Johnny X director creates his own big-screen universe

De Anna Joy Brooks, left, stars as Bliss and Will Keenan stars as Johnny X in the new Paul Bunnell picture The Ghastly Love of Johnny X. Via Ottermole Pictures.
“I was playing everything straight. I wasn’t trying to do a parody of a movie. I was trying to do a movie that was contemporary, that takes place today in an alternate universe.”

Director Paul Bunnell’s alternate universe bursts to life on classic black-and-white celluloid film in his newest feature, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X, playing June 14 at The Tower Theatre.

In a recent phone interview, Bunnell insists that Johnny X was not born out of one singular vision but from many. Consciously emulating the B-movie style was never the sole lifeblood of the production, which officially began in 2004. Instead, Bunnell says his primary inspirations were James Whale’s 1935 horror classic Bride of Frankenstein and Brian De Palma’s 1974 cult classic Phantom of the Paradise, productions he believes move far beyond your typical B-movie flick.

But Johnny X still seems to resonate with audiences as a retro throwback of sorts, Bunnell admits.

So, what exactly are the elements that make up a classic B-movie? Opinions are mixed. Literally, it refers to the second movie on a double-feature screening. Beyond that, the movies generally contain extraordinary situations and places as their backdrops. Naturally, horror, sci-fi, and gangster films were right at home in this low-budget format that is perhaps most widely recognized as a product of the 1950s.

Influenced by vintage clubs he used to attend in the 1990s, combined with Bunnell’s recollection of the 1959 sci-fi movie Teenagers From Outer Space, the seeds became instrumental in growing the Johnny X storyline.

Throughout years of development, the story went from dark and brooding to a tone more playful and exciting, Bunnell says, and at its eventual finished form, the film plays similarly to those ’50s extravaganzas – stylized rebel greasers, flying saucers, and kooky horror creations.

“Everything comes out pretty sincere,” Bunnell says in describing the film’s acting style and pacing. Viewers will be surprised to see a more leisurely paced story than what they may be expecting, he teases.

Equally unexpected is the character of The Grand Inquisitor played by Kevin McCarthy, fondly remembered as the star of the influential 1956 horror sci-fi flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which Filmworks screened in October 2012 as part of its classics series.

Bunnell met McCarthy at a festival screening that showcased the actor’s accomplishments. He told him about his plans for Johnny X and McCarthy eventually agreed to be a part of what would be his final appearance in a full-length feature film.

Stars Will Keenan and the late Kevin McCarthy in Johnny X. Via Ottermole Pictures.
Unfortunately, McCarthy, 90 years old during initial filming, did not live long enough to see the finished film that wrapped six years later. But Bunnell recalls that McCarthy seemed pleased with the footage he was able to see. Securing McCarthy brings a sense of Hollywood nostalgia to Bunnell’s created universe.

“I did [this film] with heart, soul, and passion,” Bunnell says. He looks forward to sharing the film with Central Valley audiences.

Immediately following the June 14 screening, Bunnell will be joined at the theater by actor Will Keenan, costume designer Kristina West, and executive producer Mark Willoughby to talk about the film. They will detail the movie’s long journey to the big screen. An after-party with the filmmakers will be held at The Voice Shop, 1296 N. Wishon Ave.

Andrew Veihmeyer earned his B.A. in communication from Fresno State. He is the Filmworks media relations and communication intern.