Don Coscarelli launched his career with Phantasm in 1979. Since then he has directed seven other films, three of which were sequels to Phantasm and one, his latest, which shares many themes and elements with the series that made him famous.
Based on the novel of the same name, John Dies at the End tells the extremely strange story of David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John Cheese (Rob Mayes). The film opens in a Chinese restaurant where David tries to explain is odd story to a journalist (Paul Giamatti) is of course having a hard time swallowing any of it. And why should he? It involves two lovably idiots who have had their senses and awareness of the universe heightened due to a black living sludge that they refer to as “soy sauce”. Being made aware as they are, they are now in touch with an extra dimensional invasion that is happening and they are the only ones who seem to be able to stop it. Though they do get some help from Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown) and a dog.
John Dies seems to pull themes and ideas not only from Phantasm, but They Live, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and several other sci-fi action horror films as well. Yet, it still manages to bring a certain level of originality to the table. However, one problem the film does suffer from is that it throws too much in. In it’s attempt to be a strange quirky horror comedy it throws in everything including the kitchen sink and this will certainly overwhelm some viewers.
What helps keep this film from completely unraveling is some pretty solid acting across the board, some great direction from Coscarelli and some pretty good special effects. Williamson and Mayes are a lot of fun as the leads and a joy to follow and Giamatti, of course, brings a certain level of gravitas to the film that it otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s also worth noting that Angus Scrimm (the Tall Man himself!) makes a cameo appearance as a priest in a very amusing scene.
Coscarelli has been here before. He knows these characters and what they’re going through. This might as well be Michael and Reggie battling The Tall Man and his evil Jawas. Instead, you’ve got evil spider things, large slug creatures with sharp teeth, body possessing fruit flies, an extra dimensional cult that worships some sort of demon and some other things too difficult to describe here. Did I mention this film was strange?
I know this film is by no mean for everyone. While I, and a couple others in our group, enjoyed it. Several people in our group did not. After discussing it I fully understand why they didn’t like it. But for me, this was a fun strange ride. I really liked David and John as hapless heroes and Giamatti was great when he was on screen. There a many strange twists and turns in John Dies At The End, and if you’re willing to take the ride, you’re sure to have a good time.
Director: Don Coscarelli
Writers: Don Coscarelli, based on the story by David Wong
Notable Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones and Angus Scrimm.