Don Coscarelli has become the master of the strange and absurd, knowingly and willingly making movies destined for cult status and niche audiences. John Dies at the End is no different. In fact, it shows Coscarelli’s true mastery of the art. Coscarelli has a career that spans decades, first spiking with Phantasm (1979) and then peaking with Bubba Ho-Tep (2005). John Dies at the End is a nice addition to his finer body of work.
Yes, the movie is based on David Wong’s serial novel of the same title, which gained acclaim as a self-published serial on Amazon. Fans of the novel should be pleased as it stays fairly true to the text. Still, the movie takes on a life of its own and, really, if given the right chance, should please indie film aficionados and fanboys alike.
It’s a low budget sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural/buddy comedy/action hybrid. While the budget may not have been excessive, every cent was well used. Without giving away too much, here’s the basic story line: Misfit friends Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) are at a party where they ingest a mysterious soy sauce-like liquid. The soy sauce is a potent gateway allowing the two men access to other dimensions. This gateway leads to a variety of creepy multi-dimensional beings that need slaughtering in good-old gory fashion. Naturally, the fate of the world is at stake with Dave and John needing to save the day in the weirdest of ways.
Williamson and Mayes handle their roles as Dave and John well. Although his character’s name is in the title, Mayes’ John plays the foil to Williamson’s Dave, who must ultimately unravel the mystery of the soy sauce and save the world.
Clancy Brown (Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption, Spongebob Squarepants) has a minor role as Dr. Albert Marconi, an is-he-good-or-is-he-bad character. He shows up periodically to help Dave and John, revealing (at least somewhat) his true self toward the end. Brown is nicely used in the role but underwhelmingly so. It felt as though his character should have played a more dynamic part.
The greatest disappointment in the movie is the role of Arnie Blondestone, played by Paul Giamatti. Blondestone is relegated to a table in diner where he listens to Dave retell his story. As I watched the movie, I enjoyed it, but wanted so much more from both Giamatti and Brown.
In Bubba Ho-Tep, Coscarelli created such wonderful characters for iconic actors Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. He gave them the Han Solo go ahead to let loose and have fun with the roles. Here, Giamatti and Brown are restrained where they should have been let go.
Regardless, John Dies at the End works and it works well. It is fun, weird and keeps the viewer off-kilter just enough to wonder what is going to happen next with an absolute uncertainty of the final outcome.
Reviewed by Gordon Shelly