The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is the brainchild of director Paul Bunnell, one he carried about for nine grueling years. The birth of the DVD, released last week, was not an easy one, but no one was surprised. There were warnings that the end result would be deplorably off-kilter. Some, who were in the room when Bunnell's fertilized idea was first sonogrammed -- in "Ghastly Scope," a vivid black and white, by the not untalented cinematographer Francisco Bulgarelli -- had high hopes; others hinted subtly, yet harshly, for a termination of the celluloid fetus.
Inseminated (or inspired) after watching Tom Graeff's 1959 supposedly cult movie Teenagers from Outer Space, Bunnell pulled together a cast that is about 15-20 years too old for almost every part. Imagine The Golden Girls surfing, or David Spade as Tom Sawyer, and you're halfway there.
Which brings up a critical conundrum. Since Ghastly is supposed to be a "bad" movie spoofing another "bad" movie, was the casting of actors who are closer to forty than to puberty as juvenile delinquents and soda jerks part of the joke? And is there a joke to begin with?
Philosophical pondering aside, the tale begins with Johnny X (Will Keenan, a Richard Grieco lookalike) and his posse of Ghastly Ones being exiled to Earth as a punishment for breaking the rules on their home planet. Johnny doesn't mind, because he has a "resurrection suit" that can control women if you insert power packs into their breasts beforehand. Also, with this invention, he'll be able to resurrect his dead father, Mickey O'Flynn (a dismal Creed Bratton of The Office), a truly untalented musical icon who apparently landed on Earth decades earlier and had a hit with "I'm Like a Big, Green, Bug-eyed Monster."
Nothing here makes much sense or strives to. What's worse (or better) is that any scene with more than three lines of dialogue will have you craving a copy of Jane Eyre to reconstitute your brain cells.
That's unless the following lines are forage for your joy:
"Up your asteroid!"
"Kill the engine, Chuckles."
"Holy shit, Batman!"
"Is that the sweet smell of soda jerk on your lips?"
"Save the drama for your mama."
"Let's agitate the gravel."
But, surprisingly, every time you want to reach for the Ibuprofen, a musical number starts up. Suddenly, between the deliciously quirky choreography by Carolanne Marano and the droll songs penned by Scott Martin and Ego Plum, the cast members come alive. ALIVE, I TELL YOU. They sing and they dance with gusto. Out of nowhere, this Ghastly film suddenly has pacing and wit, but then the song will end, as most do, unless they're by Pink Floyd, and you're back to ground zero.
(Warning: The film's production notes cite Mr. Bunnell's next project as an adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic The Man Who Laughs. Is it too early to organize and stop him?) - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.