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Review: JOHNNY GRUESOME (2018)

Greg Lamberson has racked up a pile of credits as a writer, director, and producer over the years. He’s still probably best known though for his first film, the 1988 cult hit SLIME CITY, and its belated sequel SLIME CITY MASSACRE. The origins of his most recent film, JOHNNY GRUESOME, actually predate them. When he couldn’t raise the money to film it, then he turned the script into a novel and shot SLIME CITY instead. Now, after reappearing as an 8-minute short, GRUESOME in 2007 Johnny is back from the grave, literally and figuratively.

Johnny Grissom (Anthony De La Torre, LORDS OF CHAOS) is your typical high school headbanger, right down to his Manowar shirt. He just wants to party with his girlfriend Karen (Aprilann) and his best friend Eric (Byron Brown II THE ROMANS). However, a drunken joyride ends up with Johnny’s murder. Eric and Karen are conned into helping cover it up.

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Johnny understandably is not happy about this and comes back for revenge. Revenge against everyone who hassled him in life. Revenge that will let him live up to what he was mockingly called in life, Johnny Gruesome.

The similarities to THE CROW are obvious, even the publicity materials I got for the film referenced it. The original script, however, would have predated the first appearance of James O’Barr’s character in 1989. JOHNNY GRUESOME is also better than most of the sequels in the more famous franchise.

No matter who came first, Johnny Grissom and Eric Draven are a lot alike in their violent, wisecracking quest for revenge. Johnny has a much more pronounced nasty side. While he certainly has his grievances, most of them aren’t on the scale of Eric’s and his revenge at times seems like overkill. Not that it isn’t still enjoyable, it just pushes the film more into the horror genre than revenge.

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While it could have used a bit more gore to help it live up to its name, the film is lively and fast-paced enough to get around the lack of effects. Johnny’s makeup as he starts to rot is quite effective. There’s some puppet work near the end of the film that could have been a lot better. The puppet itself is quite nicely detailed, but the process work putting it in the shot is rather weak. Given the film’s budget, though, I should have been expecting a few lapses.

An unexpected plus is the soundtrack, which features several 80s sounding rock guitar based songs. One of which “Dyin’ Tonight” was performed by Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls. They fit in nicely and add a nice touch to the film.

An enjoyable thriller laced with black humor, JOHNNY GRUESOME will be released by Uncork’d Entertainment on VOD 10/16 and DVD 1/1/2019.

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