Based on his award winning novel, Greg Lamberson unleashes his iconic character to the big screen and it is a fun and wild zombie film.
High school senior Johnny Grissom loves heavy metal, horror films, and his girlfriend Karen Slatter. His best friend is athlete Eric Carter. Arriving at school one day, Johnny gets into a fight with fellow student Todd Kumler, the resident preppie, after he mocks Eric for associating with “Johnny Gruesome” as he calls him. Johnny is suspended and his home life isn’t as good with his alcoholic father Charlie always on him. However, one night is about to change this teenager’s life forever.
On a night of driving with Karen, Eric, and hanger-on Gary Belter, who is also a drug dealer, Johnny begins to speed towards the Willow River Bridge. In an attempt to stop him, Gary puts Johnny in a chokehold and the car stops. Gary continues to choke Johnny until he kills him. Gary convinces Karen and Eric to make the death look accidental and Eric is the most reluctant to do so, but goes along with it. However, on the day of his funeral and burial, Johnny comes back to life and now, he only has one thing on his mind: revenge.
Greg Lamberson may be known for micro-budget films, but this is perhaps one of his best films and it helps he made this character into a novel, coming up with the idea back in the 80’s. That would explain that feel of the film has an 80’s vibe to it. It always is a good thing if a novelist is able to adapt his or her own work into film and this can be deemed a “dream project” for him and boy did he succeed, especially when you have an 80’s metal-style soundtrack that never gets tired of hearing and the use of some interesting methods of death, one that has a bit of comic relief and a very disturbing scene involving the zombified Johnny and his teacher.
The driving force of the film is lead actor Anthony de la Torre, who fans will know played a young Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. This film is the tour de force performance for him because as the titular “Johnny Gruesome”, he has to carry the film and that he does. When his character is killed, we see him in an out of body experience through a white light, angry at the fact that he’s dead and now he wants revenge. He does so in gruesome fashion with his look diminishing with each kill. We even get to see him pull off some zany one-liners, including his response to someone asking why he isn’t dead: “I couldn’t sleep.”
Byron Brown II does a good job as Eric Carter, Johnny’s best friend who reluctance to cover his best friend’s death causes him to feel nothing but guilt. The singularly-named Aprilann goes through a downward spiral into drug use as Johnny’s girlfriend Karen all thanks to the punk teen responsible for killing our titular character. And that brings us the biggest scumbags of the film, first Gary Belter, played by Craig Modrzynski, who at justifies what he has done only to have regret only to not regret it when he attempts to pursue Karen and then comes preppie bully Todd Kumler, played by Travis Torlone. Finally, there’s Rhonda, played by Madison Amey, who becomes Eric’s love interest as she attempts to help console him due to his guilt of not helping his best friend. Finally, veteran Michael DeLorenzo makes the most of his role as Johnny’s father Charlie, who has lost it all and relies on alcohol to ease his pain.
Johnny Gruesome is a fun meshing of dark comedy and zombie revenge film, all in part to Greg Lamberson’s script and direction along with Anthony de la Torre’s driven performance in the titular role. Here’s hoping that there could be a sequel of some sort down the road.
WFG RATING: A-
Uncork’d Entertainment present a Red Hill Movies LLC production in association with DeInstutionalized. Director: Greg Lamberson. Producer: Greg Lamberson. Writer: Greg Lamberson, based on his own novel. Cinematography: Matthew A. Nardone. Editing: Philip Gerard Gallo.
Cast: Anthony de la Torre, Byron Brown II, Aprilann, Kim Piazza, Craig Modrzynski, Michael DeLorenzo, Travis Torlone, Madison Amey, Richard Lounello, John Renna, Jon Cesar.