As the credits rolled on John Dies at the End, I was totally confused. I had no idea what had just happened on screen for the last 90 minutes, but I enjoyed every minute of whatever it was. The movie unfolds as Dave (Chase Williamson) sits with a journalist played by Paul Giamatti and recounts a crazy tale of drugs, ghosts, inter-dimensional travel, psychic warriors, and monsters made of meat.
Don Coscarelli has had a long career in horror, starting with Phantasm in 1979. In 2002 he released what has arguably become his best known film, the near cult classic Bubba Ho-Tep. John Dies takes the Bubba approach of mixing horror and comedy to an almost absurdist level. The laughs are frequent, and I would classify this as more comedy than horror.
A lot of the credit for this undoubtedly goes to the novel by David Wong that Coscarelli adapted for the screen. During the Q&A after the SXSW screening I attended Coscarelli explained that he stumbled upon the book in a pretty unorthodox manner. It was recommended to him by Amazon.com based on his past purchases. Luckily he got to it early enough that nobody else was attached, because in lesser hands this story would most likely have turned into something much less crazy and less fun.
The cast here was made up of mostly newcomers, who all held their own in a film with one of the greatest working Hollywood actors Paul Giamatti. You are also offered a rare glimpse of the great Doug Jones without a mask and the equally great Daniel Roebuck with one. It was interesting to learn in the Q&A what a fan of genre pictures Giamatti is and about his involvement in Bubba Nosferatu, the long rumored sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep. He wanted to do it, but unfortunately they couldn’t get Bruce Campbell to come back so it looks like it’s not going to happen. But that collaboration with Coscarelli is what led him to this role, so it’s not all bad news.
John Dies at the End is not a movie for everyone. It’s vulgar, it’s scary, and more than anything it is fucking bizarre. Go in with an open mind and wanting to have fun for 90 minutes and John Dies will deliver.