If you’re a fan of the pulpy, silly, and sometimes gruesome pop-culture throwback movies like Larry Blamire’s The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001), Andy Fickman’s 2005 rendition of Reefer Madness, last year’s comedy/horror/musical Stage Fright, or anything that could be accurately described as campy, affectionately old-fashioned, or downright “John Waters-y,” you’ll probably find a lot to like in the low-budget, high-enthusiasm concoction called The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, which was shot on the very last of Kodak’s black-and-white Plus-X film stock.
Those on the hunt for a more traditional sci-fi/horror/comedy may find themselves scratching their heads at the overt oddness of this broad, bizarre, black and white genre mash-up, but the more adventurous viewers may appreciate its off-kilter combination of those immortal staples of 1950s drive-in cinema: the “juvenile delinquent” melodrama and the “invaders from outer space” misadventure. Oh, also it’s a musical. So there’s at least three genres right there.
The plot? Just your typical story about a surly interstellar teenager called Johnny X (Will Keenan) who is banished to Earth after being such a disrespectful wise-ass to all his stuffy elders. Then we switch over to a diner in which a nerdy soda jerk (Les Williams) becomes smitten with a brunette bombshell (De Anna Joy Brooks), only to discover that she’s the former flame of, you guessed it, Johnny X, who is now enjoying his time on Earth surrounded by a gang of sycophantic lackeys who frequently break into song in old-school doo-wop fashion.
Still with me? Good, because we still haven’t gotten to the ruthless promoter who aims to bring a recently-deceased rock legend back from the dead; the hulking henchman who gradually grows very tired of Johnny’s bossy ways; and a magical space suit that allows its wearer to control nearby humans like puppets. And yes, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X just keeps getting weirder, and that’s sort of what sets it apart from just another “throwback” genre homage; most filmmakers would be content with just delivering a sci-fi/horror/musical farce that just earns a few giggles and delivers some cool tunes, but writer/director Paul Bunnell also seems intent on being unpredictably and unabashedly weird, and that certainly helps if you’re hoping to maintain a viewer’s interest.
Aside from a few unexpectedly clever songs and some very creative production design (at least in the musical numbers), the strength of this weird little flick lies in its cast. Leading lady Brooks knows precisely what tone the movie needs, and she displays an impressive array of talents both musical and comedic. (Plus, fine, she’s really pretty.) Keenan and Williams make for an amusing pair of opposites: one is the hip-shakin’ “bad boy” the girls seems to swoon over; the other is a nerdy but noble lunkhead who can’t seem to catch a break. (Kudos also to Jed Rowan, who plays a hulking henchman who gets progressively funnier as the flick rolls on.) And those on the hunt for a few familiar faces who are willing to get a little bit weird in the name of indie-style silliness will no doubt appreciate the contributions from Reggie Bannister, Creed Bratton, Paul Williams, and the late, great Kevin McCarthy.
So, yeah. The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is a pretty arcane little concoction, but it’s also an affectionate and consistently amusing homage to a whole bunch of movies that probably shouldn’t go together, but somehow manage to congeal, thanks mainly to energy, enthusiasm, straight up talent, and a whole lot of plain old silliness.
– Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)
THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X premieres exclusively in the UK at TheHorrorShow.TV on March 2