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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 02.17.12] scifi musical

Year: 2012
Directors: Paul Bunnell
Writers: Paul Bunnell, George Wagner
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: agentorange
Rating: 8 out of 10

Though The Ghastly Love of Johnny X won't play to festival audiences for a few months, I had the pleasure of screening the flick in the comfort of my own home, on a nice big digital display with a set of lowriders wrapped around my head for the perfect aural experience. And I'll tell you up front that this is a big, fun retro scifi movie that will have you tapping your toes to more than just the musical numbers.

Johnny X is one of those films that's made to play to an audience. It's a midnight movie where, mark my words, girls will show up wearing Circle Skirts and Mary Janes and a big red "A" pasted on their butts. The guys will get to play tough as Johnny X and or a member of The Ghastly Ones and everyone will know the words. But then, musicals have a tendency to have that effect, don't they? Somehow they become communal.

We've been talking about Johnny X for a few years now and right away you'll see why it took so long to get completed. It's hugely ambitious in style and choreography and I'm happy to report that all those years of work is up on the screen. The crisp black and white photography is stunning and the perfect choice to transport audiences back in time, while the dark Venture's style vibrato guitar score by Ego Plum is deliciously delinquent.

As a fan of fun 50s scifi flicks like the Blob or what-have-you, I was really happy to see that Johnny X isn't quite a parody of an older style. It doesn't poke fun at old special FX or antiquated acting styles, plots or bad B-movie writing. It seems content to live in the era and just be it's own thing without winking too overtly at the audience.

Of course that's not to say the film isn't madcap... because oh boy:

I guess I should talk plot, though it's almost secondary to the way-out sights and sounds of Johnny X. Suffice it to say that Johnny and his gang were kicked off their planet for being badasses and sentences to the most immoral planet around, earth. Then we sort of skip ahead a little and join the gang as they search for Johnny's GF called Bliss who has stolen his magic suit that lets him control people. Queue musical numbers explaining the plot. Then there's a subplot involving an unscrupulous promoter played by the great Reggie Bannister (Phantasm).

Not being a big Broadway musical fan, but a massive fan of the pop music from the era, I couldn't help but wish the musical numbers were written a bit more in the style of the era. Toss in a couple of Doo-wop tracks and Johnny X singing an epic Town Without Pity style slammer and the film would have been even more of a mind-blower. Having said that, that's a personal preference thing. West Side Story certainly didn't go there... then again, Grease did.

Johnny X is about to break out into theatres and festival around the country, so if you're looking for something different, something smart, silly, fun and wildly original then be sure to keep your eye on the flick's Facebook page.

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