THE JOHNSONS (1992) – The Dungeon Review!
The Johnsons is the first horror films I’ve reviewed on my blog hailing from The Netherlands. I haven’t seen many horror films from The Netherlands, nor does there seem to be a ton available. Other than Human Centipede and its sequel (neither of which I am a fan of) I have Sint and Amsterdamned in my queue. Needless to say I was curious and excited to check out The Johnsons. I knew very little about the film before embarking but I was pleasantly surprised by its peculiar and unique story which was quite unlike anything I had seen before.
The Johnsons opens with Dr. Johnson successfully delivering septuplets. After the surgery the doctor goes for a drive stopping at a swamp. He covers his head and face with mud and walks towards the water calling out to someone unseen. Suddenly a ring of fire appears on the water and some bulgy eyed fetus thing rises up from the water. We are than transported to the city during a sanitation strike. The streets are piled high with garbage and we meet Victoria Lucas, a photographer that catches a striking worker dumping a bucket of shit on a politician’s head. Victoria is a single mother with a thirteen year old daughter named Emalee. We meet Emalee just days before her fourteenth birthday. Emalee has been plagued by horrifying reoccurring nightmares. In her nightmare she walks through an orphanage that is abandoned with the exception of male septuplets that are drawing peculiar symbols on the walls. The boys approach her and cover her face in blood. The continuation of this dream sees the boys grown up and wearing strange phallicy looking masks and raping her. A psychiatrist analyzes the dream concluding that Emalee is simply anxious about getting her period. Enter Professor Keller, an expert in the occult. A trunk belonging to Dr. Johnson is found in the school’s storeroom. The trunk contains documents and film footage from an expedition. The footage captures an Amazonian Indian tribe called the Maxithu who have been entrusted as guardians of an embryo encased in crystal. Professor Keller is tasked, or more accurately strong-armed into helping a top secret science division with a little problem, or actually seven, not so little problems. The division has been keeping seven twenty-one year old men in a high security facility since they were seven years old and are at a loss as to what course of action should be taken next.
Clearly there is a connection between these plot points but I will leave that for you to discover on your own. The Johnsons is a wonderfully odd little supernatural tale. There are themes of rape, incest, puberty, and adulthood weaved into the story but the film does not focus on any particular one of these ideas. The film has a delicious build up that made me hunger for answers. It starts out as a real pot boiler but all hell breaks loose in the final quarter when the psychotic septuplets escape their prison cells. That might be a bit of a spoiler, but it seemed inevitable in my opinion. The Johnsons has a great atmosphere, intensity, some light humour and some solid moments of horror.
My favourite bits were definitely Emalee’s nightmare sequences. These scenes are fantastically creepy! Those are some pretty ghastly dreams for a thirteen year old girl! Hell, those are ghastly dreams for anyone of any age. The dilapidated orphanage is in ruins with old toys scattered about its hallways. Emalee walks through the halls until she approaches a room where she finds seven bald-headed little boys all dressed identically. Six of the boys are drawing weird symbols and one is playing a comb and looks over at Emalee. If that isn’t spooky enough the little boys swarm her and cover her in the blood they are using to draw on the wall. The rape part of her dream is a duplicate of a ritual we see in Dr. Johnson’s footage. The clay masks they wear look like the head of a penis and Emalee is laid down by a fire as each septuplet has his way with her. We only get a glimpse of the defilement but that is quite enough.
My knowledge is not terribly adept when it comes to horror screenplay writers, and shame on me, but I instantly recognized the name of Roy Frumkes. It just so happens I watched Document of the Dead, Street Trash and The Substitute all this year in close succession; all three of which Mr. Frumkes penned. An interesting trio the highlight of which was certainly Street Trash which is unapologetically outrageous and pretty gory at times. It doesn’t really have much in common with The Johnsons but there is a scene or two that required buckets of blood. It takes a little while for the film to get to the gory bits but The Johnsons does provide its share once the septuplets become active. There is an exploding head, an electrocution, death by electric knife and by hatchet among other snippets. There are some decent effects and the film looked quite well overall.
The acting is quite solid in The Johnsons. Emalee and her mother Victoria have a strong and believable mother/daughter bond and both are very likable characters. I had a lot of empathy for the precocious Emalee who seemed wise beyond her years for a thirteen year old. Professor Keller is also an amiable character. A level-headed, reasonable man with a big heart who has a strong relationship with his father Vader. Vader is an eccentric man who practises the white arts. We first meet Vader while he is lunching with his son. A woman confronts Vader in the restaurant crying foul on the potion he sold her to rid her daughter of the devil. Vader also has a serious weakness for the ladies. The characters are a genial lot that make it easy to be concerned for their welfare.
My one complaint, and it was significant enough to lose the film a full point was the ending which I found a bit anticlimactic and a touch hokey. Otherwise, I enjoyed the hell out of The Johnsons. It was weird, original, creepy, gory, and fascinating. And hey, how many horror films have you seen featuring psycho septuplets? Highly recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Rudolf van den Berg
Starring: Monique van de Ven, Esmée de la Bretonière, Kenneth Herdigein, Rik van Uffelen, Otto Sterman, Olga Zuiderhoek, Nelly Frijda, Miguel Stigter, Diederik van Nederveen, Erik van Wilsum, Marcel Colin, Kees Hulst, Nathan Moll, Jan-Mark Wams, Michel Bonset