Don Coscarelli, how we love you. You brought us the Phantasm series and with it the iconic Tall Man and flying silver spheres. You gave us Beastmaster, a fun slab of eighties fantasy. You delivered the unforgettable Bruce Campbell as an aging Elvis fighting a mummy in Bubba Ho-tep. Suffice it to say that your cult film superstar director status is irrevocable.
And now you have unleashed John Dies at the End, adapted from the David Wong novel, another film aimed squarely at the hearts of cult cinema fans everywhere.
John Dies at the End is framed by protagonist Dave attempting to tell his story to reporter Arnie Blondestone, played by the always wonderful Paul Giamatti. Dave and his long time pal John are a sort of exorcist/ghostbuster hybrid. At the open we see the pair dealing with a possessed girl setting the stage early on for the film’s surreal tone. Once the duo determine things are amiss by the fact that they are both seeing very different versions of this girl, she dissolves into a writhing mass of snakes, only to reform into a creature assembled from various cuts of meat from the nearby freezer! It is a truly unique and dream-like image.
From there we have Dave trying to convince Arnie of the validity of his tale as Dave goes back to the origins of this “occupation.” It all traces back to a fateful night when Dave was watching John’s band play and they were introduced to a strange new drug called “soy sauce” From here things spiral down into to a truly surreal adventure that I will not spoil the details of. Let’s just say that the “soy sauce” has the effect of opening your mind up to other worlds and beings.
John Dies at the End is a highly entertaining film, filled with the outlandish imagery that Coscarelli is known for. However, if you like your films to tie everything in a neat package for you by their conclusion then this is not the film for you. You have to be ready to go along for the ride with the film’s loopy logic and stream-of-conscious type flow. I think a slightly tighter narrative might have benefited the film. Again, I do not need everything completely linear and laid out on a plate for me, but a lack of directness gives the film a bit of an ambling feel. However, things are so gleefully off-the-wall that the film is able to carry itself on character and quirkiness alone. The film is recommended, but not unconditionally. Fans of Coscarelli will certainly need to take this ride and fans of surreal cinema are likely to enjoy as well. Folks outside of those camps may find the narrative lacking.