JOHN DIES AT THE END: A Not-So-Dynamic Duo Saves the World
John Dies at the End (2012)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Writer: Don Coscarelli (screenwriter), David Wong (original story)
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamattil, Clancy Brown, Fabianne Therese
Website: John Dies at the End Official Site
No genre filmmaker had a better pedigree to pull off the earnest weirdness of David Wong's John Dies at the End than Don Coscarelli. The book reads like a hyperactive 80's monster movie mashed up with Buckaroo Banzai if written by Fear & Loathing era Hunter Thompson. Coscarelli, the madman behind Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, is no stranger to bringing bold and bizarre visions to the big screen. His skill lies in keeping the chaos controlled and fluid, yet complimentary to Wong's (in real life Jason Pargin) charming metaphysical disorder.
David Wong (Chase Williamson) sits down in a Chinese joint to chat with journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamiatti) about his experience with a drug called soy sauce. The oozing black substance - a dose taken accidentally by David - has given him and his buddy John (Rob Mayes) the phenomenal ability to read thoughts and transcend space and time, which is kind of a big deal for a couple of slacker college drop-outs. The unfortunate side effect is that it opens up doors for inter-dimensional monsters to wreak havoc in this world. David and John - together with the support of a lovely cast of misfits - become unwitting saviors destined to save the world from a monstrous entity called Korrok. That is, if they can get their shit together.
John Dies at the End is a triumph of cohesion over pandemonium. It was quite a feat to wrangle the basic concept of Wong's story while retaining all the offbeat, genre-meshing elements that made it so extraordinary. For all its multi-tentacled reaching, Coscarelli keeps everything grounded with a couple of very likable anti-heroes, and a semblance of a blueprint to keep the mania together and moving with a distinguishable purpose. Coscarelli serves up mutant worms, meat monsters, and parallel worlds as if they are minor inconveniences to John and Dave's (mostly John's) partying, rocking out, and girl-chasing. It's all strung together with an infectious reverence for the material, as well as the desire for the audience to have a shitload of fun.
Coscarelli's film is brazenly humorous and surreal but also serves as an amusing allegory for drug culture. David remarks that the immediate side effects of the soy sauce may wear off, but the effects of the drug will be with him forever. A terrifying scene of the aftermath of the mass overdose of a group of teens downplays the more playful aspects of the film. The film, however, never gets weighed down by some of the heavier elements that could be applied to the narrative. Instead, Coscarelli's work is a trippy funhouse ride punctuated with some genuine moments of dread, plenty of inventive gruesomeness, and quick-witted dialogue that honors Wong's voice from the book.
Coscarelli overcomes limitations in some arenas with genius casting of cult icons, including Clancy Brown as celebrity medium Albert Marconi, Paul Giamatti as the perplexed journalist Arnie, and a wonderful cameo by Angus Scrimm portraying a priest with therapeutic advice for David. Every member of the cast embraces the material, and delivers their roles with aplomb. Their inclusion and solid commitment is a testament to the effort put forth by Coscarelli to make John Dies work for everyone. Acclaimed Special Makeup Effects artist Robert Kurtzman populates the world(s) around them with creepy, slimy, long-limbed and toothsome beasts that would feel right at home alongside some of the 1980's most innovative creatures.
David - though his exterior is that of a skeptic - remarks that the sauce chose him because his mind was open. That's exactly how audiences should approach John Dies at the End. Not everyone will leave understanding what's transpired onscreen, and that's ok. Much like the lovable team of losers portrayed in the film, viewers should just succumb to Coscarelli's kooky apocalyptic vision. Fans trusting in his dose of cinematic soy sauce will have them clamoring for more mind-shattering adventures with David and John.
John Dies at the End Trailer