Want to see what happens when someone with a macabre sense of humor decides to improve a PSA from the 1950s and turns it into science fiction on bad acid? That, in a nutshell, is our latest edition of Dirty Shorts, an ongoing series in which we present to you reviews of short horror films.
Helping Johnny Remember
Directed by Ashleigh Nankivell Raizes
THE STORY: Workplace violence happens to monsters? The gritty, demonic reboot of Falling Down? H.P. Lovecraft’s Office Space? Basically it’s nightmare fuel.
THE RUNDOWN: Helping Johnny Remember (1956) is the sort of fare that fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or people that were in some level of school in the 1980’s before rolling media players (read: a color TV and a VCR) became the standard. Back then film projectors were all the rage. Big, cumbersome, loud film projectors.
With the prevalence and dominance of white 1950’s buzz cut American culture, it seems like there was always some kid named Johnny running around, getting into trouble and then coming into contact with some sort of voice that exists without a body, sent to give Johnny the means to solve his problems. Eisenhower’s America, yo. As far as Johnny ’56, it’s your run of the mill PSA where this particular Johnny is a dick to everyone he knows, meets a voice, and changes his ways.
If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to bring up one possible interpretation that is a reflection of the time and place and point in the world that the 2010s resides in. As with adjoined generations, there is always some friction. Very few generations seem to be at peace with one another unless they’re a generation removed, at which point, some of their more “severe faults” are explained away as “well, they were just products of their times.” Currently in America, there seems to be a line of demarcation separating two camps. The Baby Boomers on one side and the Millennials, Gen Xers, and Gen Zers on the other (I’m sure I’m not being thorough enough in establishing this however a quick look at pop culture would suggest that I’m correct).
There is a palpable anger and mistrust between these generations. According to the old guy at my last job that I didn’t trust, he said it’s still not as bad as it was in the 60s. He was also working at that job and living off a pension and social security and real estate and investments so I’m not sure what to think.
Helping Johnny Remember (2010) is a complete perversion of the wholesome image of the 1950s, the patriarchy, and the absolute need to be part of “the club”. By far the creepiest and most obvious change in this remix is the use Adobe After Effects to give the children from the PSA demonic powers and appearances whilst morphing back to a human form mid conversation. From the material standpoint, the source film is about ten minutes long and does include some already pretty far out elements and tropes, i.e. a disembodied voice, children existing in a void, odd looking shots playing with depth of field. It’s weird. So what direction did Ashleigh Nankivell Raizes embrace for her appropriation?
Residing in a void, several demons (or goblins, or Lovecraftian demigods or whatever) plot the construction of a town somewhere on Earth. When a disembodied voice (possibly one of the Old Gods) asks them why Johnny isn’t helping, it turns into a workplace bitch fest. Johnny, being the most angry and violent of the demons, proves he is also the most unreasonable and unleashes his vengeance.
A friend of mine from college once said that, “bad media makes good art.” Eight years on, Adobe looks pretty limited. Its product shows its age but that’s more the fault of the progression of editing and viewing tech. Johnny 2K10 is sort of like the Polaroid camera: it can’t compete if we’re talking about memory and processing and rendering speeds. We just happen to like what it produces and find value in that. The monster children (aren’t they all?) effects and manipulations happen to have aged well in the sense that the retro quality developed very organically and quickly. Really, is this all that different than some of the music videos put out by record companies these days?
There is a hypnotic quality to Helping Johnny Remember. A lot of that has to do with the peculiar song One Never Says “Verbal” When Ones Means “Oral” by Good Old Neon. It’s one of those songs that makes you feel like you’re stuck in a K-hole while listening to some lo-fi beats that your crazy Polish friend from work made. The song works as a sort of metronome that gives HJR an almost “waltz” quality to the piece.
And what about the lesson? Johnny murders all the other kids using his demon powers which suggests that his coworkers probably thought Johnny was a pussy. Watching this, I for a moment wondered to myself, “Is this what the inside of a school shooter’s head looks like? Or is that what I want it to look like?” What I mean by that, Helping Johnny Remember depicts Johnny as an ostracized white male (possibly a spiritual incel) who embraces a power fantasy and acts out violently against those he sees as representing the status quo which has oppressed him. He wasn’t a pussy. He had emotional problems. Watching this video in 2018 that was made in 2010 based on a PSA from 1956, it makes me wonder how long we’ve been becoming monsters to fight our demons?
WHAT MOVIE SHOULD I WATCH AFTER THIS? The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Little Nicky, Rosemary’s Baby
*The original PSA entitled “Helping Johnny Remember” was released in 1956. This is the original version, for educational purposes.
Images courtesy of YouTube
Writer. Wrestling mark. Dog parent. Halloween enthusiast. Always wondering about the me on Earth 616 and what he/she/it’s up to. Currently residing in Los Angeles.