Where do you start with a charmingly bizarre Frankenstein’s monster like The Ghastly Love of Johnny X? There needs to be a better word for “weird” only because films like this exist, and at the end of the day that’s the best word to describe them, even if it’s a bit limiting. “Weird”, in the case of Johnny X, is good; Paul Bunnell’s off-kilter creation calls on a number of references and influences ranging from Flash Gordon to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and despite the clear connection to the B-movie cult icons of decades past, it winds up playing very much like its own (occasionally uneven) beast. That’s something of an achievement on its own, given how easy it is for filmmakers to equate homage with creativity, and if nothing else, Johnny X deserves applause for synthesizing its inspirations into something that feels original.
And, again, incredibly odd. Johnny X tells the story of the titular character (Will Keenan), a young alien upstart exiled to Earth by his own people for being, well, kind of a punk-ass. He’ll remain on our planet forever until he commits a selfless act, and he has a plan in mind to win himself- and his gang of followers, the Ghastly Ones- a ticket back home. But his scheme has a monkey wrench thrown in its gears when his ex-lover, Bliss (De Anna Joy Brooks), nicks his resurrection suit with the help of her new flame, Chip the soda jerk (Les Williams). How will Johnny get home without his nifty alien technology? Will Chip find the chutzpah to be a real man for Bliss? And what do any of these people have to do with missing rock ‘n roll idol Mickey O’Flynn (Creed Bratton)?
If you stopped reading at that last name, I can’t say I blame you. The Creed Bratton? In something other than the US Office? Bratton’s here, and he’s joined by a few other names you might recognize: Paul Williams, Reggie Bannister, and Kevin McCarthy. Fans of classics ranging from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series to The Phantom of the Paradise may find themselves in movie geek heaven here (though McCarthy and Williams have only cameo roles); these actors lend a certain je ne sais quoi to the proceedings, and part of the joy of Johnny X is watching them dive into the film’s plentiful and varied wackiness whenever they’re on screen.
Bunnell certainly seems to know his sci-fi and horror, and with the number of song-and-dance numbers that crop up as the plot progresses, it becomes clear that he’s a musical aficionado, too, and his effusive appreciation for these movie archetypes comes through in almost every frame. There’s a caveat, though: all of that admiration doesn’t help the film’s plot brew any faster. Johnny X‘s only real hindrance is a fairly glacial start, and while the film builds up steam from its opening scene, it takes the length of the first act for it to truly find its legs.
Once that happens, Bunnell piles delightful craziness on with unrelenting energy and infectious glee; backstabbing aliens, reanimated corpses, fast cars, and dialogue that’s almost too perfectly over-the-top. (This is a film where a character says, verbatim, “Thanks for the wheels, Earth slut!”.) He’s clearly a man who loves movies and loves making them, and he’s got the talent to back up that love, too. Johnny X is directed assuredly and with confidence, and he puts every single dollar of his low budget (it’s a sign of the times that $2,000,000 can be considered “low”) up on the screen for us to see. No doubt, Johnny X is a kooky concoction, but for genre fans it’s one that’s well worth checking out.