Since Phantasm, director Don Coscarelli has created a nice little niche for himself; first Bubba Ho-Tep followed by John Dies at the End (2012). Originally written as an online serial by David Wong, the maniac prose and the insane plot made the source material “movie resistant.” But despite those facts, and its over 400 page length, Don Coscarelli was able to draw from the novel’s greatest strengths and integrate them fairly well to the silver screen.
John Dies at the End is a frame narrative, and begins with the main character David Wong (Chase Williams) unfolding his tale to a skeptical news reporter (Paul Giamatti), about how he and his best friend John (Rob Mayes) saved the world from an inter-dimensional invasion. Dave and John were chosen by a drug called Soy Sauce, which gives some users the ability to see into other worlds and disrupt the flow of time, but to most, a fate worst than death. Under the influence of the drug, Dave and John infiltrate a parallel reality which is ruled by a merciless and sentient computer-like organism Korrok, who wishes to invade our world to consume all knowledge.
The most surprising aspect of the film is far and away the acting. Newcomers and unknowns make up the bulk of the cast, but there is just enough star power to draw you in. Chase Williams and Rob Mayes easily carry the film with their deadpan and over the top dichotomy. Each line of delivery oozes a chemistry between the two that most actors and directors could only wish for. Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Shawshank Redemption) as I have said before and will say again, is amazing in his brief appearance as Dr. Marconi. Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) even has a cameo as a being from another dimension that ponders questions about this world, such as why only one shoe is ever found on the side of the road, do bees know that humans reap the fruits of their labor, and why a man would masturbate so much so that he causes himself to bleed.
Though Coscarelli contradictorily merges multiple story lines from the original novel(though you’d never be able to tell without having read the book – and even then it’s still a bit up in the air), the main narrative never loses its apathetic and sarcastic voice which is its hallmark. The special effects were top -notch when considering the budget. The meat monster is the absolute highlight, and if it wasn’t for its lack of on screen time, would go down as one of the best monsters in all of horror. The “arachnicide” art scene by the extremely talented David Hartman (Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles, Transformers: Prime) was every bit hilarious as it was horrifying.