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John Dies at the End (2012)

April 16, 2013

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written by: Don Coscarelli

produced by: Don Coscarelli, Brad Baruh, Andy Meyers, Roman Perez, Aaron Godfred & Josh Lewin

directed by: Don Coscarelli

rating: R (for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content)

runtime: 99 min.

U.S. release date: January 25, 2013 (limited)

DVD/Blu-ray release date: April 2, 2013

 

There hasn’t been a new movie from Don Coscarelli in a decade. The writer/director, known for such 80s cult flicks such as “Phantasm” and “The Beastmaster” released “Bubba Ho-Tep”, about a fat and old Elvis and an old black JFK battling an Egyptian mummy in a nursing home, in 2006. If you haven’t seen it yet, stop sctratching your head and check it out. It was great. So, I was curious about his latest, “John Dies at the End”, with its possibly spoiler-laden title and its increasing buzz since premiering on the festival circuit at Sundance in 2012.

Now, I’ve never read the novel by David Wong, so I was coming to this material completely new. Admittedly, this has to be a movie best watched half-baked (not speaking from experience, mind you), but I’ll try to break down what I think I saw….

Somewhere in the Midwest, David Wong (Chase Williamson) and his friend John Cheese (Rob Mayes) are twentysomething slackers, who can’t seem to hold down a job or a girlfriend. They are soon given much more to be concerned with when they are partake in “soy sauce”, a black liquid that enhances their senses. This mysterious substance provides them with high levels of psychic ability, exposing them to portals to alternate universe and a variety of slimy, meaty and tentacled creatures. David tells his sauce misadventures to skeptic journalist, Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), for an interview, throughout the movie in a Chinese diner.

 

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David recounts how he accidentally injected himself in the leg with the sauce, which altered his reality and sent him one tripped out encounter after another, where he meets an otherworldly being named Robert North (Doug Jones, “Hellboy”), the suspicious Detective Appleton (Glynn Turman, “The Wire”) and TV psychic Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown) and Bark Lee, the helpful dog of the Amy (Fabienne Therese), the girl with the phantom limb. The more intense his journey gets, the more David tries to get John to help him figure out what’s happening to him and also what’s being told to him. In order to prevent his horrific visions from becoming a reality, David embarks on a mission to get to the source of all the weirdness and learns that he’ll have to stop a sentient being named Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) from invading Earth from his parallel Earth – at least, I think that’s how it all went down.

There are ups and downs to Coscarelli’s adaptation that range from something close to exhilarating to areas that fall flat and tend to drag. “John Dies” may not live up to the fervent anticipation of his fans and it’s hard to say if devotees of Wong’s book will appreciate it.   Regardless, I can still recognize it as a truly unusual horror comedy. There are bizarre scenes of hilarity and insanity present, but they’re too sporadic in a story that’s equally disjointed and uninvolving as it progresses.

 

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At times, the story is a mess and hard to follow, which interrupts the fun that can be had watching these characters get into some hairy situations. With the inclusion of hallucinogenics and twisted realities, as well as a splattering of exploding heads and icky crawly things, it’s just not a film that can be easily summarized. Instead, it’s one that is almost impossible to figure out where it’s going and that can be both a good thing or a bad thing – depending on what state of mind you’re in when you watch it.

For the most part, the performances here are fun, with the actors game for whatever craziness Coscarelli steers them toward.  Williamson and Mayes aren’t necessarily Bill and Ted, but they are quite engaging, especially Williamson, who’s David exudes a convincing amount of charisma (especially with his narration).  Giamatti, Turman and Brown, all have fun with their roles, especially in the ways they inhabit this bizarre world and respond to truly strange circumstances (like giant Japanese spider crabs).  After a while though, one can’t help but think what the movie could’ve done without or improved upon.

I don’t regret seeing “John Dies at the End” and I may even see it again. A second viewing might even prepare me for Coscarelli and Wong’s elastic narrative, which seems to stretch a bit too far in places, resulting in an inevitable snap. Maybe I’ll gloss over the bad CGI the next time I watch it.   Maybe I’ll even pay more attention to the end credits, which finds Coscarelli adding what feels like a short sequel to the movie that just finished. Bottom line: It’s a trippy and inventive movie, but it feels like it’s trying too hard for Midnight Movie cult status.

 

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RATING: **1/2

 

 

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