off what happened. Gary, on the other hand, is already trying to get into Karen’s knickers which leads Eric to believe that maybe Gary’s attack on Johnny was more than just to save their lives. After spotting what he thinks is a dead Johnny in the window of the Grissom household, Eric begins to wonder about the person behind the killings going on since his death and whether Johnny is in fact actually dead…
Performances in the film are a mixed bag with some bordering on amateur at times which is kind of to be expected with an indie film such as this. However, as a whole, the cast play into the comedy horror theme pretty easily and convince as their roles, either as an authority/guardian figure or a hapless teen. Anthony De La Torre seems to relish playing the undead rocker seeking revenge, his face decaying every time he’s on screen whilst Byron Brown II charms as good guy Eric who succeeds in getting the audience on his side from the get-go.
Light-hearted but with just enough death to satiate the appetite of horror fans, JOHNNY GRUESOME is a rockin effort.