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Johnny Gruesome Review

September 10, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Johnny Gruesome
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Johnny Gruesome Review  

Johnny Gruesome Review

Anthony De La Torre– Johnny Grissom
Byron Brown II– Eric Carter
Aprilann– Karen Slatter
Michael DeLorenzo– Charlie Grissom
Chris Modrzynski– Gary Belter
Kim Piazza– Carol Crane
Richard Lounello– Matt Crane
Madison Amey– Rhonda Young
Travis Torlone– Tod Kumler
John Renna– Mr. Milton
Jon Cesar– Blind Bill

Directed by Gregory Lamberson
Screenplay by Gregory Lamberson, based on the novel Johnny Gruesome

Distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment

Not Rated
Runtime– 90 minutes


Johnny Gruesome, written and directed by Gregory Lamberson (and based on his novel of the same name), is a wonderful supernatural zombie revenge story and wicked dark comedy with a sort of 1980’s sensibility about it. Featuring a great cast, a badass rocking soundtrack, and a main character with “franchise” written all over him, it’s a flick that horror movie nerds will love.

The movie stars Anthony De La Torre as Johnny Grissom, the sort of leader of the heavy metal music listening kids at Red Hill High School. Along with girlfriend Karen (Aprilann), best friend Eric (Byron Brown II), and drug dealing hanger on Gary (Chris Modrzynski), they’re the rivals of the asshole preppie kids led by Todd Kumler (Travis Torlone). As the movie begins, Johnny and Todd get into a fist fight in the parking lot right before school begins, with Todd getting his ass kicked (naturally. Preppie kids named Todd are very rarely good fighters of any kind). This ass kicking is brought to the attention of Mr. Milton (John Renna), the school’s tight ass principal who doesn’t like Johnny at all. In fact, Milton suspends Johnny for a week for the altercation and revels in the fact that he isn’t going to have to see the long haired troublemaker for seven days. As you’d expect, Johnny is pissed about his punishment (he didn’t start the fight so why does the shit come down on him?) but can’t really do anything about it. He’s just going to have to deal with it. The suspension, though, won’t damper his plans with his friends later that night. That shit is going down no matter what.

After a brief shouting match with his alcoholic father Charlie (Michael DeLorenzo), Johnny and his friends head out for a night of driving around, listening to music, beer drinking, and, for some, cocaine snorting. While driving erratically, Johnny acts like he wants to drive off a bridge, which freaks out his friends, especially Gary. In fact, Gary attacks Johnny in the car, getting him to stop just before launching off the bridge. Johnny and Gary get out of the car and a fight ensues, with Gary getting the better of Johnny, eventually choking him to death. Before Johnny’s body has any chance of getting cold, Gary hatches a plan to try to make it look like Johnny died in a car accident. Eric and Karen don’t want to go through with Gary’s scheme, at least initially, because it’s insane. Eric and Karen do go along with it, though, as they seem to think they don’t have any other option (they can’t go to the police because the cops won’t believe that Gary choking Johnny to death was an accident or even self-defense. They’re hoodlums). So they all agree to Gary’s scheme.

Now, while Johnny’s friends figure out how to make it look like Johnny’s death was an accident, Johnny’s spirit leaves his body via some sort of bright white light tunnel thing, gets pissed off that he’s fucking dead now, and starts hatching his own plan to get some sort of revenge on his friends. Why the hell are Eric and Karen listening to Gary? Gary’s an asshole. What the hell, man?

So Johnny’s friends stage the accident, the cops pull Johnny’s body from the water and surmise that he died via car accident, and suddenly everyone’s in the clear. No one will ever know that Gary killed Johnny, as long as everyone involved keeps their traps shut. Gary will be able to, no doubt, and Eric, while feeling guilty and uneasy about the whole thing, can be counted on not to say anything. Karen, though, could be the weak link. She feels guilty about the whole thing immediately and starts to look like she’s guilty of something. Karen doesn’t go to Johnny’s funeral (she can’t look at him in the coffin). Gary swoops in and starts giving her more drugs to sort of keep her in line. As long as she’s lighting up or hoovering white powder up her nose she should be fine. Should be.

This whole murder cover-up might actually work.

So Johnny’s funeral goes off without a hitch, everyone who showed up for it is sad, and it looks like life will go on for everyone. Including Johnny.

