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31 Days of Horror Film

Revisiting Don Coscarelli’s ‘John Dies at the End’

Based on the horror novel written by Jason Pargin (under the pseudonym David Wong), and first published online as a web-serial in 2001, John Dies at the End follows two college dropouts Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), who after consuming an illicit drug known as Soy Sauce, accidentally gain the ability to travel through time and alternate dimensions. The ghost-busting duo begins investigating paranormal activities the morning after everybody who took the drug is either missing or dead. Dave is on the run from a detective (Glynn Turman) and all John wants to do is hook up with a cute girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese), whose missing dog he found along the way.

Thirty-odd years after directing Phantasm, and a decade after Bubba Ho-Tep, writer-director Don Coscarelli returns with his gonzo hallucinogenic adaptation of a story written by an internet geek for a generation of internet geeks. No doubt fans of the original source material will be disappointed but despite the many flaws, John Dies at the End is relatively compelling, often funny and never boring.

John Dies at the End is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but there is a lot of imagination seeping through each frame.

Putting aside the titular disclosure, John Dies is utterly unpredictable. Wong’s narrative keeps getting crazier and more complicated by the minute introducing parallel universes, time travel, shape-shifters, giant monsters and so much more. The major problem with John Dies at the End is that Don Coscarelli never bothers to explain the rules and parameters of the universe along the way– or rather almost none of it is adequately explained. The handful of moments where Coscarelli tentatively tries is haphazardly thrown together. There is so much information spoon-fed in those few scenes, and told in the most confusing, disjointed flashback form, that in the end, it doesn’t make a lick of sense to those unfamiliar with the original source material.

John Dies at the End is outrageous and full of great ideas but Coscarelli isn’t quite able to maintain a consistent level of quality. Coscarelli keeps the film’s energy high but the comedy and suspense are at times off-putting and the minuscule budget becomes problematic along the way. Coscarelli as spent his entire career stretching the limitations of his resources, and often with success, but the mix of digital and makeup f/x for the more overtly fantastic sequences is suspect. Still, like all of Coscarelli’s pics, there is something almost exhilarating about his frenetic approach. John Dies at the End is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but there is a lot of imagination seeping through each frame. Sadly it has more inspired ideas than it can “afford” to handle. The movie feels extremely rushed and frugal and the end result is a pic that suffers from an excess of ambition.

– Ricky D

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