Monday, February 18, 2013

Film Review: Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End

From the director who gave us the Phantasm series and the enigmatic Bubba Ho-Tep, comes yet another strange creature of a film.  John Dies at the End, adapted from the novel of the same name by David Wong, is a horror-comedy that is part Kafka, part Evil Dead, part Cronenberg (the earlier stuff), and part "Naked Lunch".   These things all rolled together make for a fun film - perhaps not a great film, or even an overly good one, but still a fun film.  I know, I know, damning with faint praise and all that, but hey, what can a guy do?  The film is silly and stupid, but in that good kind of way, often associated with the likes of earlier Sam Raimi, whose films are obviously a big influence on Coscarelli's film, but the film is also quite one-note, and such a one-trick pony show as this cannot expect to survive 99 minutes of itself.  

The film stars Chase Williamson, in his feature debut, as David Wong, and Rob Mayes as John Cheese, which incidentally are the nom de plumes of Jason Pargin, writer of the book and senior editor at, and fellow internet writer and old school chum, Mack Leighty.  They are sort of a slackerish duo of supernatural detectives, here pitted against demons from another dimension.  All this is fine and dandy, and a whole lot of fun when it wants to be, but the film often just sags, and therefore saps the inherent fun out of the whole shebang.  Then again, we go into such a film as John Dies at the End - a title that may or may not hold true by the way - not with whims of cinematic glory, hoping and praying for a new classic, but with giddy anticipation of something akin to the great fun that was the even sillier and even stupider (yeah, I know) Bubba Ho-Tep.  We do get the latter part, in part, but is that enough to save the film?  I would have to say, with honest-to-goodness sincerity, that the answer to that question is a big, maybe.  Perhaps?  Kinda?  Yeah, right.

Sure, the film never makes one feel like a daffodil or anything like that, but it does have some rather fun moments interspersed within its walls.  Moments like a faux Rastafarian telling fortunes for beers at a kegger before literally losing his head, or a giant spider/crab-like creature that can only be seen through one's peripheral vision, and that sufficiently freaks the fuck out of newspaperman Paul Giamatti, an actor often found in bizarro worlds such as this, or a festooning swarm of, um, of whatever that festooning swarm is of, or a talking and driving dog, or a frozen meat-creation that looks like a butcher shop exploded all over one of William S. Burroughs' mugwumps.  Okay, perhaps I did enjoy the film more than I thought I had.  Like I said, it may be far from perfect, but at least it is fun, even if that fun is sapped out long before the ending where John may or may not, die.  But then, there sure is a lot worse out there in movie land.  Again, with the damning with faint praise crap.  Oh well.

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