For 20 years, writer-director John Coscarelli was known primarily for his Phantasm
series of horror movies (with a brief detour into Beastmaster
), which ran from 1979 until 1998. But in 2002, the veteran filmmaker did a miraculous job of reinventing himself with the campy horror comedy Bubba Ho-Tep
, which became something of a cult hit. Now, with John Dies at the End
, Coscarelli continues in that lighthearted vein, with even "cultier" results.
In a nondescript Chinese restaurant, slacker-turned-"exorcist" David Wong (Chase Williamson) tells his life story to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) in order to document how he came about his supernatural abilities (mind reading, precognition, talking to the dead, etc.) and, quite possibly, save the world. Through flashbacks we find out that he and his best friend John (Rob Mayes) took a mysterious drug nicknamed Soy Sauce that they got at a rock concert, and it somehow enhanced their perception to the point where they can see and interact with beings from other dimensions. And they ain't pretty. It seems these beings have bad intentions for humans, and it's up to the pharmaceutically enhanced duo (trio, if you count the dog that hops along for a ride) to save us all. Along the way, they have to deal with rogue cops, ghosts, meat monsters, giant slugs and the occasional flying mustache.
The End Result
John Dies at the End
-- or as I like to call it, JDATE
-- is a mind-bending cult classic in the making, a deceptively smart genre mashup that delivers philosophical ruminations in the trappings of a blood-strewn stoner comedy. Its quirky storyline (based on a book of the same name) is unpredictable and full of refreshing little moments of unbridled imagination that explode onscreen with a sense of wild, maverick energy. Does it make sense? Not really, but you'll be too busy soaking in the gleeful insanity to really care.
JDATE's modest budget is apparent at times, but it actually works in the film's favor, its low-tech, old-school special effects enhancing the oddball nature and lending it an '80s vibe. One area where the budget restraints aren't obvious is the cast -- particularly the heretofore unknown Williamson, who boasts the comic timing of someone with twice his experience. It doesn't hurt that the supporting cast includes a wonderful roster of veteran character actors like Paul Giamatti (who also produces), Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones and Kevin Michael Richardson.
In the jaded, been-there-done-that world of horror cinema, John Dies at the End is a rare bird full of surprises and a sense of wonder that makes viewers want to delve deeper into this warped world.
- Acting: B+ (Great comedic performances all around.)
- Direction: B (Coscarelli has always been adept at crafting striking visual imagery; here, he also flexes his comedic muscles to hilarious effect.)
- Script: B (Doesn't make a ton of sense, but that's part off its offbeat charm.)
- Gore/Effects: B- (Budget-strapped effects lend an old school vibe.)
- Overall: B (Unique and laugh-out-loud funny with loads of cult potential.)
John Dies at the End is directed by Don Coscarelli and is rated R by the MPAA for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content. Release date: January 25, 2013 (on demand December 27, 2012).
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