Published Sep 14, 2012Considering the prodigious lunacy of its source material, John Dies at the End could've been handled with greater finesse by a more resourceful director, or at least one with access to larger funds.
The sheer scope of the story's random, demented imagination and the ambivalent attitude of its protagonists towards bizarre, otherworldly creatures, events and pompous prophecies, however, still brand this cinematic translation (and truncation) a uniquely funny and irreverent horror/comedy crossbreed.
Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep director Don Coscarelli demonstrates his limited vision, choosing to steamroll through the safest, most basic version of the plot possible, at great expense to the clarity of themes and comprehensive character motivations, not to mention vital twists, deeply imbedded satire and a shitload of insane visuals bursting from David Wong's novel. Said book is about two buddies who get caught up in an inter-dimensional conspiracy after coming in contact with a sentient, reality-altering drug dubbed "Soy Sauce," which effectively "Billy Pilgrims" its users.
Restructuring the temporally promiscuous account to fit the conveniently provided framing device of the author describing his unbelievable story to a sceptical reporter is just one of the many ways this adaptation betrays the renegade spirit of this paranoid delusional substance abuse allegory. Coscarelli's greatest transgression though, is the relegation of Amy — the movie's only significant female character — to little more than a handy (no pun intended — she only has one) prop.
Without a grounded feminine counter-balance to all the bawdy, boyish humour, the story plays like a rudderless male daydream, especially when the discomfort these listless homophobes would have felt walking a gauntlet of wizened penises is mitigated by the selective decision to only feature topless women in frame.
As far as the performances go, Clancy Brown and Doug Jones (Pan's Labyrinth, most creature fetish suits in Guillermo del Toro's films) are perfectly cast, but largely under-used. However, Paul Giamatti fits the role of stereotypical reporter Arnie like a tailored speedo and the decision to cast relative unknowns Chase Williams and Rob Mayes as juvenile slacker paranormal activity magnets Dave and John was a sound one.
Fans of the book will have strongly coloured expectations, but regardless of your familiarity with the secrets of The Sauce, this movie feels extremely rushed and thrifty, and moreover, like something very important is missing: namely, its heart and purpose.
Even so, if you haven't read the book, you'll find a lot of random zaniness to enjoy. If you have, you'll likely end up wondering what someone like Sam Raimi or Richard Kelly could have accomplished with the same material. (Magnolia)