John Dies at the End (2012)
For a long while I had finally found a humor site that I actually enjoyed. It originally got my attention because, as a kid, I often read issues of Cracked while my parents went grocery shopping. Never asked them to buy me a copy of Cracked or Mad because of the adult content, but definitely enjoyed the rebelliousness of looking at it. So, when Cracked.com showed up I took to it immediately. There were Photoshop contests (of which I am completely unskilled and never entered), but also a lot of articles and interesting top 10 lists with something that's missing from the current version of the site: research.
The reason it was so good at the time was because of the writers, one of whom was Jason Pargin, aka David Wong. Another was John Cheese, and if some of his articles are still up about how he grew up they are definitely worth reading, especially to help get one's mind out of making bad money decisions. I liked all the other writers as well as the group of people that crossed over into doing videos, but Wong and Cheese were two of the core creators for the site. It was during this time Wong also published a serialized e-book, John Dies at the End, which eventually he did the inevitable second (or third, or fourth) draft and republished as one work. It was later released in print form by a minor publishing firm after further revisions. Unfortunate circumstances led to me to not be able to do much reading over the last few years, but his book is still on my list, as are the sequels.
Enter Don Coscarelli, writer and director of such movies as Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep. He had finished a book about zombies and received recommendations from Amazon, and one of those was John Dies at the End. After reading it, and himself not being a stranger to combining horror and comedy concepts, he bought the rights and did his best to bring the story to screen.
David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John Cheese (Rob Mayes) are paranormal investigators who have just about seen it all. Dave has agreed to tell his story to journalist Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), starting back when he and John were seniors in high school and encountered a strange new drug nicknamed Soy Sauce. John receives it from a Jamaican man going by the name of Robert Marley (Tai Bennett) and, in a panic, calls Dave for help. The calls keep coming as the drug tends to displace the user in time and space, making them susceptible to creatures and beings from other realms.
After Robert explodes and a number of Dave and John's fellow students are killed or go missing the two are brought in by a detective (Glynn Turman) to find out what is going on. It soon becomes clear that it's a threat to the existence of humanity, as Marley was infected with a colony of insects that calls itself Shitload and has now infected another acquaintance named Justin (Jonny Weston). Dave finds out from an interdimensional traveler named Roger North (Doug Jones) that the bugs are the scourge of many worlds, and that they must stop their spread on Earth as well as travel to an alternate Earth to stop a being named Korok from destroying all reality. In this task they are aided by popular spiritualist Marconi (Clancy Brown) as well as a very special dog named Bark Lee.
Again, I have not read the original novel, but I understand both from critics and from Coscarelli himself that the movie is basically a Cliff's Notes version. Like a lot of cosmic horror it owes quite a bit to H. P. Lovecraft, although there are parts that are definitely right out of David Cronenberg's oeuvre. It is also one of the earlier films dealing with the multiverse, a concept that is currently being beaten into the ground by Marvel and a number of other series. The difference being that Coscarelli's film was made for slightly under a million dollars, although he still does a great job of showing rather than telling, including an animated scene at a point where it would have been too expensive to show what was really happening.
Despite the stream-of-consciousness feel the movie has, including all the hallmarks of a latter-day slacker comedy, John Dies at the End manages to whittle everything down to a simple story of saving the planet and then the multiverse without letting all the rest of its concepts hamstring it. What would typically be exposition is played as humor which ultimately is the wiser choice in this case.
I was expecting to see a few more of the seams the second time through, and I do, but I don't think that takes away from story or any of my enjoyment of seeing this film again. Unfortunately it may be Don Coscarelli's last, as he did not direct Phantasm: Ravager and does not have any plans in the near future other than doing a 4K restoration of The Beastmaster, which he recently bought back the rights to. He may be one of the more fortunate classic horror film directors in this case, even if I wouldn't mind seeing This Movie Is Filled with Spiders at some point in the future.
John Dies at the End (2012)
Time: 99 minutes
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown
Director: Don Coscarelli