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The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
Loopy, Quirky, GHASTLY Fun!
It has been many years since I've seen a movie as intriguing, bizarre, and fun as THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X, and that is the truth. This big screen spectacular is a crazy concoction, consisting of juvenile delinquents from outer space, assorted low-budget B-movie plot devices, and a cast of characters prone to bursting into song at a moment's notice. Yes, this is a comedy. In fact, it is actually a sci-fi/musical comedy with film noir thrown in for good measure, a genre (or sub-genre) with very few examples to speak of. The whole thing is beautifully photographed in black and white, and it all comes together thanks to the vision of director Paul Bunnell, who assembled a dedicated team both on and off-screen. The result is a movie overflowing with energy and good old-fashioned showmanship.
The plot revolves around Johnny X, just your average leather jacket wearing bad boy from another planet, exiled to Earth with his devoted gang, known as The Ghastly Ones. Bliss is a former girlfriend trying to escape Johnny, and Chip is the naive soda-jerk who gets involved in her plight. These roles are well played by a trio of talented and attractive young actors. De Anna Joy Brooks as Bliss delivers cutting remarks and sultry solos with equal aplomb, while Les Williams is sincere, likable and properly earnest as Chip. Will Keenan as the title character is the glue that holds the plot together, dark and brooding, with tongue firmly in cheek.
Other stars include Paul Williams as talk show host Cousin Quilty, and Reggie Bannister, as hapless concert promoter King Clayton. Creed Bratton is very effective as the outrageous and twisted Mickey O'Flynn, The Man with the Grin. Film buffs take note: This movie also includes veteran actor Kevin McCarthy's final on screen performance!
A tremendous asset to the movie is the music, an infectious blend of surf-guitar rock and Broadway show tunes. All of the songs are excellent, with my personal favorite being the sizzling "These Lips That Never Lie", performed at an old Drive-In theater. Another number - "Big Green Bug-Eyed Monster" - is exciting as well as dramatic. The musical arrangements are stylized and pleasingly retro, and I hope a soundtrack cd is forthcoming (the music is that good!).
No major flaws come to mind, although in my opinion the time period is not immediately evident. It seems to be set in the past, due to certain props, the use of vintage automobiles, and the fact that the Ghastly Ones are clearly fans of 1950s-era clothing. However, other visuals and references place the story in contemporary times. Best to assume the movie takes place in the present, just in its own special universe, and not worry too much about it!
Ultimately, the movie works thanks to the efforts of the extremely talented cast and crew, and their obvious love of the various film genres being parodied. They took a truly wacky concept and hammered out their own little cinematic masterpiece. It certainly deserves a healthy theatrical run, and I can easily see it continuing beyond that on the midnight movie circuit. THE GHASTLY LOVE OF JOHNNY X is tuneful, suspenseful, and full of genuinely funny dialogue. Above all, it is entertaining, and that is exactly what a good movie should be.
House of Dark Shadows (1970)
Excellent big screen adaption, and fun for fans
HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is my favorite vampire movie of all time. Better than the old black and whites from the early days of the movies, better than the genuinely frightening Hammer movies of the 1960s, and much better than the more recent contemporary takes aimed at the high school set.
As a child, and a fan of the DARK SHADOWS daytime drama, one of my happier family memories is one night the whole family packed up the car and went to the drive-in for a crazy quadruple feature. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS was the main attraction, and therefore the last to play, following a GODZILLA movie and THE GREEN SLIME (plus one more I can't recall). All these years later, I still watch it (on laser disc, as there is not yet a DVD), and I'm happy to say that, for me, it is a movie that remains enjoyable, rather than being better relegated to my childhood memories.
Jonathan Frid plays Barnabas Collins with great class, creating a sympathetic vampire eons before such a characterization would become commonplace. Granted, the TV incarnation was portrayed as more guilt-ridden, whereas the film version was, due to the tightened focus of the storyline, more single-minded about his pursuits. Some fans do not care for the graphic blood-letting and viciousness present in the movie, though that pretty much has to be expected. In any case, it is nothing like the gore that is popular with audiences today. It IS more violent, though, and Barnabas' most brutal attack in the movie actually doesn't even involve fangs! The other cast members have honed their characters to perfection after years of playing on the TV soap. You could say they all had the longest rehearsal period in movie history, in a way! Some perform better than others, but seeing so many favorites on the big screen is definitely a treat. The sets are sumptuous, a huge step up from the stage bound look of the TV show, and liberal use of music from the soap works beautifully. There are plenty of exciting and genuinely suspenseful scenes, with many of the best moments contributed by Grayson Hall as the doctor who is certain she can help Barnabas through modern science.
The movie may not be perfect, but only in minor ways. It could be argued that there are way too many characters, for example, or that too many bodies start piling up after a certain point in the plot, but I still give the film 10 out of 10 due to the overall brilliance of the acting, atmosphere, and success in bringing Barnabas to the big screen. Furthermore, I'm thrilled that the treatment was not deliberately campy.
All in all, we are lucky the movie was not only made, but was successful. It introduces the cult favorite vampire and his brooding family to new generations regularly, by existing outside the original daytime drama. At the same time, it keeps the memory of the 1960s soap opera alive, renewing fervor in the fans who were there at the beginning. I'm not looking forward to the announced DARK SHADOWS movie from Tim Burton, but even that will boost interest in the original series and movie, so let it happen. Long live Barnabas Collins!
