John Dies at the End (2012)

Actually, he dies in the middle.

“Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead.”

It’s really fairly simple: an apparently intelligent drug known as “the soy sauce” picks two slacker pals to become ghost-hunting exorcists so they can save the world from threats from other dimensions, everything from skinhead zombies, monsters made of frozen meat, bodysnatching bugs, and a biological computer gone mad called Korok.

Okay, so it’s not so simple.

It’s been a decade since Don Coscarelli’s last major film, Bubba Ho-Tep. Best known for the film Phantasm and its many sequels, he has created a handful of strange and unclassifiable independent genre films (although his desire to retain control of his final product is probably why he’s made so few).

But even by his standards John Dies at the End is thoroughly strange.

Told in a series of flashbacks by David Wong (Chase Williamson) to Arnie Blondestone, an extremely skeptical journalist (Paul Giamatti), the film follows David and his friend John Cheese as they encounter the soy sauce for the first time and learn that their world is much bigger and nastier than they realized. Along the way David and John have to deal with Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown), a celebrity TV psychic, who is also aware of the many threats to our universe, the eerie alien Roger North (played by legendary creature performer, Doug Jones), and the dog Bark-Lee, who proves to be a fairly good driver.

Perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment is the nonchalant ease with which we accept the truly extraordinary, like David’s discovery that he can talk to the (apparently) dead John on a bratwurst in a roll – followed, of course, by our discovery that the detailed knowledge of upcoming events that the disembodied John possesses does not include the vital fact that the bratwurst cost every penny David had on him.

John Dies at the End is at its best when it throws strange images at us, like the Wright brothers making their first flight on a giant pig, or a ghost hand opening a ghost door. At the same time it is never afraid to deliberately smash the audience’s expectations, as when they deal with one particularly nasty monster by making a phone call to its real nemesis, or when one of their new allies proves not to be quite himself.

But what is most remarkable of all is that it all seems to make sense – at least, at the time when you’re watching it.

For far too long, screen SF and Horror have largely been locked into set patterns. While many fine films have been made without straying far from those boundaries, it is refreshing to find one of those rare movies that dare to shatter the mold. While John Dies at the End has been compared to a great many other films, usually in pairs (say, Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure meet Naked Lunch), the only recent film that inhabits the same bizarre territory bears absolutely no resemblance to it: Joss Whedon’s Cabin In The Woods.

True, many of the fans of the original cult novel by David Wong won’t be happy with this adaptation, and true, a lot of people seem to have no idea what to make of the film.

However, those daring souls willing to ponder broken axes and the meaning of the universe will be amply rewarded.

Or go mad trying.

Take a look around.


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