Including Johnny? Isn’t he supposed to be dead? How the hell is that possible? Who knows? But Johnny isn’t dead anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. Johnny is out of his grave and looking for revenge.

What’s interesting about Johnny Gruesome is how, right up until Johnny gets out of his grave, the movie is a fairly straightforward drama. There’s nothing remotely funny going on. But when Johnny gets out of his grave and does a bizarre, herky jerky walk through the cemetery to get the kinks out of his dead body, suddenly there’s a tone shift and the movie, at least at that moment, isn’t so serious anymore. A funny conversation between two cemetery workers played by Alexander S. McBryde and Tim O’Hearn that happens at the same time as Johnny’s weird walk helps cement that tonal shift, but even if that conversation didn’t happen Johnny’s walk would let everyone know that, despite all of the grim nastiness happening here, Johnny Gruesome is supposed to be fun. And it is fun. The movie then shifts back and forth between that seriousness and that dark comedic weirdness right up until the end.

Now, was I expecting that shift? No. I thought that Johnny Gruesome would be a “serious” horror flick from start to finish. I mean, it’s a revenge story at its heart, right? Revenge is often serious business. But that dark comedic sensibility is what makes Johnny Gruesome so entertaining. You think it’s going to go one way, but then it goes somewhere else completely. I just wasn’t expecting that approach at all. It works beautifully.

The other aspect of the story that works quite well is the budding love story between Eric and the nerdy girl Rhonda (Madison Amey). There was always some sort of spark between the two but they never got together because of the cliques they ran with in school. Johnny’s death, though, brings them together and it’s so damn sweet. You will wish it worked out differently, though. I know I did.


The “zombie” Johnny make-up, created by Craig Lindberg, gets nastier and nastier looking as the story progresses and gets absolutely disgusting at the end of the movie. Have you ever looked into a container of lard or a coffee can filled with used grease? Take either one of those and mix in some melted crayons, chewed up cheese, and some kind of vegetable smear (green butter?) and that’s what you have with Johnny’s make-up. The make-up also causes you to imagine what Johnny must smell like as a dead body. It is, no doubt, horrendous.

The cast is nothing short of exceptional. Anthony De La Torre does a fantastic job as Johnny Grissom, both as the ass kicking metal head with a chip on his shoulder and as the pissed off zombie serial killer Johnny Gruesome. He knows how to straddle the line between the serious and the absurd and is always watchable. He also knows how to be cocky without being a jerk, a serious skill that few in the world have mastered. He has a bright future in the world of horror cinema if he wants to pursue it.

Byron Brown II does a great job as Eric, Johnny’s best friend. Some of his dialogue scenes come off a little stiff at times, but what he lacks in technique he makes up for it with a natural integrity that you just can’t fake. You can’t hate him, even when his character is doing something incredibly stupid, and you end up rooting for him no matter what. Dude is a major star just waiting to happen.

Chris Modrzysnki is the ultimate douchebag as Gary. He’s a murderer, a drug dealer, and he’s only interested in saving his own ass at all times. He also thinks he’s way smarter than he actually is, which makes what eventually happens to him all the more satisfying. Modrzynski is brilliant at amping up Gary’s truly bad traits and you just love despising him.

Aprilann, in her big screen debut, does a fine job as Karen, Johnny’s troubled girlfriend. You don’t really agree with any of her choices, but you don’t want to see anything bad happen to her. At the same time, you just know that it isn’t going to end well for her no matter what. She should have a nice career in movies, genre or non-genre, if she decides to do more. I’m also going to be a pig male and commend her on that tight pair of jeans she wears at the beginning of the movie. Good God, how did she even get those pants on? Amazing stuff all around.

Michael DeLorenzo isn’t in the movie all that much as Johnny’s father Charlie, but the scenes we do get with him are well done. He knows how to make the most out of his rather small part in the movie and does a great job freaking out at the prospect his dead son may not be dead after all. You will never see a man more terrified of what he may find than in the scene where Charlie walks up the stairs to his dead son’s room to find out what the hell is going on in there. You know, what was that noise? And how did that music start playing?

Madison Amey is so damn sweet as Rhonda, the nerdy girl that has a thing for Eric. She’s smart, funny, and exactly the kind of girl nerdy dudes would love to get to know. It’s a damn shame what happens to her. A damn, damn shame.

