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The Ghastly Joys of “Johnny X”

I imagine you have heard of Joss Whedon's "The Avengers." Of all the 657 films released in US cinemas in 2012 it took in the most money, with a total gross of $623,357,910. I imagine you have not heard of Paul Bunnell's "The Ghastly Love of Johnny X." Of all the 657 films released in US cinemas in 2012 it took the least money, with a total gross $117. It has been reported that the gross was actually $116.15 but when I email Bunnell to check, he is adamant it was a full $117. Bunnell is a film-maker to whom 85 cents really matters.

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In a fittingly strange way, America's least successful movie was a victim of its own success. The only reason "Johnny X" was shown in a theater at all was that it won the audience award at the Kansas International Film Festival, where its prize was a week-long run on a single screen at a single local cinema. Officially, that meant it had been released theatrically and entered in the same box office race as "The Avengers."

There is surrealism in even the film's smallest details that recalls something of the work of David Lynch. But in Lynch's films the surrealism is inexplicably unsettling. Here it is inexplicably amusing. When Johnny X's former girlfriend, Bliss (De Anna Joy Brooks), persuades square-jawed soda jerk Chip (Les Williams) to take her away from Johnny, Chip drives her to a dilapidated drive-in and talks about the double features he used to see there long ago, before it was abandoned. It is the sort of scene we would expect to see in a wistful drama set, at the earliest, in the 1970s. Chip talks as if the era of the soda jerk and the drive-in movie is lost to the past but at the time the film is set it would have been at its height.

As we ponder this, Bliss bursts into a musical number announcing she is an alien who needs Chip's help to escape the extraterrestrial ex-boyfriend from whom she has stolen a magic suit that allows its wearer to control other people like puppets, and promising sexual favors in return. It's that kind of movie.

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It is a truth accepted by all but the most humorless film fans that a bad movie can be good fun. This is very bad movie that is very good fun. That it was the lowest grossing film of 2012 and the last film ever shot on Plus-X gives viewers two reasons to seek it out. I hope this review, and the few like it that are dotted across the internet, provide a third. Any film made with this much spirit deserves an audience far bigger than the one it can get by playing on one screen in one theater in Kansas.

"The Ghastly Love of Johnny X" is available on DVD and VOD.

Scott Jordan Harris came to Earth to be a film critic after he was expelled from his home planet for talking too much about Jerry Lewis movies.His spaceship was supposed to land in France but crashed in the UK instead.

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