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The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
A throwback to those beatnik romps of yesteryear!
A decade in-the-making, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X really comes together in the details. In order to make such a concept pop, this one needed as much research as guts and gumption to see it over the line, and filmmaker Paul Bunnell has obviously invested a significant amount of time and money into making sure his film rises to its many, many sources of inspiration. I can see John Waters in here; I can see alien invasion films; I can see the big monster movies of the atomic age; I can see West Wide Story; I can see James Dean's oeuvre; I can even see a bit of Frankenstein and Re-Animator. The fact that Bunnell has managed to rope all these influences together into one cohesive package is a feat that deserves 'high five' recognition. The songs by Ego Plum and lyricist Scott Martin aren't quite that of Bacharach or Leiber & Stoller, but they're tight, finger-snapping ditties that recall the show tunes of a bygone era and ornament the film perfectly without overwhelming it. Ultimately, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X is just too unique and beautiful not to recommend. You may like it, you may not. Either way, I guarantee it will be unlike anything you have seen before.
That Little Monster (1994)
Ed Wood meets Luis Buñuel meets Rod Serling meets David Lynch
Paul Bunnell's quirky 1994 short film (53 minutes), "That Little Monster" appears to be influenced in equal measure by Ed Wood, Luis Buñuel, Rod Serling and David Lynch, and served up with more than a little caustic, over-the-top, decidedly dark humor. Bunnell and his team succeed admirably in stirring a Lynch-like queasiness. Misty, expressionistic scenes are punctuated by seemingly unrelated (and unsettling) shots of doll parts, grotesque statuary and kitschy bric-a-brac. Selected scenes go on and on, testing the viewer's patience, tolerance for truly off-the-wall characters, and appetite for surrealism. Longtime genre buffs will either appreciate or repudiate a canny reconstruction of the "warning" issued by Edward Van Sloan in the prologue to the '31 "Frankenstein." Standing in for Van Sloan is an eerily-lit Forry Ackerman. In the accompanying commentary track, Bunnell points out that Ackerman's wife Wendayne had only recently passed away prior to the filming of his scene. Stranger still is the presence of Bob Hope -- yes THE Bob Hope. Not only does Hope turn up in a clip from his 1934 screen debut, "Going Spanish," he peppers the closing credits with one-liners shot in 1994 expressly for "That Little Monster!" A class act all the way!
The story concerns an exchange student who takes on a babysitting gig in a truly strange household. The mop-topped husband croons country western tunes, mom slathers on the mascara and blows obnoxiously huge bubble-gum bubbles, and the toddler, well, he's "That Little Monster," an aggressive, goo-gooing grotesque who makes Chucky seem well-behaved. Director Bunnell says in an interview that the film was originally conceived as an episode for a TV horror anthology. His story could easily have been told in half an hour. At 53 minutes, he's milking the surrealism a tad. But Bunnell is adept at synthesizing his influences and at ease indulging his twisted passions. Also a part of the DVD package is Bunnell's 1981 short, "The Visitant," which is arguably more intriguing, but certainly not as well executed.
The Visitant (1981)
In the tradition of the Twilight Zone...
THE VISITANT was written, produced, photographed, edited and directed by a seventeen year-old film maker in 1981 named Paul Bunnell. I recently got to preview the dvd and I was very impressed. Considering this film was shot on super 8mm film for an initial budget of only five-hundred dollars (according to the director), I found it very enjoyable for the genre. The story is about a man who is mourning the recent passing of his son. The man goes to a small cemetery to visit his son's grave. At the grave, a gust of wind blows past as a voice from behind whispers... "Daddy..." The man becomes startled and turns around only to find his "dead" son standing directly behind him. The boy runs away, the father pursues, and what follows is one incredible chase through the cemetery for the rest of the movie. The man encounters all kinds of ghouls (some funny, some scary) throughout the chase. At one point he even encounters writer/director Paul Bunnell himself, who has a very funny and unsettling cameo as a nervous jogger-ghost. There's even a driverless van. I don't know how they pulled this effect off on such a low budget, but it works. I won't spoil the ending but it rates right up there with some of the very best Rod Serling Twilight Zone episodes! You can certainly tell that the film was made on super 8mm, but the story is so engaging that you forget about the image quality after the first five minutes. I think this could be a great remake for writer/director Paul Bunnell. It would be interesting to see what he might do with the same material twenty-one years later; and with a decent budget, crew and 35mm camera. For a more recent look at the director's imaginative style, I also recommend That Little Monster (1994) which appears on the same dvd as The Visitant... both in the tradition of the original Twilight Zone television series.