Directed by Jonathan F Morrill/ Reviewed by Sayantan Mukherjee
It is 2021 and Hollywood is overrun with franchise films. Superheroes, super villains, ghosts, aliens – everyone gets their own film series. They also get customized merchandise, video games and an immense cult following. Legendary monsters like Godzilla and King Kong fight each other while iconic heroes Superman and Batman brawl with “parademons”. Now the big screen is over saturated with iconic cross-overs and fans are spoilt for choice. Such was not the case in 1989, when a 27-year-old Jonathan F Morill decided to make a monster film in Province town, USA. Monster films were his favourite genre since childhood and he wanted to bring all his favourite monsters together – into one film. This was a fact that was unprecedented in those days and was an overambitious dream. According to Province town Magazine, when Morill pitched his crazy idea at a café in town, most of the staff were enthusiastic.The town is inherently artistic in real life and thus Morill’s idea was accepted easily. This is when the film started taking shape and with support from the entire Province town community, an insane monster film was birthed over a course of 6 months. Johnny in Monster-land was shot and released in 1990 and spanned a runtime of 2 hours. The film has achieved cult status since then and is broadcaster every year on TV in Halloween. Jonathan Morill decided to re-edit the original film and brought down the runtime to 1 hour 17 minutes in this Director’s Cut edition.
The basic plot starts with a breaking news over the radio announcing that a mass murderer has escaped and is lurking somewhere in Provincetown. Meanwhile, Johnny Talbot- a young wanderer is driving his VW Beetle towards the town when he hits a hitchhiker accidentally and kills him. Johnny is flummoxed at the suddenness of it all and in a frenzy decides to dump the dead body in the woods. His mission is successful and he turns to get back when three witches appear out of nowhere. They resurrect the dead body of the hitchhiker and turn him into a zombie. Johnny sees these impossible events unfolding before him and thus begins his introduction to Provincetown, a place of sheer absurdity.
He encounters werewolves, a mummy, a vampire, Frankenstein’s monster, Satan-worshippers and more through the insanity-fueled film. To add to the peculiarity, the entire town is shown to be filled with strange people who are mostly unshaken by the monsters around them.
One especially strange sequence happens when the aforementioned zombie breaks into a shop and starts shoplifting. The two shop owners try to stop it and one gets killed in the process. The other shop owner chases the zombie away but is seemingly quite unfazed by the whole scenario!
There’s a thin veneer of understandable plot-line that drives the film forward but it is over archingly a manifestation of Johnny Talbot’s fever dream. It seems that Johnny isn’t entirely mentally stable, as seen from his actions at the very start and the after effects of the hitchhiker murder starts taking toll on him. Hallucinations and illusions take charge as the audience gets guided by Johnny – an unstable and an unreliable narrator who is unsure about what is real and what isn’t. These monsters are from different legends – with each their own backstory and legacy. Here they come together for no apparent reason than to expediate Johnny’s psychological issues. Johnny kills most of these monsters and barely escapes with his life.
His final nemesis is Nosferatu- a vampire with vendetta against him. It sends Renfield – its mass murdering minion in search of Johnny which brings even more chaos to an already insane situation.In a constant transcendence between the real and unreal, we find multiple casualties, a monster mash made in heaven and even a half-mermaid baby!
Jonathan Morill enjoyed making this crazy film and the entire town joined in on the fun. Shooting it was a collective project and after it was released, Provincetown Magazine says everybody came to watch it. Morill apparently had to turn away 150 people and organize additional screenings for them. As the crazy film has become a thing of pride for Province town; Morill has already made a sequel to it and plans to make a third one this year in 2021.
The new Director’s Cut edition is a testament to how crazy ideas can be realized and truly passionate filmmakers can turn their offbeat imaginations into reality.