Kim Piazza does a great job as Carol Crane, Johnny’s teacher who ends up figuring into the story way more than you expect her to. There’s a sexual tension between Carol and Johnny that pays off in the middle of the movie with a scene that will make you cringe. At first, you’re not really sure if that tension is actually tension or just the way the actors are playing the scene (they’re just happy and there’s no subtext at all. Yes, Carol is wearing a skirt that’s maybe a little too sexy for a teacher, but at the same time you should get your mind out of the gutter because she’s a professional educator goddamit. You’re just imagining all that stuff. And besides, Johnny has Karen. What the hell does he want with someone old enough to be his mother?). And then the scene happens, things get weird, and Carol decides to figure out what the hell is going on. Her husband, Matt the chief of police (Richard Lounello) will be of no help because he’s a skeptical, cynical cop, so she’s going to have to do this on her own. Teachers clearly don’t get paid enough.

John Renna does an interesting job as the tight ass principal Mr. Milton. At first, he seems to revel in punishing Johnny for the fight with Todd. Milton has had to punish the punk kid quite a bit over the years and loves the fact that, for at least seven days, he won’t have to deal with him. Milton is kind of an asshole here. But then, after Johnny dies and Milton has to announce to the school that Johnny is dead he becomes a different person. Milton is no longer the tight ass principal, he’s the concerned educator just trying to hold it all together in the face of tragedy. It’s a switch that makes what happens to him quite sad after it’s happened (it’s actually quite funny right when it happens, though).

And then there’s Travis Torlone as Todd the preppie douchebag. There’s absolutely nothing redeeming about this character and you don’t feel sorry for him at all, which is how it should be. And Torlone just oozes douchebagness. If only we got to see what happens to him when it happens to him.

And be on the lookout for Paul McGinnis, who has a nice scene as a sheriff’s deputy who uses the word “copacetic,” Jessica Zwolak as sheriff’s deputy who doesn’t think the town has enough cops to combat whatever the hell is happening (Sam Qualiana, Zwolak’s Killer Rack co-star shows up here, too, as a fellow sheriff’s deputy), Michael O’Hear as an understanding funeral director, Kaelin Lamberson as a little girl who gets the scare of her life (really inappropriate but, at the same time, kind of hilarious), Bob Bozek as the slightly flaming high school gym coach, and Jon Cesar as Blind Bill, the gun toting blind guy who knows what dead bodies smell like. I think there’s a spin-off movie in the Blind Bill character. He’s blind, he knows what dead bodies smell like, he carries a gun, and, for the sake of the spin-off, he knows kung fu, too. I think it would work.

The soundtrack, by Armand Petri and Joe Rozler, is absolutely fantastic and will have you nodding your head when the rocking guitars start. And the flick’s opening title song, “Dyin’ Tonight,” sung by Robby Takac of the Goo Goo Dolls, is catchy as hell and will stick in your head for several hours after hearing it. The other songs that appear in the movie are awesome, too. There should be a soundtrack release.


Johnny Gruesome is a modern zombie revenge dark comedy classic in the waiting, a movie that will no doubt have a long shelf life once it gets released into the world. It has all of the necessary elements to be a big hit. And it should be a big hit. Hopefully, the audience shows up for it and supports it, because the world needs a Johnny Gruesome 2. I have no idea what a sequel would actually be about (it could go many ways) but it’s something the horror movie world should be clamoring for once Johnny Gruesome is made available to the masses. And I think it will. So check the movie out when it hits Video on Demand on October 16th, 2018, and then DVD on January 1st, 2019.

Be sure to have a Gruesome Halloween or a Gruesome New Year. Do whichever one feels more comfortable. But see Johnny Gruesome. You won’t regret it.

See Johnny Gruesome. See it, see it, goddamn see it!


So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 7

Undead bodies: 1

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: Yes, and it’s quite exceptional.

Doobage: A catchy as hell opening theme, what appears to be drone footage, some very nice tight jeans, gum chewing, preppie douchebags, young male back and forth hooey, a parking lot beatdown, suspension, a getting ready to fuck around tonight montage including running, lipstick, and drug dealing, driving around while drinking, listening to music, and taking drugs, serious cocaine abuse, serious choking, barfing, arguing, a sad school announcement, one of the sweetest comic book stores ever committed to film, cynicism and indifference, a flask, a not very well attended funeral, attempted Jewish undertaker joke, slow motion walking down the hallway at school, two funny cemetery workers, herky jerky walking, more cocaine abuse, serious booze drinking, music that shouldn’t be playing (maybe), a hilarious “Johnny Grissom giving the finger” picture, multiple crank calls, janitor abuse, switchblade hooey, off screen violence, screaming, a decapitated dead body, a severed head in a locker, the world’s strongest paper bag, off screen vomiting, attempted rape via zombie, face gouging with pus goo, removable shower head used as a weapon, a gun, a terrifying dream with throat slitting, wine drinking, vehicular assault, internet research, joint rolling, funeral clothes, grave digging, death by plastic bag, some incredibly sad sex, a knife fighting stand-off, mega wrist breaking, knife to the side of the head, crow bar hooey, some seriously disappointed parents, a cop that just can’t believe anything, bridge hooey, water hooey, some excellent body melting, and a defaced tombstone.

Kim Richards?: Almost.

Gratuitous: “And Michael DeLorenzo,” rock band T-shirts, reading, a sports metaphor, Michael DeLorenzo, driving like an idiot, an autopsy report, an “I’m the cat’s meow” patch, an Irish priest, cemetery workers talking about the differences between living in Buffalo and Florida, a potentially flaming gym coach, a hidden key, gun hooey, people doing internet searches for the same thing at the same time in the same room, proper backing up of a car, and dueling middle fingers.

Best lines: “Johnny,” “You’re still going to be a virgin when you go to college!,” “I thought you were too much of a pussy to party on a school night,” “Who you calling trash?,” “The name is Grissom,” “Watch the car!,” “You just made a big mistake you long haired freak. Let me make another,” “Who’s gruesome now?,” “Johnny? Yes, Mrs. Crane. Shut up,” “When are you going to learn that you can’t use my school as your own personal stomping ground?,” “You want to know why I’m home? I want to know why you don’t have a job!,” “How ya doing, Eric? Why are we moving?,” “Don’t you dare get sick, Eric!,” “I’m going to kill every one of you!,” “Johnny G. What a shame,” “You put his organs in bags like this?,” “Christ, I need a drink,” “You ever been to Florida?,” “Darryl! Turn the lights back on! Asshole!,” “Grissom? You’re dead you sonofabitch!,” “Somebody’s body is hanging upside down in the gym! It’s Todd. How do you know? His head is in my locker. How did it get in there?,” “Go to homeroom now! Gym is cancelled!,” “Has anyone touched that body?,” “Oh God! Where? I don’t see him,” “You’re dead! You’re supposed to be dead! Why aren’t you dead? I couldn’t sleep!,” “Are they dating?,” “Don’t answer it. Every time you answer it someone else is dead,” “Good morning, Erica. Don’t call me that!,” “Bitch!,” “Did anything peculiar happen to you?,” “It wasn’t me!,” “There’s no such thing as monsters, silly,” “What’s that? Gum?,” “You’re in quite a hurry. Can you blame us? That school is really dangerous,” “Sorry, Mike, I didn’t mean to frighten you. It’s Michael,” “I thought you weren’t afraid of me?,” “You need some guts, fatboy? Here, have mine!,” “Nothing like being with the king!,” “What we did is beside the point,” “He’s haunting us because we killed him!,” “We’re running out of men!,” “Go ahead! Scream until you’re blue in the face. Then we’ll match,” “So much for your theory that Gary is behind all of this,” “This whole town is going insane,” “So it’s true, they really do return to the scene of the crime,” “Sure wiped the smile off my face!,” “It’s not my fault! Fuck you!,” “I don’t believe what I just saw. Neither do I,” and “Please destroy that goddamn car.”

The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
Johnny Gruesome is a modern zombie revenge dark comedy classic in the waiting, a movie that will no doubt have a long shelf life once it gets released into the world. It has all of the necessary elements to be a big hit. And it should be a big hit. Hopefully, the audience shows up for it and supports it, because the world needs a Johnny Gruesome 2. I have no idea what a sequel would actually be about (it could go many ways) but it’s something the horror movie world should be clamoring for once Johnny Gruesome is made available to the masses. And I think it will. So check the movie out when it hits Video On Demand on October 16th, 2018, and then DVD on January 1st, 2019. You won’t regret it. Long live Gruesome!