October 9, 2018 Johnny Gruesome (Movie Review)
It almost feels like anything that can be done with zombies has already been done. Ever since George Romero had them besiege and devour his unfortunate protagonists in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, they have been shuffling through the years. They provided social commentary in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and ruled the video nasties with 1979’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2). The 1996 video game Resident Evil made gamers afraid of the undead. Then, the 2001 film adaptation made gamers afraid of video game based movies. Zombies haven eaten people on both the big and small screens, in print, and in music. Zombies have become so ubiquitous that they may as well be pets, a la 2006’s Fido.
Author and director Gregory Lamberson (Slime City 1988, Naked Fear 1999) planned on spicing up the genre a touch. In 2008, he wrote and published Johnny Gruesome through the Medallion Media Group, where it told a story about a biker who came back from the dead to seek vengeance. Now, Lamberson has switched from the writing desk to the director’s chair and is bringing his creation to the big-ish screen. All that said, the Johnny Gruesome film will be cropping up on VOD on October 16th, 2018, and on DVD on January 1st, 2019 via Uncork’d Entertainment.
In it, high school rebel Johnny Grissom (Antony De La Torre: 100 Things to Do Before High School series, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge 2017), nicknamed ‘Johnny Gruesome’, is killed on a drunken joyride. His killer, Gary Belter (Chris Modrzynski: The Rainbow Bridge Motel 2018) forces Johnny’s best friend Eric (Byron Brown II: All at Once 2016, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows 2016) and his girlfriend Karen (Aprilann) to make it look like an accident. It all goes well, until Johnny comes back from the dead to get revenge. Is it a wild ride? Or does it merely fester on screen?
Well, the acting is not so hot. Most of Brown’s IMDB credits come from his crew work than his acting roles, and this is Aprilann’s debut film as both an actor and as a composer. So, they are not exactly going to turn in Shakespeare, but they are not turning in Wiseau either. They are just middle-of-the-road mediocre. Modrzynski manages to play Gary well as an unrepentant jerk, but it is not a completely solid performance. Madison Amey (My Dream Beside Me 2014) does surprisingly well as Brown’s love interest Rhonda, as her prior work has been largely behind the camera too.
The strongest performance comes from De La Torre in the undead metalhead title role. He even has a few quips and funny scenes, which are a nice touch. It adds that little extra bit of personality to a monster that usually does not have one. Though they are unlikely to get as many chuckles as 2004’s Shaun of the Dead or classic Freddy Krueger.
It is competent-enough direction-wise too. The scenes run smoothly together, building up to some reveals in a good-if-standard way. However, the problem here is more to do with tension. The comedy and horror do not gel together so well. It slips from Gruesome inducing suicidal levels of dread and guilt in his victims one moment, then him prat-falling around cars and shopfronts the next.
In other cases, it shifts into its extremes too quickly. Grissom’s death seems to happen out of nowhere, with little dramatic build-up until after the fact. At least it means the film keeps up a quick pace. Yet, its emotional shifts are almost as unnatural as Gruesome’s rise from the grave. They might be intentional too, as the backing score is just as jarring. The music is made up of some fair, even catchy, Metal tunes. At its best, it sounds creepy and builds tension. At its worst, it lays the feelings on too thickly. Like it, alongside the emotional shifts, some ropey dialogue and the wooden acting tells the audience what the mood is than showing it.
Shame that, as the story is quite entertaining. It is not exactly ground-breaking – a revenge story with undead elements. It has enough drama and pep in its step to make it an interesting tale. Gruesome is horrifying, but also sympathetic in a grim way. Likewise, Brown trying to escape his clutches and make amends could be intriguing. Maybe it could have caught on better if it had a stronger cast and a tighter script. Instead, it is a stodgy revenge flick. One could do worse, but with hundreds of zombie titles out there, it is easier to do better. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives Johnny Gruesome 2.5 out of 5 stars.