FILM REVIEW: JOHNNY GRUESOME
We take a break today from festival coverage to review a film that you don’t need to attend a festival to see. Not only can you currently see JOHNNY GRUESOME on VOD now, but you SHOULD see JOHNNY GRUESOME on VOD now.
The film opens with the song “Dyin Tonight“, a rad little earworm which sets a fun tone for the film. The song was written by Buffalo native Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls (there is a nice nod to the band with Eric, played by Byron Brown II, wearing a Goo Goo dolls hoodie) specifically for the film. It’s a nice artistic marriage between Takac and the films writer/director and fellow Buffalonian Gregory Lamberson (SLIME CITY, KILLER RACK).
Johnny Grissom (played by Anthony De La Torre who is also credited as the films associate producer) is a recalcitrant high school misfit. Along with his girlfriend Karen Slatter (played by actress/musician and the films composer Aprilann), druggie meathead Gary Belter (Chris Modrzynski) and popular high school football player Eric, this crew of “headbangers” are the targets for the schools douchebag football jocks. It puts sweet, naive and kind-hearted Eric in a bit of a precarious position as he is a member of the football team but does not have the same narrow, nasty and judgemental animosity towards Johnny and his friends that his fellow team mates have. It’s the age old high school jocks vs. rockers scenario, with Eric breaking the mould and siding with Johnny’s crew. After football dickhead Todd (who TOTALLY looks like what you envision a dickhead jock named Todd to look like. Great casting!) antagonizes Johnny Grissom by calling him “Johnny Gruesome” a fight ensues with Johnny throwing all the punches and only stopping after Eric begs him to let Todd go. Naturally the beat down of Todd in the schools parking lot lands Johnny in the principles office where he gets a week long suspension, effective immediately.
Johnny’s day is not going to improve as he goes home to his unemployed father and another dust up ensues. I’m gonna take a little detour here because I have to tell you that I screamed with delight when Johnny’s father Charlie, played by Michael DeLorenzo appeared on the screen. DeLorenzo is one of my favorite actors who I grew up watching in complete awe of on the criminally short lived cop drama NEW YORK UNDERCOVER. The show was simply incredible and proved DeLorenzo to be a solid performer. He has worked steadily since the end of that show in 1997 (R.I.P) but not to the extent that I assumed he would given his immense talent. So you can only imagine my joy when I saw him grace the screen and I can happily say that his acting chops are still out of control. Now, back to Johnny…
To blow off some steam Johnny rounds up his gang and takes them for a joy ride in his hell on wheels aka screaming skull with flames painted car. During this drink and drive fest Johnny’s demeanor takes a risky turn and he starts driving as fast as he can, much to the protest of his passengers. It’s like he was possessed and on a suicide mission, and trying to take his friends down with him. Luckily Karen stops the car just before it drove off a bridge that would have killed them all. Fueled by anger (and cocaine) Gary hauls Johnny out of the car and puts him in a choke hold that ultimately kills Johnny. Panicked, Gary pressures Eric to help him throw Johnny’s body over the bridge into the water, making him complicit in a murder they all swear to keep secret.
As news of Johnny’s death spreads, the school mourns (sorta) and Eric struggles morally with his role in the tragedy. Karen drinks to cope and Gary…well Gary uses this as a jump off to try and get with Karen and to keep his stranglehold on Eric steady. Johnny would be rolling in his grave if he saw how this all went down. Funny thing is that not only does he roll in his grave, but Johnny rises from it and begins his mission to seek revenge on…basically everybody.
Some reviews online have been harsh on the acting. The characters in the film are young, dumb, rebellious teens and they are portrayed as just that. You aren’t going to get Shakespearean soliloquies from their dialogue and they aren’t going to emote to Meryl Streep levels. This isn’t Shakespeare and the grand dame was not cast. This is a fun horror comedy and should be approached as such.
In my opinion I felt that the casting choices were excellent matches for the content. They may not be seasoned actors yet but they all did a good job with their roles. I hope to see them all in more film because they have talent and the camera absolutely loves them.
One thing about Lamberson’s work that I hold dear is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and its goal is to entertain. Sure, there are some moments of social commentary, and they typically come gift wrapped in a gag or comedic quip…but nobodies social, economic or political agenda is going to be force fed to you disguised as a flick.
Full disclosure: I am a HUGE fan of Gregory Lamberson. SLIME CITY is in my opinion, required viewing and has been a horror staple for me throughout my life. Each of his films are extremely unique of each other but the ties that bind these films together is not just the blood and guts but the very cheeky dark humor that is a signature of Lamberson’s writing. It’s not for everybody, but it certainly is for me and the masses of fans who have been with Lamberson since the start.
“A headbanging horror coming of age story with its tongue firmly planted in cheek and horns in the air!”
3/5 Tombstones out of 5…