31 Days of Halloween: Day 07 – John Dies at the End

A movie review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is writer/director Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End.

Based on the horror fantasy novel by Cracked.com's senior editor David Wong (i.e. Jason Pargin), this was Don Coscarelli's first feature film since Bubba Ho-Tep in 2002. That's just criminally wrong. If there was ever an American film maker who should have movies out on a regular basis, it's Don Coscarelli. If you disagree then you can go fuck yourself.

The book that this is based on is pretty much the definition of batshit crazy. As such, it was a very difficult work to adapt. Coscarelli, working within the limitations of low-budget film, gives us what is probably the most accurate interpretation of the novel that we could ever hope to get. Which basically means it clearly falls short of what the novel gave us. But I don't think there's anybody out there in Movieland who would give us anything better.

The basic story here is that there's a drug called "Soy Sauce" that once taken, taps you into... well... you can see shit that you shouldn’t be able to see. There's an alternate reality involved, a pending apocalypse, and an otherworldly godlike antagonist called Korrok. But that's all the large brush elements of the story.

What we're really concerned with here are the experiences of John (Rob Mayes), Dave (Chase Williamson), and how investigative reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) reacts to the news. In the process we get Meat Monsters, sentient drugs, talking dogs, doorways to other worlds, and all sorts of other craziness. And whether you enjoy it or not is going to depend on how much you appreciate the performances of the Mayes and Williamson.

They have a natural chemistry that, for me, was perfect. I believed that these two guys had grown up together and knew each other inside and out. Because of that, I was able to roll with the massive changes that had to be made to the source material to get it to work on the screen. If they hadn't been so damned likeable, I might not have run with it like I did.

So, yeah. Your mileage may vary.

But as far as I'm concerned, this was a very satisfying return to the horror landscape for Coscarelli. The movie kind of collapses in on itself in the final act, but that's mainly because the book itself was just too big to adapt to just one film. One low-budget independent film, at that.

Ideally, this would have been at least two films, allowing the storylines to really breathe and come together in an apocalyptic conclusion worthy of the book. As it is... well, it works. It's not great, but I don't think we could ask for more. And even with the shortcomings, it's still a goddamn Don Coscarelli film. We should be thankful we got what we did, and push for more work in the near future.

Read our previous review of John Dies at the End here.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.

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