Bad Moon Books
Review by Steve Vernon
“I fought authority, authority always wins” – John Cougar Mellencamp
Johnny Gruesome opens up with a jump into the deep end of the alligator hole as our protagonist Eric Carter meets full-time misunderstood teenage thug Johnny Grissom, aka Johnny Gruesome – and the two of them bond in that intense epoxy that only two lonely pimple-faced teenagers can conjure up. Then, when Johnny’s mother dies the epoxy begins to slide slowly, oozing downhill. Things go from bad to worse when Johnny is murdered and comes back as a teenage psycho-zombie thanks to a little hoodoo juju.
Sing along if you know the rest of this song, and you should because we are definitely back in old school here. Johnny Gruesome reads a little like an EC comic coming-of-age as if J.D. Salinger had sat down to write a rock video version of Stephen King’s Christine. The tale began as a screenplay – complete with the personal interest of Gunnar Hansen and Linnea Quigley – way back in 1984. That fell through and Johnny was resurrected for this novel.
The novel is written in a rat-sleaze style that screams of scuzzy B-movie sensibilities, an area in which multi-tasker Lamberson is very familiar with – given his movie history as director of Slime City and Undying Love. As I write this Johnny Gruesome is available from Bad Moon Books in hardcover and will soon be released in mass market paperback from Medallion Press. There is talk of a sequel and a movie and comic book are likely in the works. Yes folks, Greg Lamberson definitely knows how to work a gig.
I had a few beefs with the book as a whole. I felt there were a couple of gaps in continuity, perhaps as a result of Lamberson being so familiar with his own screenplay material as he wrote the novel. I had a hard time liking any of the characters and would have appreciated a bit more actual motivation for Johnny’s back-from-the-dead campaign of violence.
I guess what it boils down to is Johnny Gruesome is a beater of a book – a little patchy, a little road-worn, a little too much mismatched auto primer barely covering the rust and road salt – but she runs like hell on wheels. Jump in and give it a whirl. Anyway you slice the thing it just doesn’t get any more gruesome than this. Greg Lamberson’s Johnny Gruesome is a rotting fetid romp of a novel that shows you a little of life post-mortem for your average teenage headbanger. A B-movie nightmare recreated with loving fan-boy zeal, I give it an “F” for fun and foul freaky funk and recommend it for old times sake.