John Dies at the End (2012) / Horror-Comedy
MPAA rated: R for bloody violence, gore, nudity, language and drug content
Length: 99 min.
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti,, Fabianne Therese, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Jonny Weston, Jimmy Wong, Tai Bennett
Director: Don Coscarelli
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Review published January 27, 2013
After a nearly 10-year hiatus from feature films, Don Coscarelli, the director behind such cult B-movies as The Beastmaster, Phantasm, and Bubba Ho-Tep, helms this intentionally trippy horror comedy that is bound to become a cult classic for genre fanatics for sheer weirdness alone. Running a bit like the duo from Clerks who go on Bill & Ted adventure as if told through the skewed filter of Donnie Darko, with a matter-of-fact narrative full of witticisms like Douglas Adams "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", but with the campy Lovecraftian creature quality of Hellboy. Yes, it is one kooky movie.
In the film, two slacker friends and video store clerks, John (Mayes, The American Mall) and Dave (Williamson, Sparks), end up injected with a strange black hallucinogenic (or is it?) substance they've dubbed 'soy sauce' that seems to have the ability to alter their minds, causing them to do such things as be able to enter other dimensions, communicate with the dead, travel in time, and to read the minds of others. Meanwhile, some other people have died from exposure to the stuff, as it fills them with some sort of ugly parasites that kill their hosts once it is determined that they are no longer of use for their mission. Their adventures are being recounted in a Chinese restaurant by Dave to a skeptical journalist, Arnie Blandstone (Giamatti, The Ides of March), mostly in flashback mode.
Although Coscarelli writes and directs the film, it's based on a relatively obscure 2007 internet-serial-turned-novel by David Wong (a pseudonym used by Jason Pargin, writer for the satire site, Cracked.com), basically the same name as the main protagonist in the heart of the movie. While the story is clever, and very imaginative in an intelligent way, there is just something about the tone of the film, where Coscarelli knows he's making a cult movie, that seems to undermine its actual coolness factor. And he is trying so very hard to get you to think it is cool.
Although the budget is obviously low, the CGI effects are decent enough, though the slithering, slug-like parasites are obviously phony rubberized creations. There is a creature that is composed entirely of frozen meats that is quite convincing in its fashion. The two lead performers do a good job keeping with the odd tone of the material, which is to say they take it all in mostly deadpan stride, despite the fantastical nature of everything happening around them. Veteran character actors Paul Giamatti, who also serves as producer, Glynn Turman (Sahara), and Clancy Brown (Cowboys & Aliens) give the film some cred, and deliver some funny characterizations.
The tale is far too convoluted to attract mainstream moviegoers, and the film seems to really exist, not to tell a complete story, but to use the plot in order to dole out more trippy, interesting ideas. But even great ideas can get tiring without a core of normalcy to bounce the craziness off, which is the thing that most genuine cult films possess that self-aware ones like John Dies at the End mainly ignore just to seem like it is 'off the rails' weird and wacky. Nevertheless, for those who relish a taste of the inherently and knowingly bizarre, it's probably worth a strong look for a humorous, inventive ride.Qwipster's rating:
©2013 Vince Leo