Those wanting to take a walk on the wild side of movies should rush to see Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End — a film that more than lives up to its not exactly true title. You see, John (Rob Mayes) doesn’t die at the end. He dies maybe 20 to 30 minutes into the movie — at least, maybe he dies and, in this movie, that doesn’t necessarily mean much anyway. If you’re confused, I can’t honestly claim that the movie will change that — and really, that’s part of the appeal. Coscarelli, known for the Phantasm movies and Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), adapted the screenplay from the book of the same name by David Wong (whose real name is Jason Pargin). Wong is played in the film by Chase Williamson, who explains to journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) that he changed his name to Wong (“the most common name in the world”) so it would be harder to find him. (One might suppose that a Caucasian named Wong would draw undue attention, but if that’s a stumbling block for you, you’ll never make it through this film anyway.)
The bulk of the movie is Dave telling (with flashbacks) his extremely fantastic story to Blondestone — who doesn’t quite believe him, but is hooked by Dave’s ability to tell him what change is in his pocket and what the fellow dreamed last night. Actually, the movie doesn’t start there. It starts by posing a seemingly easily answered question that might be called existentialist in nature. Now, if you enjoy puzzling over the question’s apparent simpleness — not to mention the fact that it has to do with cutting the head off a marauding dead guy, hacking into a strange creature from another dimension and re-encountering the dead guy with his head sewn back on (with weed-eater line) — this is a strangely good-natured trip into the bizarre that will very likely appeal to you as much as it appealed to me. It is not a movie that exists in the normal realm of “good” or “bad.” It is rather something so weird and off the beaten track that it’s kind of wonderful — assuming you appreciate that sort of thing. (And you know who you are and who you aren’t.) Me? I had more fun with it than anything I’ve seen all year.
It should be noted that I’ve always liked Don Coscarelli, who makes movies as if the drive-ins had never closed, but unlike the old drive-in moviemakers, he makes movies that live up to the posters — and more. Cheesy they may be, but his are true cult-movies — films made without the goal of becoming cult movies. John Dies at the End is no different, but it may well be his wildest and most cerebral film to date. Think of this yarn about saving the world from an invasion from an alternate universe as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Naked Lunch — except Dave and John are much smarter…well, smarter anyway.
There are also echoes of Brazil, The Prisoner TV series, Coscarelli’s earlier films and the kitchen sink. Look, there’s a drug (actually a living thing) called soy sauce that changes you forever if you take it and if it likes you — otherwise it kills you (which I guess changes you forever, too). There are zombies, a monster made out of meat in a freezer, a flashy TV mentalist, a Rastafarian prophet (thanks to the sauce) called Robert Marley and even a bit part for Phantasm‘s “Tall Man” Angus Scrimm as an outspoken priest. And that only scratches the surface of the not-always coherent — but always engaging — cornucopia of strangeness waiting to delight you here. Rated R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas