Wednesday, 8 May 2013

John Dies At The End

Title: John Dies At The End
Director: Don Coscarelli
Released: 2012
Starring: Rob Mayes, Chase Williamson, Clancy Brown, Paul Giamatti, Doug Jones, Glynn Turnman, Fabianne Therese, Daniel Roebuck, Jonny Weston, Jimmy Wong

Plot: On the streets there is a new drug called “Soy Sauce” which not only gives the user latent psychic abilities, but also the ability to drift across time and other dimensions, something which has led to a doorway for an otherworldly invasion being unwittingly opened. So with mankind in need of a hero, worryingly what they get instead is John (Rob Mayes) and David (Chase Williamson) a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down a job, while receiving back up from the TV psychic (Clancy Brown) whose own psychic powers might not being a fake as they would seem.

Review: I think it’s safe to say that this film is unlikely to be anything resembling a mainstream hit, which is hardly going to be of any surprise to the established fans of director Don Coscarelli, who is probably best known for helming the “Phantasm” series, aswell as turning Elvis into an OAP mummy slayer in “Bubba Ho-Tep”. However considering that his last directing gig was the “Masters of Horror” episode “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” way back in 2005, it is something of a relief to know that he has not lost any of his trademark randomness in the meantime, as he now returns with this adaptation of David Wong’s cult novel, which in many ways could have been written specifically for him, especially considering the sheer randomness he conjured with his own Phantasm series.

Opening with David beheading an undead skinhead, while philosophically musing over having to replace both the handle and axe head over the numerous attempts it takes him to despatch of this foe and whether this would still make it the same axe. This will be one of the easier questions which the film poses, especially as you find yourself frequently questioning what exactly is supposed to be happening, as David recounts his experiences to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) starting with their battle with a monster made of meat products while slowly revealing how he came to encounter the mysterious and seemingly living drug known simply as “Soy Sauce”.

While seemingly recounting a supposedly linear story I couldn’t help but feel like the film was some failed TV show, which had been picked up and then edited into a movie format. Such creeping feelings are only further reinforced as David and John move randomly from battling one threat to another, as the plot involving this mystery drug, soon paves the way for a possession storyline, before throwing that out of the window, so that the boys can travel to another dimension, were the inhabitants all wear masks and walk around topless (not such a bad thing) while being ruled by a the sentient machine Korrok, who has a habit of feeding those who oppose him to giant spiders. Incase you haven’t realised it already; it is safe to say that this is one truly random ass trip though time and space, even more so when you consider that at one point David is forced to communicate to John telepathically with the aid of a hotdog.

A film like this only really works if all involved are committed to the joke, which thankfully can be said for the cast comprised of largely unknowns, outside of cult cinema favourite Brown and Giamatti, while Doug Jones who is probably better known for his CGI motion capture work, appears here in a rare unsuited role. Still both Mayes and Williamson are both engaging and believable leads, even though it is left to Williamson to carry the film for the most part, it only serves to up the crazy factor when they are finally brought together and makes me hope that Coscarelli will direct an adaptation of the follow up novel “This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously Dude, Don’t Touch It” especially as this film so perfectly sets up what could make for a great series of misadventures, such like “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil”, though I guess that will depend heavily on how this film is received.

The fact this film is so unlike anything currently being released in the mainstream, is something which only plays to its advantage, for while the plotting is largely incoherent as the film swerves between plot points like a drunk driver, with Coscarelli occasionally taking hold of the wheel to give us a burst of coherency, only to then pile further randomness on top of things, with such random plotting almost ensuring that it will appeal to a select audience at best. However at the same time there is something surreally wonderful about how this film is put together, much like the underrated “Southland Tales” and a film which I would say this is most easy to compare to, especially when it never strays into the same deeply bizarre realm operated in chiefly by David Lynch, with its random film references which include a nod to both “Return of the Jedi” and more sneeringly “The Sixth Sense” only further warming it to its indie audience, aswell as Coscarelli’s established fanbase who will no doubt already be used to this incoherent style of film plotting from his previous films.

Far from the easiest of films to sell, especially as it has every potential of being viewed as a cult classic in the making, while highlighting to the Coscarelli fan base that his time away from the director’s chair hasn’t caused him to lose his highly original style, with original certainly being the key word for describing this film, which while not to everyone’s tastes will certainly appeal to the more adventurous movie goer aswell as fans of “Todd and the Book of Pure Evil” which is the closest comparison to anything I can draw, other than saying that this film does for Horror and inter-dimensional time travel what Douglas Adams did for sci-fi. Still if you’re looking for one of the more original releases of this year, look no further!


  1. Thanks for the awesome review, I've been looking forward to seeing this since I am a huge fan of Corscarelli's films, he is one of the best offbeat directors out there, a guy who hasn't sold out yet, he prefers staying on the weird side of things and that's awesome in my book.

    Expect a review for it soon!

    1. Thanks :) Corscarelli is certainly one of the few directors like David Lynch who genuinely still doing his own thing, something especially seen with his "Phantasm" films which frequently shot of in random directions to the point were I'm still not sure what is supposed to be happening in half of them. Eventually I will get around to revisiting some of his other films.

  2. Sounds good enough for me hahah! I threw it in my netflix queue for a rainy day. What really sold me was your Southland Tales comparison. Great review!

  3. I actually think that this one is one of his best films outside of his Phantasm series. I hope that someday we get that Phantasm remake, cause at this point, I doubt we'll get a fifth one. Really enjoyed John Dies at the End, I'll be reviewing it sometimes this week, but it's getting a good review for me that's for sure!

  4. @Lindsay: Thanks :)
    So glad to hear another person share thier love for "Southland Tales", which is such a delightfully surreal movie, that never seems to lose its charm even after multiple viewings. This film I have no doubt like "Southland Tales" will appeal to the few rather than the many, especially with its random plotting but its definatly worth a look

    @Francisco: Glad you enjoyed it and I look forward to reading your review. A fifth Phantasm would be a hard sell, especially considering how long it has been since the last film. Still considering how strong the DVD market is I still wouldn't rule out a DTV release, especially with DTV like big name actors appearing on TV no longer carrying the same kind of shame it once did. Plus not sure I would want to see a reboot of this series, especially when such things tend to strip away all the things you love about the original.


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