HomeReviewsDVD Review: The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)

DVD Review: The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)

Embark on a cosmic musical journey with Director Paul Bunnell’s ‘The Ghastly Love of Johnny X’ (2012), an otherworldly AIP hot rod sensation.

Floating somewhere on the All-Out Bizarro Meter, sandwiched between the eccentric delights of Anthony Newley’s surreal opus “Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?” (1969) and Roy Rowland’s vivid Dr. Seuss spectacle “The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T” (1953).

Director Paul Bunnell’s otherworldly AIP hot rod film “The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X” (2013) sits in the musical realm.

More significantly, all three films share a near-suicidal commitment to embracing Weirdness for Art’s Sake (definitely not for financial gains) – a quality I genuinely appreciate.

How else can one describe a movie that kicks off with Kevin McCarthy from “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers” (in his final film role) boldly donning what appears to be a Devo hat and solemnly proclaiming, “I sentence you … to Earth”?

It’s one thing to be odd, cult, or offbeat, but another to be authentically outlandish. Fans of Keith Giffen’s eccentric Ambush Bug from mid-1980s DC comics will resonate with this notion.

DVD Review: The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)

Unveiled on DVD by Strand Releasing Home Video last year, “The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X” draws inspiration from subversive, low-budget sci-fi films like Tom Graeff’s “Teenagers From Outer Space” (1959), Ed Wood’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1959), and Phil Tucker’s “Robot Monster” (1953).

The influence isn’t merely subtle – Bunnell has Johnny X (Will Keenan) and his gang of space delinquents emerge from the same cave-mouth as the bubble-headed RoMan in “Robot Monster.”

Bald actor Jed Rowen, portraying the alien antagonist Sluggo, strikingly resembles the hulking Tor Johnson in “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” likely more than coincidental.

(For those unfamiliar, “Teenagers From Outer Space,” directed by Graeff aka Jesus Christ II, as he proclaimed in a 1959 Los Angeles Times ad, is a complete revelation.)

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
Anna Joy Brooks

Another significant influence here is the amped-up Fifties rock akin to “Purple People Eater” and “Flying Saucer Rock & Roll,” channeling the late 1970s punk vibes of bands like The Cramps and The Flesheaters.

It blends primal Gene Vincent/Eddie Cochran rock energy with Metaluna Mutant sci-fi/horror imagery.

The storyline, or lack thereof (as narrative isn’t Ghastly Love’s forte), revolves around Johnny X and his gang facing exile to Planet Earth for vague offenses like disrespecting elders and having a penchant for fast cars.

Upon their arrival, they encounter Chip (Les Williams), a conventional soda jerk, who unwisely develops feelings for Johnny’s petulant girlfriend, Bliss (De Anna Joy Brooks).

Bliss introduces herself with a dramatic entrance, strutting out of her T-bird in high heels, demanding, “My name is Bliss. Repeat it.”

The plot turns into sun-soaked high desert psychobabble with the introduction of reclusive rockabilly star Mickey O’Flynn (Creed Bratton from The Office), resembling Hasil Adkins on a rough night.

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
These Lips Music Number

Without giving too much away, Mickey transforms into a corpse who, aided by Johnny’s missing Resurrection Suit, resurrects (to some extent) to perform “Big Green Bug-Eyed Monster” in true ghoul rock fashion.

It’s a moment Screaming Lord Sutch would applaud. Meanwhile, he gains an incredibly cheerful teenage groupie, Dandi (played by Kate Maberly, a Misty Mundae lookalike from The Secret Garden), who gazes at his decaying flesh with adoration, akin to Justin Bieber fandom.

The specifics are not crucial. What truly matters is Bunnell’s quirky reinterpretation of 1950s low-budget sci-fi/pulp cinema and his profound appreciation for the Black & White CinemaScope frame, a visual language nearly extinct in contemporary cinema.

(Reportedly, Bunnell acquired the last Eastman Kodak Plus-X fine grain stock for the film’s shooting. Whether the film stock influenced the “X” in Johnny X is speculative but an intriguing thought.)

Critics lament the decline of B&W cinematography in general, and rightfully so, but the vanishing act of B&W Scope is perhaps the most distressing.

(If you ever get the chance to watch films like Hubert Cornfield’s “The 3rd Voice” (1960), Masahiro Shinoda’s “Pale Flower” (1964), or Wojciech Has’s “The Saragossa Manuscript” (1965) – all exemplary instances of Scope cinematography in B&W – on a big screen, seize the opportunity.)

Collaborating with cinematographer Francisco Bulgarelli, Bunnell effectively utilizes the Scope frame, notably in the “Hernando’s Hideaway”-style number “These Lips That Never Lie,” filmed at an abandoned drive-in.

With only two actors – soda jerk Chip and alien vamp Bliss – he orchestrates impressive camera, music, and performer choreography, encapsulating the Pajama Game-left-under-a-heatlamp ambiance of much of the score.

(Yet, my favorite is Johnny X rhyming “Cause firstly and lastly / I am still ghastly” with his best teen rockabilly drawl.)

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
Creed Bratton

In the cast, Will Keenan, renowned for Troma’s “Terror Firmer” (1999) and “Tromeo & Juliet” (1996), later a new media guru at Maker Studios and Endemol, exudes a commendable Gary Numan-like quality as the alien Johnny.

Even after his Act 3 transformation, one can sense he remains a naughty little boy.

Brooks, portraying his extraterrestrial companion Bliss, sinks her teeth into the script’s prime lines, such as “I could really use your help… I’ve never said that to anyone before, at least with my clothes on.”

She strikes the perfect balance of high camp and low-cut burlesque queen, elegantly sashaying and strutting through Bunnell’s rear-projected fantasy.

Arguably the best, or at least the most peculiar, performance comes from Bratton as the rockabilly ghoul Mickey O’Flynn, channeling Bill Murray’s cadaverous self-parody in “Zombieland” (2009) – or vice versa, considering this was filmed well before Ruben Fleischer’s zombie-comedy.

Despite watching “Ghastly Love” multiple times, pinpointing the exact moment Bratton dies or resurrects remains elusive; he appears both alive and dead from his initial screen appearance.

Special mention goes to the great Paul Williams (of “Phantom Of The Paradise”), who unexpectedly enters the film as a late-night cable-access talk show host, resembling someone who sniffed glue and stuck his finger in a light socket.

The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
Will Keenan

The DVD offers a sharp, vivid transfer in 2.35:1 widescreen accompanied by 5.1 surround sound.

Bonus content includes deleted scenes, outtakes, the theatrical trailer, and a humorous Making Of documentary hosted by Mr. Projector.

One peculiar revelation in the featurette is that Bunnell initiated production on “Ghastly Love” in 2004, later pausing due to insufficient funds.

He resumed filming six years later, in 2010, with the same cast (remarkably showing slight disparity in appearance between the original and later footage, even in makeup and costumes).

The film eventually premiered theatrically in 2012 – eight years after the commencement of shooting.

The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X” is accessible on DVD and available for rental/download on Amazon and Netflix.

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