John Dies at the End (2012)

Review by Daniel Weber

Running Time: 1 hour 39 Minutes

MPAA Rating: Rated R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content

Directed by: Don Coscarelli

Written by: Don Coscarelli

(based on the novel John Dies at the End by David Wong)

Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Fabianne Therese, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Tai Bennett, Daniel Roebuck, Brett Wagner

Let me start by saying that this will not be one of those reviews, and I will not be one of those reviewers, that focuses on how much better the novel was than the movie. John Dies at the End, in this reviewer’s opinion, may be one of the most hard-knuckled, honest shots at adapting extremely difficult source material into a film. I would not feel uncomfortable by saying it was possibly more difficult to adapt than The Watchmen into a great, entertaining movie that still had a script that paid great respect to the source material.

Of course that entire declaration is a bit misleading, as The Watchmen fails at all three criteria I just listed. I’m not saying I disliked the movie The Watchmen, but considering the final product Don Coscarelli released with a budget of less than $1 million dollars, $129 million LESS than Watchmen, I can kind of gain some understanding of, and sympathize with, that brilliant yet insufferable ego maniacal Sasquatch and Chaos Magician Alan Moore’s opinion on his work being turned into films and of Hollywood in general.

File Photo of Alan Moore complaining.

To turn David Wong’s novel into a very good adaptation for under a million dollars is nothing short of a miracle. Sure they had to trim and pinch and twist things to make it a film, but the creative team still did such an amazing job that you get every important concept, feeling, and idea of the novel in the film. And at that, and since I was able to take my shot across the bow at Alan Moore (not because I don’t respect him, but because he is just such an easy, hairy target) let me drop any more talk of the novel other than to underline that it was quite an amazing job at adaptation.

John Dies at the End is a Cosmic Horror Comedy and a film that was far ahead of its time. If this film were released just one or two years ago, I have no doubt that its name would be more common place. What with avante garde television and film both becoming more popular and accepted I can only assure you that it is a shame this film came out in 2012. Yes, it is already what many would call a cult classic, but if released today there is no doubt the box office success would have been bigger and buzz much larger.

JDatE stars Chase Williamson as David Wong, an alias the character creates because Wong is the most common surname in the world and he and his best friend John, played by Rob Mayes, are supernatural detectives that mess with, and kick the ass of, a lot of Lovecraftian type baddies – usually on accident and by playing 80’s heavy metal power ballads. They live in their hometown of Undisclosed. Obviously more obfuscation rather than the actual name of the town. Dave does this job reluctantly and because he doesn’t really have much else going on. John does it because he thinks a job where he can kick the ass of a meat monster is, well, kick ass.

David, high on the Soy Sauce, making him some weird mix of Rainman and Dr. Strange. Dr. Rainman. “Definitely, definitely came to make a bargain.”

The two gain the power to see these monsters after accidentally getting drugged at a party with an unholy concoction nicknamed Soy Sauce. Not only are they able to see these terrifying creatures, but “The Sauce” also allows them to do any number of unbelievable things, such as mess with time, get caught in time loops, forget where they’re at in time, talk into hotdog buns and use them as cell phones, know exactly how much change is in someone’s pocket, and a myriad of other useful and completely unuseful things.

The Soy Sauce. Super drug for super bros. Not the Mario kind.

Fabianne Therese plays Amy, Dave’s love interest, and does so adequately if not better, especially when taken into account what she, and all the other actors in this film, are asked to do considering the script. Amy is an amputee who’s phantom limb comes in handy (get it?) later on in the movie.

The entire film is told, more or less, through an interview that Dave is giving a reporter named Arnie Blondestone, played wonderfully by Paul Giamatti. Blondestone’s arc, from a very skeptical and over the hill reporter to his final shocking reveal is played beautifully in the script around Dave’s telling of the story of himself, John, and Amy.

This photo is as exactly as it seems. Really. No shenanigans here. Would there be shenanigans in a movie about two supernatural drug dosed 20-something cosmic horror detectives that absolutely manage to screw up everything all the time?

Giamatti was actually pivotal in getting the movie made as an Executive Producer. According to Ain’t it Cool News, on March 29th Giamatti called the novel “An embarrassment of riches” (I know I said no more novel talk but this is different – and he isn’t wrong) and went on to say how disappointed he was going to be that they were going to have to edit it so much to fit it into a film. He also talked about how great the actors are in the project.

He’s also got that one right. Rob Mayes is endlessly entertaining as John, which is as the character should be. Perfect casting. What has me absolutely baffled, and has had me that way since I first bought the movie the Tuesday it came out on DVD at Target when I just happened by the entertainment section, is that Chase Williamson is not a top-5 draw as we speak.

Hello? This is dog.

Williamson nails Dave. His pensiveness, his grounded counterpoint to John, his every-man-in-his-20’s relatability in the face of pants pissing terror and headache inducing time-warp confusion. His penchant for bottling things up until they explode and he decides he isn’t going to take it anymore. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one that identifies with every single one of these? It doesn’t matter – doesn’t matter. He clearly has great acting chops to carry such a bizarre movie like this, where a miscast would have easily turned this kind of never-before-seen, laugh out loud eye-glue into a barely watchable film. All you have to see to believe me is the opening of the film, which is kind of one third zombie film, one third brain teaser, and one third pitch perfect joke that perfectly sets the mood for the entire film.

The answer is: I’m right.

This film deals a bit with alternate, parallel, and multi-universes. I can only believe that in some universe out there, this film is the highest grossing film of all time (well, till Black Panther came out) and Chase Williamson is the star he absolutely deserves to be (like he probably cameoed as Captain America in the highest grossing film ever Black Panther). If I can’t believe in that… Then I don’t want to live in a world with alternate, parallel, or multiple universes. (Like the one where I wrote and directed Black Panther).

Grade: A-

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