Sunday, November 15, 2015
John Dies at the End
I'll just go ahead and say it: Jon Dies at the End is Don Coscarelli's best film besides the original Phantasm. If you have a minute and forty seconds check out the opening scene above and you'll get the gist of why.
I feel like I would have been happy to see a lot more movies written and directed by Mr. Coscarelli over the years than we have, because his particular brand of horror/comedy is distinct and exciting. But I don't think he made enough movies to really develop himself as an artist (and maybe he didn't want to, for all I know). Bubba Ho-tep was cute but disappointing, and as much as I adore the Phantasm series there are some parts where the cheese is spread a little too thin. It may be that the one-two punch, gleefully economic narrative style I'm always gushing over when reviewing Phantasm movies comes with its own limitations. If so, this movie may be the solution.
John Dies at the End started its life as a novel written by Cracked.com writer David Wong, and watching the movie made me wish Coscarelli had filmed more adaptations in his career. I feel like bringing another voice to the mix was exactly what he needed; the alchemy of story and style here is just right.
After the moment above (the swastika-tongued man not appearing again), we join David in a Chinese restaurant where he meets a reporter named Arnie, (played by Paul Giamatti, and played perfectly, because of course, it's Paul Giamatti). Arnie has heard rumors about David and his friend John, as the pair have spent the past few years in the role of slacker ghostbusters, protecting the people in their town from assorted strange goings-on. David decides to tell Arnie his and John's origin story, which chronicles the forces that shaped their new careers, which are, not coincidentally, the same forces to blame for the assorted strange goings-on.
The unusual events center around a substance called soy sauce, introduced as a mind-bending recreational drug. David first hears of it when he gets a call from John in the middle of the night, he goes over to find his strung-out friend freaking out on soy sauce. David, in no mood for bullshit, is driving John to the ER when John gripes about how many phone calls he had to make before David came over, and how weird David was on the phone. When David says he came over after the first call, John slaps his forehead and apologizes in advance, saying he must have been calling David several times at various points in the future, and David is honked off by this.
Until it starts happening at weird times, like while he's sitting across from John at a diner booth, or after he's heard that John is dead. This is the kind of thing that can happen when you're on the sauce.
I'm not going into further detail because that should be enough to give you the flavor. In the troubled subgenre Horror/Comedy there is an array of forms, and this is one of my favorite, where it's not about the yuk-yuks as much as it's about a loose and energetic mood. In a context like that it's not hard to create likable characters with a few short strokes, or enjoy real gore and scares while admittedly avoiding bonafide horror movie dread.
I should note that there are a few sub par special effects (which are kind of cute), and I will cop to being occasionally confused by various plot points the first time I saw it -- which wasn't this time, and I'm happy to report it's quite strong on a second viewing. Maybe even stronger. I highly recommend this, but I don't recommend watching it in the "as I'm falling asleep" time slot. It might bungle your noodle.