‘The Ghastly Love of Johnny X’ is The Best Bad Movie of 2012
The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is a 2012 sci-fi musical mystery about an alien on Earth chasing after his girlfriend after she takes from him something of great importance.
With a title like The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, you might be forgiven in thinking, “Hey, is this some kind of 1950s drive-in sci-fi throwback?” because it sure does look one, and to be honest that’s pretty good thinking (pat yourself on the back), because that’s exactly what The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is. A bizarre, home-spun rock & roll fable that’s about as unconventional a modern film as one could get, at least aesthetically, yet for all the insanity it spills out on screen, it’s a freaky ride of head scratching cinematic lunacy that really shouldn’t be missed. It’s unlike anything you’re likely to see. Ever. Allow me an introduction.
I’ll start by trying to briefly explain what The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is about, but during so, you might feel the temptation to contact medical emergency services in hopes of rescuing me from what surely sounds like some sort of psychotic episode, but be assured, everything I tell you is in fact, part of the plot and there will be no need to phone anyone.
After the Grand Inquisitor (played by none other than Hollywood veteran Kevin McCarthy, in his final screen appearance) banishes Johnny Xavier (Will Keenan) and his gang of oily henchman and tight sweater wearing buxom ladies to the most despicable place in the universe – Earth – they end up in a weird sort of alternate 1950s reality, stylized and saturated in era-specific cultural standbys; leather jackets and greasy hair with all kinds of sappy linguistic zingers.
A year later, his ex-girlfriend Bliss (De Anna Joy Brooks) rolls into a diner and sets her eyes on soda jerk Chip (Les Williams), giving him an instant ultimatum to quit his work and drive away with her or else, rescuing her from the pursuing Johnny. Seems she’s stolen a weird trippy space suit that gives the wearer magical powers to control others. It’s called the ‘resurrection suit’ and we learn that Johnny stole it before with plans to use it here on Earth. It literally works like it’s a puppeteer, though substitute marionette strings for looping arcs of barely-contained electricity.
Johnny’s also on the hunt for his Earth dad, an old time rock star named Mickey O’Flynn (Creed Bratton), who, unfortunately dies before a big show, one that his manger King Clayton (Reggie Bannister) needs to open in order to get out from under the thumb of some thick-necked loan sharks. Good thing there’s a thing called the ‘resurrection suit’. Now you might be worried I’ve already spoiled the movie, but fear not dear campers, for we’ve not even gotten out of the first act.
Just think about that and then try wrapping your heads around this: the whole dang thing is shot in black & white and intercut with grand, extended musical and dance numbers, all purposefully awful (yet strangely hypnotic). Yup. This is one weird movie, and let me tell you, it’s not just bad … it’s brilliantly bad. This is so finely tuned to what it wants to be, it slices like a razor to the very core of homage and parody, striking so hard at the chewy nugent center of jaw-dropping WTF? movie making you can’t help but be impressed. Director and co-screenwriter Paul Bunnell clearly loves the era he draws from, even as it barely plays by the rules, assembling a talented team of creators and performers to put it all together. This is a good looking movie and if you watch it with your mind wide open, it feels like a stage show of highly-skilled professionals mocking poorly-trained amateurs. Imagine if Tim Burton and Christopher Guest at the height of their creative peaks somehow collaborated. That’s The Ghastly Love of Johnny X.
With that in mind, like a good song and dance show, you gotta pay attention to the peripherals, and especially the supporting players because they are the lifeblood, right? They move and swing and breath life into the music numbers and several standout, including the always fun to watch Jed Rowen, whose big hulking bald-headed Sluggo is clearly having a great time and gets some fun moments in the second half. Bratton, who spends most of the movie dead, is a riot, and I can’t not mention the legendary Paul Williams, who pops up as well. How did that happen?
According to Wikipedia,The Ghastly Love of Johnny X grossed $86 dollars on its opening weekend, released into only one theater. So no, it’s was not a box office hit in case you were wondering. It’s since moved on to VOD and even had a run on Netflix, but few have surely ever heard of it. That’s too bad. While it earnestly seems to strive in all attempts at avoiding mass appeal, there is a lot to really like about it, it’s absurdity and absolute commitment to whatever the hell it’s trying to be make it a unique experience, and truly, one that more people should see. It’s rare to see a film so embrace something different and I fully encourage you to seek it out and give it a try. Pay attention to what they are doing here, because beyond the madness, there is a good movie here that will one hundred percent entertain.