Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #362
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 23, 2012 (Sundance), January 25, 2013 (United States)
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Don Coscarelli
Producers: Brad Baruh, Don Coscarelli, Andy Meyers, Roman Perez
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
Based on John Dies at The End by David Wong
Special Effects: Robert Kurtzman, Robert Hall, Erik Porn
Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis
Score: Brian Tyler
Editing: Donald Milne, Don Coscarelli
Studios: Silver Sphere, M3 Creative, Touchy Feely Films
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Stars: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Jimmy Wong, Kevin Michael Richardson, Angus Scrimm, Jonny Weston, Fabianne Therese, Tai Bennett, Allison Weissman, Tai Bennett, Allison Weissma
Suggested Audio Candy:
Brian Tyler John Dies At The End
Have you ever taken mind-altering drugs? If you have then you’ve come to the right place; pull up a seat and prepare to learn a little more about a movie which may well become your new favorite film. Should you have managed to steer clear of narcotics your whole life, then still pull up a seat as John Dies At The End may well still nuzzle your funnel. Ordinarily I have some idea of how to proceed with an appraisal upon commencement but this bizarre little movie has had me at a bit of a loss so I’m just going to muddle through as best as I can on this occasion.
This work of fiction by David Wong was published back in 2004 after starting its life as a webseries an went on to achieve cult status over the next few years. By the time Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) purchased the rights to turn it into a movie, the novel already had a huge following and, less than ten minutes into the film, I was assured that it had found its way into the right pair of hands. I have not read the source material and understand that Coscarelli’s treatment, while respectful, skims over rather large chunks of the story. Thus, should you be well versed in the tale already, you may find his adaptation somewhat underwhelming. I didn’t.
Our investment is instantaneous as, no sooner have we been introduced to our main protagonist Dave (Chase Williamson), than we witness him hacking off a zombified head in his back yard. Talk about grab you by the jewels; my interest piqued immediately and Coscarelli is fully aware that this is necessary to hit the ground running as the title, whilst catchy, may well be considered off-putting to those of us who prefer a little anonymity where the fate of our protagonists is concerned. Within fifteen minutes we begin to settle. John (Rob Mayes) is very much integral to the plot but he isn’t our be-all and end-all either. Moreover, we should now have deduced that John Dies At The End is disinterested in chronological narrative and instead walks entirely its own line.
The slacker pair are unwittingly beset with rather a bizarre skill-set courtesy of Soy Sauce; a black liquid which chooses its host and then proceeds to introduce them to all manner of logic inconsistencies and distortions to their everyday realities. We view events largely from the first person perspective through the eyes of Dave and he is the more fascinating of the two characters. Self-conscious, sardonic, and pessimistic; he is far less welcoming of any new endowments than his significant other, who is too drug-addled to take anything particularly seriously. Through being presented with a series of increasingly outlandish scenarios, the penny drops for Dave, and his audience, as the events which follow make Odd Thomas appear little more than vaguely eccentric.
It is plain to see why Wong surrendered the rights for his novel to Coscarelli. The director chooses his projects sparingly and, in a career spanning five decades, has taken to the directorial chair less than a dozen times. However, he has proven already with both his long-running Phantasm series and 2002’s fan favorite Bubba Ho-Tep that he has one foot comfortably rested on the other side. The latter, in particular, is massively relevant as John Dies At The End features a supporting cast just as macabre as the one which stepped on The King’s blue suedes back in the nursing home. Mustache-bats with furry flapping wingspans, juggernauts comprised of mutton and brandishing sausage whips, penile door knobs, Bratwurst mobile phones with built-in screen relish; all present and correct here and little makes a blind bit of sense.
That’s just it; Coscarelli, and Wong before him, aren’t looking for us to settle. What is more fascinating is for the blind to lead the blind and not to afford us the breathing space to put two and two together. That shit is for after the end credits have rolled and the reason why John Dies at The End is largely successful. Before I appraise a film such as this; I allow for overnight marinade and I am as pleased as punch to report that I’ haven’t stopped scratching its itch ever since. It’s as though a little of “The Sauce” found its way into my bloodstream and is currently coursing through my veins as I scribe. If you’re searching for a mark of prosperity then you will be hard pushed to find a better one than that.
There are a number of well-judged supporting roles and the casting of executive producer Paul Giamatti (Cosmopolis, American Splendor), as the initially skeptical journalist whose interactions with Dave provide the framework for each act, Arnie Blondestone is also of particular note. I have forever been a huge admirer of Giamatti’s work and here he is utterly priceless as is Angus “Boooy” Scrimm (Phantasm) as the dubious Father Shellnut, in a blink and he’ll head fuck you cameo which perfectly plays to his incalculable strengths. Clancy Brown is also wonderful as the all-knowing Dr. Albert Marconi, while Fabianne Therese enjoys her own standout moment as Munsoned amputee Amy, courtesy of her “phantom limb”.
There are countless moments to savor, irrespective of whether or not Coscarelli’s adaptation ticks all the boxes for the bookworms. Given the decidedly modest budget, and also considering the enormity of the task when translating such outré fiction in the first place, John Dies at The End offers something of a resounding triumph. Like Ho-Tep, this will amass its following through word of mouth and curiosity over whether or not John actually dies at the end. It’s enterprising, thoroughly gratifying, and, should Coscarelli choose to tackle Wong’s follow-up This Book Is Full of Spiders, then he may well have a potential franchise on his hands. You only need look at the fortitude of Bruce Campbell to know how groovy that can be. Ultimately that soy sauce will burrow its way in and Keeper will be first in line for a return hit.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: While CGI is a necessary evil with a project as ambitious and facetious as this, Coscarelli prefers the use of practical grue where possible. With dab-hand Robert Kurtzman and Robert Hall’s effects house Almost Human Inc. helming the splatter, we’re in seventh heaven and there is more than enough of it on the platter to sate our ferocious appetites. Decapitation and dismemberment, headshots and eyepops, they’re all here and demonstrated with doubtless deft.
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