John Dies at the End – Movie Review
Guaranteed: you won’t see another film quite like it this year!
STARRING: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman
2013, 99 Minutes, Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Filmmaker Don Coscarelli must like making cult movies. His oeuvre includes the Phantasm series of films, The Beastmaster, and the insane Bruce Campbell vehicle Bubba Ho-tep. Now, with John Dies at the End, he has entered into a specialized pantheon reserved for truly original and utterly off-the-wall movies like the classic Repo Man. As with his other films, it’s not for everyone, but for those who get it, this will be one that they will enjoy subjecting their friends to for years to come.
Dave (Chase Williamson) is a college dropout who is telling his bizarre story to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It seems there’s this drug called soy sauce. You might experience it as an injection or a pill or a flying insect. When you’re under its influence strange things happen. You might remember things that haven’t happened yet. You might be able to read people’s minds. You might see things that aren’t there or that are there that you weren’t supposed to notice. By the time Dave is talking to a dead friend via a bratwurst you know you’re in a very different reality.
To try to explain or summarize the plot further won’t help. Dave’s friend John (Rob Mayes) is game for the adventure ahead, whether it’s being taken to the Mall of the Dead or into another universe entirely, where beautiful women are bare-breasted – to make Dave and John feel more comfortable – but wear masks that remind you of that Twilight Zone episode where everyone is hideously ugly.
It’s based on a book (by David Wong) and apparently there have been a number of changes in plot and character. From reactions from the film festival circuit – where the film has been playing for a year – it sounds like it’s better to go into the movie knowing nothing and then catching up with the book later. The off-the-wall nature of the story requires that you pay attention and try to make sense of it rather than keep noticing that it’s different from the book. Of course it doesn’t actually make any sense. Glynn Turman shows up as a police detective trying to get to the bottom of things, well, except when he’s engaging in arson or being infected by the soy sauce himself. There’s also Clancy Brown as Dr. Albert Marconi, a mentalist who may, in fact, have a handle on what’s going on. Or perhaps not.
See, this is the way the movie plays with your head. You think what you’re seeing is real and then you discover that it isn’t, except that it may be. In one scene Dave is being guarded by a tough cop but then he sees he’s all alone in the room. So why is the tough cop wiping the floor with him, and why is the cop’s arm – which Dave has ripped off – strangling him? What we do know is that Dave and John can see into this other universe that wants to take over our world and these two slackers are the only ones who can stop them. As you might guess, we’re in serious trouble.
John Dies at the End mixes comedy, horror, science fiction, and a dog that can do things Lassie only dreamed of into a hilarious and occasionally icky story that should hit the sweet spot for people who like twisted movies and are fed up with the Hollywood assembly line. Guaranteed: you won’t see another film quite like it this year!
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.