John Dies at the End

Wicked & Weird


Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

Hallucinatory, spiked with weirdness, kinetic and grimy. These are laymen ways to describe the kaleidoscopic and serpentine John Dies at the End, a movie directed with cutting wit and macabre abandon by Don Coscarelli. The aforementioned auteur is the madman behind such films as Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, movies that include a foppish mummy and a whirling, blade wielding ball. To say John Dies at the End would be vacant of gallows humor and incessant strangeness would be, well, shirking the scouting report.

It would be a blatant trespass to give too much away about John Dies at the End, since most of its blistering, unconventional, catty wit takes place within the walls of unpredictability. What you must know is that the protagonist, Dave (Chase Williamson), is a goofy, meandering twenty-something going through the doldrums of life until something beyond his comprehension happens to his pal, John (Rob Mayes). That something, a furry serum, catapults the duo into an abyss of barbed humor and woozy disillusion that Billy Burroughs would crack a smile at. A cocktail of dilated pupils and scurrying insects appear, in horrifying detail, after the the unknown liquid swirls around in the friends’ bloodstream.

Coscarelli’s film sounds smarmy and ghastly, but John Dies at the End’s sharp humor is what is really fingerprints the picture. Some of the wonky, baritone, warbling dialogue sounds reminiscent of a Bret Easton Ellis book. The film succeeds because it doesn’t stop to guffaw at it’s weirdness, instead it continuously dumps fuel on the fire without a hiccup. The fluttering camerawork and otherworldly sense of chaos is something out of a Gregg Araki film (The Doom Generation and Kaboom, most noticeably). Most of the plot is indecipherable, for the most part, but the intangible nature of the film is what’s most endearing and compelling about Coscarelli’s opus.

The film’s alleged star power comes from Paul Giamatti, who plays a sort of scribe, and whose sole goal is to dotingly take down Dave’s story for something he’s writing. Giamatti is great, in his small part as someone who is interesting in getting the big story, but the actors involved in the actual tome give better performances than he does. Williamson manages to use his eyes to convey unbridled confusion and shock, in a way that mirrors the audience’s reactions to the film itself. Mayes is great as John, the guy that initiates the weirdness that eventually engulfs the film.

John Dies at the End is a midnight flick that draws from surrealist imagery and thorny humor. If you like bloodshed and whimsy – yes, those two – Coscarelli has the film for you. Expect the best scene of meat in a pseudo-horror film since the steak sequence in Poltergeist, and some brilliant one-liners.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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