A reviewer at Sundance (Nathan Rabin) called John Dies at the End "A punk rock Ghostbusters," which is an excellent, apt description. Personally, I have been waiting for John Dies at the End for ages. Through my coverage of the HBO series Masters of Horror, I'm acquainted with director Don Coscarelli. Coscarelli, whose Incident On and Off a Mountain Road kicked off the anthology in 2005, was telling me about John Does at the End, even back then (wow, has it been seven years?!). The premise sounded like far-fetched fun, and as the cast was assembled and little bits of news broke here and there, I got more and more amped to see the film.
Maybe my expectations were too high.
I didn't not like the movie, but it really began to wear out its welcome towards the end and then there was even more eked out as the credits rolled. Coscarelli did an amazing job, given the very unusual subject matter and strange structure (a story told in flashbacks, as to an investigative reporter, complete with unreliable narrators, telepathic dialogue, and even time travel).
While "punk rock Ghostbusters" is a good description, I'm going to go with: "Bill and Ted meet Dawn of the Dead." John (Rob Mayes) and Dave (Chase Williamson) are the two stoner / slacker / spiritual advisors who are somehow chosen to save humanity from sinister supernatural beings who are unleashed through the use of a deadly designer drug called Soy Sauce. Soy Sauce makes its users feel omnipotent. Nothing new, there. But the side effects include psychic ability, levitation skills, and inter-dimensional time travel. Oh, and death.
Once infected, the user becomes a host for strange, locust-like creatures which fly out into the world looking for new breeding grounds. The only way to stop them, is to burn them. There are lots of fire gags in John Dies at the End, the best of which takes place in an abandoned shopping mall where the big showdown happens. Wait. Make that: 'one of' the big showdowns. There were so many lead-ups to 'the' big showdown, I began to lose track, and focus. It was like an extended version of Dude, Where's My Car? with ghosts and zombies.
The cast of crazy, kooky characters is a lot of fun, and actors could not be better in their roles. If it's possible to make the impossible believable, these guys do it. Mayes and Williamson are aces, but the periphery is just as much fun. Giamatti (who's also a producer on the film) has the meatiest secondary role and he is always welcome, but character actors such as Clancy Brown and Doug Jones manage to shine and stand out. Even Bark Lee, the dog, is memorable. The pooch deserves a Patsy Award for this.
There is plenty of blood, gore, goo, dismemberings, and beheadings. Crispy corpses burn to cinders, and guess what? There is even a Angus Scrimm cameo! (For those who don't know… what are you doing here at horror.com? Nice to meet you. So — Angus Scrimm is notorious as "The Tall Man" from Coscarelli's classic Phantasm film series.)
John Dies at the End has male characters as the heroes (with one nice nod to a handless young lady who, er, holds the key to the whole mystery), few authority figures, and really not much is seen outside the beer-bong bubble of John and Dave's endangered lives. I don't usually indentify films with gender or age (unless they're clearly drawn, such as The Hangover vs Bridesmaids, or The Goonies vs Cocoon), but in this case, I have to say: I think younger guys, especially those whose tastes run more in the exuberant, sophomoric zom-com veins, will like it best.
John Dies at the End is well worth a look for fans of Coscarelli's work (especially Bubba Ho-Tep), for people who like quirky horror comedies, and definitely for boys who've read the original self-published David Wong story. All others, proceed with caution.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson