John Dies At The End (2012)

NOVEMBER 3, 2012


I don't get to read much, but honestly I wish I could just write "Just go see John Dies At The End" for a review so I'd have that much more time on my hands to read the source novel by David Wong. It's not rare that I want to read the book after seeing a movie based on it (actually doing so IS quite rare though - I sometimes miss having a long commute on public transportation), but this is the first time where I want to read mainly out of sheer curiosity as to how it even WORKED as a novel. The film is so visual, so frenetic, and so damn WEIRD that I can hardly wrap my brain around how it would work on the page.

But then again, I think I have a good idea. They made a (not very good) movie out of Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy", and unfortunately it didn't do that well at the box office, which means his other, in some ways superior "series" of Dirk Gently books (there are only two) will probably never see theatrical adaptations. Like John Dies, the Gently novels tell crazy inter-dimensional stories that are also very funny mysteries, thus appealing to all of your senses at once as you experience the story - your brain works to put it together while you laugh your ass off (and in John's case, you can enjoy some monsters). I don't like to do the "blank meets blank" thing, but the best way to describe this film is "Men In Black meets Bill and Ted", so if you think that will be up your alley (with the bonus of an R rating), then start counting down until January 25th, when it will be released theatrically.

And man, I can't wait to see it again. It's almost exhaustive at times, but not in a way that annoyed me like Scott Pilgrim did. Maybe because monsters and aliens and cool character actors like Clancy Brown and Daniel Roebuck are more up my alley than whiny Canadian emo kids, but I never once felt that the constant STUFF being tossed at us was keeping me from ever really connecting to it. I mean, sure, the film's sarcastic, druggy tone obviously meant I wouldn't be too sad about anything (especially with a title that promises the death of its next-to-main character), but I still enjoyed going on the ride, unlike Pilgrim where after 40 minutes I felt I had seen enough.

Let me describe the opening scene, which is damn near perfect in every way. Our hero is chopping the head off a zombie when the handle on his axe breaks, so he takes it to the hardware store to get the handle replaced. Later, he is menaced by a mutant bug/worm thing, which he swings at with the axe, breaking the blade in the process. Back to the hardware store, now to replace the blade. That night, the same zombie he was trying to kill at the beginning shows up, and mutters "That's the axe that slain me!" Dave then asks us "Is he right?". It's so random and dryly hilarious, I knew from the start I'd be a fan of the flick, and that was long before an out of nowhere Eyes Wide Shut joke practically sent me to the floor laughing (I also love "Ghost knobs...").

It's not flawless, however. Unsurprising since it's weird and original, Don Coscarelli did not have a lot of money for this independent production, and thus it's pretty obvious that the FX budget wasn't the biggest. There's an AMAZING design for a monster made of fish and meat, seemingly practical at least in closeups, but most of the other creations are either seen too briefly to leave much of an impact, or rendered with sub-par CGI. There's at least one instance where their lack of funds is actually played for laughs (and it works), but I couldn't help but feel that they were being held back (and likely forced to trim ideas from the book) in order to make sure they got the "gist" of their narrative.

Also, and this may be true of the source material, it jumps around a lot - characters disappear for long stretches, certain things are never explained, etc. It might be by design, and if so then that's their prerogative, but as a viewing experience it can feel a bit jarring. Since Men In Black was on the brain, I couldn't help but think of how certain elements really paid off, like when we get the true meaning behind Will Smith's joke about bringing the alien flowers - JDATE lacks that sort of thru-line - payoffs come moments after they are set up, more often than not, because it's constantly on the go to the next idea. There is one terrific exception, however - I won't spoil it in full, but I will say that this movie manages to justify the taboo of saying the "N-word" in full in a very creative, and yes, funny way.

But in a way its flaws actually sort of improve the movie, if you apply the "I only fight with you because I care" logic. Even though it's basically a stoner comedy (not my favorite genre) at heart, there's something so damn appealing about it (the two as-yet-unknown leads are terrific, I should mention) that I found myself somewhat surprised to give a shit about its minor flaws - I certainly wouldn't care about a dropped plot point in a Harold & Kumar movie or whatever. It's Coscarelli's best film since Phantasm, and I truly hope it finds its audience when its released so he can hopefully find himself behind the next great "cult" horror franchise.

What say you?


  1. Coscarelli trimmed a TON from the book but that was by choice. It's basically the 1st third and end of the novel. It goes off in really weird directions so he took what he thought would best work as a movie and made that. I think he did an admirable job-this is one of my favorite films of the year.

  2. Don't bother with the book. It isn't very good. It goes all over the place and feels like the author is just making it up as he goes along. It has some good parts, but on the whole not recommended.

  3. Aww, man, the book is awesome! Just finished it a few weeks ago and can't wait to see the movie. A sequel to "Wong's" book (This Book is Full of Spiders) was recently released, so hopefully, if JDatE is as good as you make it seem, TBiFoS gets picked up as well, though they may have to change the title a bit.

    1. Not only was it released, it's a New York Times best-seller! And yes it's awesome, made even more so by the fact that this book started out as a once a year thing he wrote while working at Cracked. The fans more than anything drove this to get published and for the sequel to be so huge. Unlike Snakes on a Plane, here is an example (not unlike the Hater series) were fandom was actually an indicator of awesomeness.

  4. The BBC recently made a Dirk Gently mini-series that's pretty good - the stories are different than the books, but they're fun, funny, and pretty true to the character.


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