Right off of the bat, you should know: this movie is weird. JOHN DIES AT THE END follows the exploits of two paranormal investigators, David Wong and John Cheese (played by newcomers Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes respectively), who are able to stayed “attuned” to their psychic powers and various otherworldly entities through continuous usage of a black liquid narcotic known as “Soy Sauce.” This substance, of course, ends up causing them to embark on a bizarre adventure full of freaky occurrences and trippy encounters. All throughout the film, David and John combat paranormal threats ranging from zombies to flesh-eating slugs to demonic monsters composed entirely of sausage links and Thanksgiving Day turkeys. Alternate dimensions are accessible through abandoned shopping malls, Cthulhu-like beings telepathically talk “smack,” dogs can drive cars and a bratwurst works just as well as a cellphone. From the initial sound of it, I’m sure it comes off as a strange hodgepodge of random visuals, but it’s all handled surprisingly well in a film that delivers as much on the quirky humor as it does on the frighteningly bizarre concepts.
Of course, I expect nothing less from a film that’s based off of the 2007 horror-comedy novel of the same name written by Jason Pargin (a senior editor for Cracked.com) and directed by Don Coscarelli who brought us the PHANTASM series, THE BEASTMASTER and the very entertaining BUBBA HO-TEP. Coscarelli does an expert job at balancing the horrific material with the gags. Imagine a story combining elements of SUPERNATURAL, ANGEL and FRINGE with a Lovecraftian sensibility towards the spectacle and a comedic style emulating the EVIL DEAD films. This balancing act works well for other aspects of the film: tense atmosphere-building moments combined with B-movie style camera zooms, blatantly cheesy SyFy-level CGI mixed in with disgustingly graphic practical effects and gore and moments of shock or terror rounded out by a well-placed quip or joke.
The cast is also very compelling and enjoyable to watch as they interact with the surreal environments and creatures that descend upon them throughout the story. Williamson and Mayes, despite probably being the most inexperienced members of the main cast, are able to carry the bulk of the film’s narrative very well and play a very likable comedic duo. I’m sure it helps that they are surrounded by very strong supporting players such as Paul Giamatti (AMERICAN SPLENDOR, ROCK OF AGES) playing a reporter David relates his escapades to, Doug Jones (PAN’S LABYRINTH, HELLBOY) as an eerie man named North with unknown origins and Clancy Brown (HIGHLANDER, COWBOYS & ALIENS) as an eccentric psychic medium called Marconi. One scene in particular towards the end of film comes to mind as both Williamson and Giamatti demonstrate and equal amount of somber acceptance and abrupt comedy in response to one final revelation.
Indeed, the movie has its fair share of twists and revelations, some genuinely surprising and some that are lined-up perfectly with the overall whimsical tone of absurdity. Many others may find these moments unnecessary or out of place, but I relish these bizarro tangents. In a film that’s meant to be completely out of nowhere with its nature, the “completely out of nowhere” moments are the most entertaining. In fact, I personally felt that the movie began to drag a bit when it tried to tie all these random elements together in the last half. There were still plenty of interesting visuals and interactions, but for me the most enjoyable aspects were earlier on and dealt more with our two main Everyman characters being in over their heads against things going bump in the night. The epic “final confrontation” did not feel entirely necessary in a film already dedicated to poking fun at exaggerated ideas and scenarios.
But when all is said and done, that is what keeps JOHN DIES AT THE END from getting old fast: this is an unpredictable horror-fantasy that never lets up on its creativity or laughs. There are a lot of fun concepts and ideas at play throughout, the cast is very engaging, the gruesome and bizarre elements are blended well with the comedy and though you’re never always quite sure what turn or twist the plot is going to take, you have no problem sitting back and going along for the ride.
JOHN DIES AT THE END is available for rental on iTunes with a theatrical release on January 25, 2013. See my McGTV video blog on the film below. CAUTION: may contain explicit language: