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Thursday, September 15, 2022

Genre Blast Film Festival Movie Review - "Johnny Z" (2022)

Half Human, Half Zombie, All Bad-Ass
- by Mike Imboden
Johnny Z, directed by Jonathan (Night of Something Strange) Straiton, written by Straiton and Ron Bonk, and starring Michael (Amityville Death House) Merchant, martial arts master Felix Cortes, and Jason Delgado, screened as part of this year’s Genre Blast Film Festival which was held this past September 1st through September 4th in Winchester, VA.  Festival organizer Nathan Ludwig was kind enough to provide a screener of the film for us to review, so let’s get right to it.

Zombies are obviously nothing new, that much is no secret. In the past decade or so it’s been almost impossible to shake a stick without whacking one of the living dead across the back of their decaying skull.  The trick, therefore, is to put your own spin on the sub-genre - but with so much material already out there, how do you do that?  Straiton managed this once before by adding a STD to the mix along with over-the-top gore and dark humor in Night of Something Strange and he pulls it off again here by not only making one of the protagonists (the titular Johnny Z) a zombie, but a martial arts using zombie. 

Things start out a bit clich├ęd with a breakdown of security inside of an obviously evil organization called NORDAC’s top secret testing bunker in which zombies are being experimented on.  Turns out one of the doctors has gone rogue and has hightailed it out of Dodge with ‘Test Subject Z’ (Merchant) in tow.  We quickly learn that his blood is different and could in fact provide a cure for a zombie virus that has seemingly not only decimated a good chunk of humanity, but has been around for a little while.  The escape doesn’t go as planned, though, and soon we’re introduced to Jonray (Cortes), zombie hunter - a badass of a guy who lives in a barn with his booze-drinking and comedic relief brother, Cristano (Delgado). 

From there things ramp up pretty quickly with Jonray battling not only zombies, armor-wearing corporate goons, and more zombies in a ‘Fight Club’ type of arena, but his own personal demons that are told through flashbacks, each a bit more revealing than the last.  So when Jonray notices Test Subject Z mimicking his moves as he practices and dubs him “Johnny” before deciding to see if he can actually train him, we understand why, despite there being a very good reason why Jonray and Cristano have dedicated themselves to hunting and killing zombies, he does it.
While there is still a fair amount of gore, it’s clear that Straiton has gone for a more serious tone and different genre here than with NoSS.  While the budget is low, it only shows in a few spots, and the acting is about what you expect in this type of movie, however Delgado was great as Cristano, the put-upon, loyal, and wise-cracking brother, and Cortes - who has numerous stunt credits and martial arts awards - is a dynamo, kicking and slicing his way through everyone in his way.

Although it’s been a while since the Indiegogo campaign ended and IMDB lists it as “filming”, the screener that we watched looked about as done as a film can be, so expect to see Johnny Z released in some way, shape, or form pretty soon… and if you’re looking for something a bit different in a zombie flick and enjoy some kick-ass action scenes, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for it.

Johnny Z
Directed by: Jonathan Straiton
Written by: Ron Bonk and Jonathan Straiton
Genre: Action/Horror
Starring: Michael Merchant, Felix Cortes, and Jason Delgado
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rated: NR


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