It is difficult to even begin to shed light on something like John Dies at the End. Concerning the weird in film, it’s usually a case of falling on one’s face or hitting the deck running and taking the viewers on an incredible journey. Now, there’s generally two kinds of weird: artsy and nuts. If David Lynch falls into the artsy category (and he does) John Dies at the End takes twenty hits of acid and pulls out a .45. It’s a little crazy.
David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayers) are two college dropouts that can barely hold down a job at a video store. A typical day? Make it to work on time (hopefully). Don’t get fired. Get drunk. Pretty standard stuff. That is, until one night when John goes missing and starts frantically calling Dave. Before long both of them are pulled into the world of an odd drug called soy sauce that awakens them to unseen things going on in the world.
The best one can describe John Dies at the End is if you fused Ghostbusters and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The film and book are in categories of crazy all on their own. What works here is that no matter how far things spin out of control, director/adaptor Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-tep) always has things under control. Yeah, heads explode completely out of nowhere, pieces of the movie fall conveniently into place at times that they possibly shouldn’t, there’s disappearances and reappearances of characters because…shut up, it’s the soy sauce, there’s a sort of super power thing going on at times, and so much more. As annoying as that may sound, it’s actually not. The control exercised (where it can be anyway) manages to keep viewers on the level. Those that have seen Phantasm may start feeling nostalgia the further they progress.
The performances turned in by Chase Williamson and Rob Mayers are excellent. Both play the characters from the book perfectly, though they could have played up John’s obnoxiousness from the book a lot more. Paul Giamatti also turns in a great performance as the journalist Arnie Blondestone, a guy who is taking down Wong’s story thus far. It’s Williamson’s performance that keeps the viewers grounded the whole time. Instead of acting as some incredible guy who can deal with anything, he’s the guy we would all be in his situation: the what the heck guy. Everything that happens to him helps ease us into the film, even though there’s really no easing here. His personality and wit are also something to write home about, especially when mocking Robert Marley (Tai Bennett, and yes that’s really what they named him).
Book purists are going to feel divided about this and having read the book I can sympathize with them. Had a full adaptation of this went underway we’d be looking at a three to four hour movie. With such, there’ some characters that oddly meld with others, some are almost completely written out, the dog’s name gets changed, and there’s a lot more tense interaction with Arnie. Still, Coscarelli did a great job with the adaptation despite the overhauls.
When all’s said and done John Dies at the End is an excellent film. It blends the weirdness of H.P. Lovecraft into a drug addled world that’s rampantly decaying. The biggest complaint anyone could issue about this is Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson). He really does come out of nowhere but so do a lot of things in here. For campy, cult fun John Dies at the End is a raging success. If the intro riddle doesn’t get you to watch this I don’t know what will.