Johnny Gruesome‘s theme song describes its title character with more poetry than I could dream to achieve: “I died in anger. I want revenge. The only color I see is red. I’m not gonna stop. Blood is gonna drop, until everybody is dead. With a cut and a slash, I will sever, I will gash. No one will be able to stand. With a slash and a cut, you will rot, while I hold your guts in my hand. I’ve always been gruesome, and I’m never gonna stop. I’ve always been gruesome, and I’m never gonna stop. Hey, hey, hey!”
If that doesn’t get you excited for teen murder, then I don’t know what will.
Director: Gregory Lamberson
Release: October 16, 2018 (VOD)
Johnny Grissom (Anthony De La Torre) is a teenage punk who drives a black Mustang with a big flaming skull on the hood, which also has its own theme song: “Monster ride, raining smoke. The parts have tales to tell. Black as night, sins by fire, on its way back from hell!” Very cool.
After a fight with some preps, Johnny is suspended for a week and facing probable expulsion. Then, he argues with his dad who’s raring to kick the boy’s ass and escapes into his heavy metal blasting bedroom–“Look into my heart. Look into my soul. I feel like dying tonight.” As the song implies, Johnny does some drinking, some drugs, and tries to drive himself and all his friends off a bridge that night.
Drug-dealing punk Gary (Chris Modrzynski) is rightfully sick of Johnny’s shit as the car skids to the bridge’s very edge, so he chokes Johnny to death. Afterward he, Johnny’s girlfriend Karen (Aprilann), and his best friend Eric (Byron Brown II) agree to make the death look like an accident. This pisses off dear dead Johnny’s immortal soul, and he decides to will his rotting corpse out of the grave for some therapeutic slaughter.
What ensues is suitably gruesome. Johnny has gone rotten from his puss squirting eyes to his slithering black tongue. He makes creative use of his switchblade, leaving mangled corpses and decapitated heads for his classmates and teachers to stumble upon with squirms and screams aplenty.
Most of the cast is full of committed, scenery chewing bravado, except Eric. The de facto main character after Johnny’s demise, Eric tries to pull off the angsty, misunderstood teen routine in the most muted way possible. He mumbles, eyes down as if he’s reading his lines off his palm, while everyone else does their damnedest to at least deliver some hammy fun. Eric only manages to push some life into his voice for the climax, and he’s lucky that everyone else–especially Gary–is willing to carry every scene he’s in.
But he can’t even begin to hamper the bird flipping, throat slitting good time that is Johnny Gruesome. You got a blind shopkeep firing a revolver at a zombie, a head in a locker, and a skeleton lifting dual middle fingers to the camera. Add great makeup and a soundtrack of head banging jams under pure metal cheese lyrics with guitar slashes mixed through anxious Halloween piano scales, and you’ve got yourself a keg stand of a midnight movie.
Part high school melodrama, part zombie revenge bloodbath, and part camp comedy, Johnny Gruesome is a Bud cracking bonfire of blood that will have you throwing horns until the sun comes up.