John Dies At The End Review

by: Sean Brickley

Wow. This movie. I don’t even know where to begin. I had so much fun watching this movie. My only real qualm with John Dies At The End is that it’s not really that much of a horror movie. Yeah, it has a fairly decent amount of gore, but this is really much more of a dark comedic sci-fi film than what I would typically consider “horror.” That being said, John Dies At The End was fantastic. I only wish that I had read the book of the same title prior to seeing the movie.

First things first, and this will probably be one of the factors which most strongly ties this movie to the horror genre, is that it was written and directed by Don Coscarelli. For those of you born after 1990, Mr. Coscarelli is the brains behind not only the entire Phantasm series, but also Bubba Ho-Tep. While these aren’t the only movies he has worked on, they are the most relevant to this review. The Phantasm series definitely dealt primarily with the escalating atrocities surrounding the Tall Man and Morningside Cemetery while Bubba- Ho-Tep took a much lighter approach by taking a horror story and laying a lot of comedic elements on top of it. John Dies At The End even furthers this departure – and it does so in a magnificent fashion.

The film opens with a first-person monologue of the main protagonist, David Wong (a pseudonym of the book’s author, Jason Pargin, who also happens to be a senior editor at one of my favorite websites, Cracked.com). As we watch him behead a zombie, he casually discusses first breaking the handle of the axe while taking care of the undead. After replacing the handle, a year later he is attacked by, and kills, an angry overgrown bug-like being. In doing so, David manages to break the head of the axe this time. Replacing the axe head and returning home he is attacked by the reanimated zombie (whose head has now been sewn back on with what looks like lawn trimming line) who screams, “That’s the axe that slayed me!” David then poses the rather philosophical question, is it really still the same axe? This is just the tip of the iceberg which represents the zany humor that is prominent throughout the rest of the movie – and it really does only get better from there.

We transition to David sitting in a restaurant. David is clearly having a reaction to what he calls “soy sauce.” In short, the sauce has given him a very strong psychic ability. He is able to realize events that he would have no access to under normal circumstances, plus he is able to foretell future events. Seemingly out of nowhere, Arnie (Paul Giamatti) appears across the table from David and the two begin talking. Arnie is a reporter of sorts and he is interested in David’s story.

David begins his story and the viewer is flashed back to a few nights prior when he is awoken at 3 AM by a phone call from his friend John. John is insistent that David come over as soon as possible. David loads up his truck with various weaponry and heads over to his friend’s house. Upon his arrival, John introduces him to Shelly, who explains that her ex-boyfriend has been bothering her for a week and that she heard John and David handle unusual problems. David begins cynically explaining that she could go to a women’s shelter before Shelly explains that her ex-boyfriend has been dead for two months. This was the point when I realized that John and David were monster hunters or something of that nature. While John and David are talking in the basement, John happens upon a freezer full of frozen meat. During their discussion they realize that they are each seeing a different version of Shelly when they look at her. It’s during this realization that Shelly magically appears in front of them… before bursting into snakes. That’s right – she explodes into snakes. Shelly herself is a monster.

As if this isn’t already enough to try to comprehend, all of the meat in the freezer comes out and forms into another giant monster which attempts to attack David, believing that he is its arch nemesis, Albert Marconi (played by The Kurgan – you might know him better as Clancy Brown). After John explains that David is not Marconi, he calls Marconi on his phone and hands it to the meat monster. Shortly thereafter, the meat monster explodes.

Back at the restaurant, Arnie asks David about his “abilities.” David begins by stating how much change is in Arnie’s pocket, by denomination and including the years on each coin. He furthers his display of his powers by describing exactly what Arnie dreamed about the night before and eventually talking to Arnie inside of his own mind. Arnie appears a bit more accepting to David’s claims yet remains slightly skeptical.

David continues his story, going back to just a few years after graduating high school. He is at a party where John’s band is playing. While standing near the keg, a prosthetic hand comes flying his way. The owner of the hand, Amy, comes to retrieve it and ends up talking to David for a bit. Before one of David’s friends manages to piss Amy off, she informs him that her dog bit a Jamaican. It’s not long before David meets said Jamaican (who clearly isn’t really Jamaican), who appears to have taken the sauce as he proclaims that “time is an ocean.” First, the Jamaican does a simple magic trick, pulling a large bug from behind David’s ear. He then proceeds to absolutely blow David’s mind telling him first about the dream he had the night before in perfect detail, then telling him about future events. As David leaves, trying to make sense of what he’s just witnessed, he finds Amy’s dog. Soon after, he vomits up the same type of bug that the Jamaican just pulled from behind his ear.

And that’s just the first twenty minutes or so. What follows is an absolute roller coaster of a movie that almost seems to be trying to throw the viewer off its tracks with its mixture of subtle yet dark humor and wild special effects. I assure you that everything does come together in the end but only after a rather inventive journey through the absurd. The dialogue is paired perfectly with a great cast of actors (look for the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm, playing a priest) and the thought that went into the overall appearance of the movie is spot-on. In short, John Dies At The End is just a well done movie all around.

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