John Dies at the End

Movie Information

The Story: A pair of self-proclaimed psychic investigators find themselves in the position of saving the world — regardless of the possibilty that one of them might or might not be dead. The Lowdown: A wild ride of intelligent, splattery horror comedy that offers what may be an illegal amount of bizarre fun. It's not a film for everybody, but for those who are in tune with inspired bad taste and lunacy, it's pretty wonderful.
Genre: Sc-Fi Fantasy Horror Comedy
Director: Don Coscarelli (Phantasm)
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones
Rated: R

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

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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16 thoughts on “John Dies at the End

  1. The bulk of the movie is Dave telling (with flashbacks) his extremely fantastic story to Blondestone Ч who doesnТt quite believe him

    Sounds like a B-movie version of LIFE OF PI.

    I’m in.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Sounds like a B-movie version of LIFE OF PI.

    Not really. Plus, it’s a lot more fun.

    I’m in

    As well you should be. Coming to town this weekend?

  3. Orbit DVD

    Loved it, and I’m doing everything in my power to put butts in the seats.

    However, Magnolia’s release model might partially be to blame.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Possibly, but it hasn’t hurt an awful lot of straight Magnolia titles — and that might be because older viewers don’t much do VOD. (I certainly don’t.) Are people telling you that they’ve already seen it on VOD?

  5. Orbit DVD

    Yes, a couple saw it a second time at The Carolina, but I can’t imagine many others doing that.

    VOD price is pretty high, $10 usually, for Magnolia films, but I guess if you want to see it you want to see it.

  6. Ken Hanke

    I think the larger problems lie in the fact that the films have been on VOD for too long by the time we get them — and that people are too used to assuming that they can go to a movie next week or even after opening weekend. What that doesn’t take into account is that the concept of “next week” is determined by what it makes that first weekend. By Monday that decision is made.

  7. Orbit DVD

    Agreed. I’ve kept it under my hat but the disc release is in two weeks.

    Why not put them all out at the same time: VOD, theatrical and dvd/blu-ray?

  8. Ken Hanke

    The original plan for this sort of thing included selling the DVD — in the lobby of the theater. The (not unreasonable) argument against that was that instead of telling your friends to go see it or, better yet, bringing them back, you’d just buy the thing and show or lend it to them.

    I really think if the VOD and theatrical windows were just closer together, it would help. At least that way people don’t get tired of waiting for it. I actually intend to check into this.

  9. Orbit DVD

    I understand the release schedules for the larger studios, they are being held hostage by the theater chains. Smaller outfits like Magnolia though have got nothing to lose. If John Dies went VOD two weeks after the theatrical date would it boost their box office numbers?

    Please check into this. However, I have found that studios, no matter how large or how small, will justify anything they are doing 100%, no matter how dumb those decisions may be.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I think if it even went into theatrical release the same day as it went VOD it would help, but I think we may be getting a greater lag than is necessary even with their release pattern.

  11. T REX

    “I had more fun with it than anything I’ve seen all year.”

    My thoughts exactly. I loved it. It is also the best poster I have seen in decades.They just dont make good posters and/or movies like this anymore. I will see it again before it goes.

  12. Ken Hanke

    Not if you didn’t see it today, you won’t.

    But, yeah, it’s an aces poster — and the film delivers everything that poster promises.

  13. DrSerizawa

    Very nice. Grabbed me from the start. Gives me hope for independent cinema. (The word “indie” has too many bad connotations for me now). Available on Netflix Instant Play.

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