Elvira's Haunted Hills (2001)
Fun parody of old fashioned horror movies!
First off, I'll tell you right away that I'm a devoted fan of ELVIRA, so one might expect a non-objective review. However, I have watched this movie many, many times, and can honestly say it is an entertaining and satisfying vehicle for it's gorgeous star.
If you start off by thinking you'll be seeing a sequel to her previous comedy, ELVIRA MISTRESS OF THE DARK, then you might be disappointed, because it is definitely NOT that. A true sequel can not be made, because specific plot-points and characters are owned by that film's original studio (and those who picked it up when said studio crashed). Luckily for her fans, the rights to the character of ELVIRA herself belong to her creator, Cassandra Peterson, so we were able to be treated to a second movie, simply with a different premise and setting. I, for one, am grateful for that!
ELVIRA'S HAUNTED HILLS is a lovingly crafted parody of cheesy 1960s era horror movies of the Roger Corman and Hammer House variety. Time is taken to develop plot and character, to some extent, so it is not a gag-a-minute spoof such as AIRPLANE!, but is more like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN in providing chuckles as well as atmosphere. I'm happy to say that, although it is a period piece, the character of Elvira remains Elvira no matter what, dispensing anachronistic quips and the sense of humor for which she is famous. Many lines are laugh out loud funny, while others are funny because they are groan inducingly bad. Sure, a few gags just don't pay off, and in my opinion the editing could be tighter overall, but when it all works the movie is hilarious. Peterson gets lots of the best moments, naturally, including a terrific musical number, but many funny lines are delivered by the supporting cast, as well. My favorite scenes include Elvira's exaggerated display of grief over someone's death, and her first meeting with the 'stable stud', who is overdubbed like so many bad foreign movies of the 1960s. My least favorite is an extended torture sequence, which is very well staged, just a bit too long.
The cast does a great job, for the most part, though some get better material than others. Richard O'Brien, as the lord of the castle, provides some humor, but is actually most effective when his character is more menacing. There are actually several moments of genuine suspense, too. All in all, this is absolutely worth a look for casual fans, and worth a purchase for those of us who can't get enough Elvira. It is best viewed with a big group of friends, by the way. Every time I've seen it, whether at a party or on the big screen in a packed theater, this is without a doubt a 'more the merrier' experience!
Entertaining mix of low budget drama and high octane fights
I genuinely enjoyed IMMORTAL, an early stab at movie making by the action/martial arts troupe The Stunt People. The plot involves three young men and their quest for supernatural physical and spiritual power. Joe Henley plays 'Cory Wallace', Chelsea Steffensen plays 'Alex Archer', and Eric Jacobus (of CONTOUR, DOGS OF CHINATOWN, and more recently DETECTIVE STORY) plays 'David Graves'.
For fans of independent action flicks, there is much to like. Sure, the acting is all over the map. Gavin Merrick, as 'Adam Archer', is corny and over the top, complete with mullet (his character changes dramatically later), while Joe Henley is quiet and sincere as 'Cory Wallace', the embodiment of youthful innocence. As with other movies by The Stunt People, actors play multiple parts, adding to the fun. (My favorite is when Eric Jacobus appears on a TV screen briefly as a newscaster, wearing a very silly mustache). Just when you get used to a certain cartoon-ish quality, such as Chelsea Steffensen's scenes as used car salesman 'Fast Eddy', you'll be surprised with something dramatic and well played, like Joe Henley's phone call to his dad, or Amberly Bell's discovery of a friend's body in a shack. Still, you generally watch a Stunt People movie for the stunts, and there are plenty. Fight scenes are numerous and dynamic, and some are very inventive. It is always exciting when you know the actors ARE the stunt people, so there are no jarring cuts from Hollywood superstars to their identically dressed doubles. Additionally, the first half of the story is set in 1984, allowing for a flashback to 1980's era fashions. Low budget or not, there are many moments when everything really comes together.
Some areas need work, too. The opening scene, set during the crusades, has an unconvincing location, like a barn at a public park. I think it could be saved, though, by remaking the whole scene, actors and all, as artwork, such as was used for the opening credits. Speaking of unconvincing, I have to comment on the character 'Jonathan Howlett' and his (ahem) British accent. It was so bad that I honestly couldn't make it out, thinking the actor, Sean Grove, was actually going for Chinese, or Korean! Also, part of the plot involves mastery of the elements. I initially felt this should play a larger part in the finale; however, I am ultimately happier that special visual effects did not detract from the fighting.
The DVD has tons of extras, including deleted scenes (featuring a lengthy indoor fight), a 'making of' short, and several other projects by The Stunt People. Also, most of the cast is on hand for commentary, and they really have fun with it (a bit too much, every now and then). They are themselves highly critical, pointing out what works, but more than happy to observe what did NOT work, whether due to budget, time constraints, or their own shortcomings as actors. I found the commentary to be informative and also very amusing.
In the end, IMMORTAL is a vital link in the history of The Stunt People, not a perfect movie, yet perfectly enjoyable. This is a nice measure of how far that company of players has come in a short period of time. The production values get better with every film, but the heart is in no greater evidence than it is in IMMORTAL.