Director – Don Coscarelli
Cast – Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Fabianne Therese, Jonny Weston, Jimmy Wong, Tai Bennett
Release Year – 2013
Reviewed by John of the Dead
It has been a decade since famed horror director Don Coscarelli last gave us a full length film, the awesome Bruce Campbell-starring Bubba Ho-tep, and it feels great to say that the Phantasm creator is back in the horror scene. This time, he adapted a screenplay from David Wong’s (pseudonym for Jason Pargin) hilarious horror novel, “John Dies at the End”, into a full-length film that provides a hilarious and downright awesome experience. Once again Coscarelli shows his skill diversity in giving us a film unlike the Phantasm films that made him famous. He did this with Bubba Ho-tep and now adds John Dies at the End to his list of successful film adventures – a list whose history is growing with comical and zany flicks.
“It’s a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can’t.” – David Wong
Thanks to its awesome storyline this has to be one of the coolest horror films I have seen in a long time. The film takes off quick, with David (Chase Williamson) meeting with disheveled reporter, Arnie (Paul Giamatti), to tell his “story” in hopes that a book can be made explaining the insane yet unseen events going on around us. The “story” is what we follow as if it were in real time, but is actually being told to a skeptical but wide-eyed Arnie who sees this as a potential fiction over non-fiction publication…until David proves what he is saying is very, VERY true.
After taking the “Soy Sauce” Dave and John’s worlds are not turned upside down, but expanded with the ability to see alternate dimensions concurrent with our own, as well as the evil creatures that have found a loophole into ours with the intentions of eradicating human life. Only a few others have taken the Soy Sauce, and experience has shown the two that those who take the sauce eventually succumb to the creatures within it, so their time is running out. We watch Dave and John battle the paranoia and confusion resulting from their newly acquired “abilities”, which was hilarious to watch and did not take up too much screen time. Of course, they eventually get the hang of things and become the badasses they were destined to be.
Coscarelli expertly adapted the book into a screenplay that moves often and at a good pace, and he included numerous fun and hilarious scenes that may have left me laughing more than I did with Bubba Ho-tep. I enjoyed seeing the film being told in the past tense by Dave to Arnie, as it made for a different feel than the usual horror films we get that are told in the present tense. On top of that we are not only forced to watch Dave and John in their early days, but also get a few glimpses of them as seasoned veterans in this war against other dimensions – another fine idea rarely seen in horror films. I think most of the story’s unique qualities come from it being an adaptation of a very cool book, and Coscarelli knew what to use and what to leave out. There are many colorful characters aside from our two main protagonists, Arnie and a dog named Bark Lee, and I did not find any of them to be useless or not contribute to the story. The death scenes were awesome and came via a unique killer, and Coscarelli threw in a heavy amount of horror that kept me entertained and very engaged throughout this 99 minute experience.
Equally awesome is Coscarelli’s direction, which from the get-go threw us into the experience with incredible atmosphere, good camerawork, and entertaining performances from everyone involved. It is rare that I come across a horror film where every acting performance is a solid one, but Coscarelli got the most out of his cast in this one. His execution was terrific, giving us many hilarious sequences that could have come off stupid if a lesser director was at the helm, but he did things his way and it worked out great. Most importantly, the horror was also fantastic. The look of the creatures was great and only some of them came via CGI, and those that did still came off in a positive way. There was a fair amount of gore as well, and I am glad that Coscarelli went with live-action FX when it mattered most. I cannot say that I was ever scared during this piece but there were plenty of sequences that carried good tension, so just know that while the film is heavy on the laughs it also provides a good horrific experience as well.
Overall, John Dies at the End is another awesome horror film from Don Coscarelli. Adapted from the popular novel, the story is an utterly engaging one that comes expertly directed to give you an experience you will not soon forget. The film is fun, hilarious, and comes with loads of horror to please fans abroad. I highly recommend this.
(some images will be “graphic”)