Johnny Gruesome (Book)
Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Gregory Lamberson
Published by Bad Moon Books
Think of what you were like in high school. Were you a jock? A cheerleader? A marching band geek? Were you one of the black-clad metal-heads who stalked the halls uncaring and disaffected? If you were one of the latter, scorned by the other cliques, singled out by authority figures, and generally miserable with your life, imagine what you would do if you had the chance to inflict vengeance on those who'd done you wrong. That's the premise of Gregory Lamberson's novel, Johnny Gruesome, and it's every bit as down and dirty as anyone could imagine.
Johnny Grissom began his high school career with promise. Sure, he was a metal-head, but he came from a happy home, was on the wrestling team, and had a good friend named Eric. That all changed when his mother died, sending him into a self-destructive dive that not only drove him off the team, but also toward drugs, alcohol, and afoul with authorities. During a night of drunken cruising about town, Grissom his murdered by his supposed friends, who dump his corpse in his car, the "Death Mobile," and dump the car in the river. Through sheer will of hatred, Johnny Gruesome returns from the grave to exact revenge.
While the above description (dead rocker looking for revenge against the people who murdered him) may sound strikingly similar to The Crow, don't be mislead. Nothing could be further from the truth. Emo-goth-friendly Eric Draven this is not. Gruesome goes on a rampage taking revenge on EVERYONE who's even looked at him crossways. The priest who hit on him? Check. The principal who suspended him? Check. The guy who murdered him and stole his girl? You better believe it. All these folks meet their own gory demises in the most brutal ways.
One of the things that sets this book apart from others that are out there is Lamberson's fast-paced style, giving this novel the feeling of a demented pulp-noir read. His no-nonsense approach to the characters and action paint a vivid picture without getting bogged down in details. Also, his realistic treatment of a walking corpse is refreshing, if that's the right word to describe a husk that rots more and more in each scene. By the end of the book, Gruesome is living up to his moniker, with pieces of his flesh falling off his bones and his own entrails leaking out about. Lamberson pulls no punches, and it makes for a compelling read.
In addition to the novel, Lamberson also directed Erin Brown, whom most know as Misty Mondae, in a short film version of the book. Just hitting the high points, the short gives folks a good taste of what's in store for them between the pages. While definitely not safe for work, the video is worth a look or two. There's even a "death mask" of Johnny Gruesome that fans can buy of Lamberson's site.
If there are any problems with Johnny Gruesome, it's that very few of his characters have redeeming qualities, making it difficult to feel bad when they die. Gruesome's victims are reprehensible, but Gruesome sometimes comes across as a petulant child, a sadistic bastard with a grudge. But then, that's high-school, right? While the character is off seeking revenge for every real or imagined trespass, the reader is sometimes left to wonder who to root for. However, take into account that this story is meant to come across this way, and everything will be fine. Readers should sit back and enjoy his blood-soaked antics the same way we all cheer for Jason Voorhees when he hacks apart a few promiscuous campers. Sure, he's a mean-hearted bastard, but that's what we love about him.
4 out of 5
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