Movie review: John Dies at the End’
SPOILER ALERT! John does NOT die at the end. He dies at about the halfway point. Or maybe it’s a third of the way in. Hold on, he might not be dead at all.
Wow, if that doesn’t pique your interest, this movie’s not for you. Because even though everything about it might make total sense to screenwriter-director Don Coscarelli, many of his “explanations” about what the hell is going on in this weirdo horror-fantasy aren’t going to translate to general audiences.
Then again, Coscarelli probably doesn’t care about anything labeled “general.” Since writing and directing the unabashedly odd “Phantasm” series of films, he went on to do the same, about a decade ago, with the absolutely one-of-a-kind “Bubba Ho-Tep,” an alternate universe story in which Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), spending their golden years relaxing in a nursing home, go to battle with an ancient Egyptian mummy who is preying on the souls of their fellow retirees.
It’s safe to say that “John Dies at the End” is even stranger.
This is a movie about people whose bodies (and souls) are being preyed on by drugs. The drug of choice here is nicknamed soy sauce, or just the sauce. John (Rob Mayes) is on the sauce, which means that his mind is way beyond the place where hallucinations exist. Or maybe he’s dead. But how can he be dead if he makes a 3 a.m. phone call to his pal Dave (Chase Williamson), asking for help with a young woman who’s afraid of her boyfriend who’s been dead for two months?
To sweeten all of this, there’s the on-and-off presence of the Tony Robbins-like Dr. Marconi (character actor Clancy Brown), who has some “special powers,” and newspaper writer Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), who’s trying to put together a story about the goings-on around him. To make everything even more off the wall, we’ve got a man made out of meat parts, along with a large and very scary spider that keeps appearing at unguarded moments.
We’re made to believe that steady, even-keeled, fairly unemotional Dave is going to be at the center of the story. And he is, until he accidentally injects himself with some sauce while he’s on the phone with a priest. From then on, the story is (might be) about everyone and everything – a visitor from another world, a cop, that big spider – around him.
There’s no doubt that Coscarelli is a fan of films including “Naked Lunch,” “Donnie Darko,” and “Evil Dead 2,” as nods to each of them keep popping up. And he’s into the specialized genre of non-linear filmmaking. To say that this one jumps around in time and space is a perverse understatement. It’s also made clear that Coscarelli and his film have no intention of backing off from its absurdities. There’s gun violence and some dabbling in dismemberment. But some of that stuff is so over the top, it becomes funny.
My best guess is that it’s about alien creatures looking for host bodies. But it would be easy to convince me that it’s just as much about dogs learning how to drive Ford Broncos.
Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.
JOHN DIES AT THE END
Written and directed by Don Coscarelli
With Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown