Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck
Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
99 mins. Rated R for bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content.
I didn’t watch anything of Don Coscarelli’s films at first release. He displays such vivid enthusiasm on the screen that his movies cannot be ignored forever. Thanks to Netflix, I found a copy of Phantasm to experience. Thanks to a fellow reviewer, I was able to view Bubba Ho-Tep. Thanks to the bargain bin, I have now been given access to John Dies at the End, a quirky and rather disappointing film based on the novel of the same name.
The story is extremely convoluted but it comes down to this: a new drug has the potential to take its users into other dimensions and across massive expanses of time, but not everyone who uses is entirely normal after the experience. The story follows John (Rob Mayes, Enough Said, A Golden Christmas 3) and Dave (Chase Williamson, Sparks, The Guest) as they attempt to discover the source as Dave recounts the tale in a restaurant with audience Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti, Sideways, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) listening intently.
Now, I like a lot of the supporting work here. Giamatti gives us a more captivated audience to connect to, but ultimately is unused, as is Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water) as Dr. Albert Marconi, a paranormal power-player whom John and Dave look up to.
I had to spend a lot of time calculating exactly what turned me off of this film, and I came to the conclusion that it suffers for the very reasons that Coscarelli’s other work, Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep, work so well. That strangeness, that quality of oddity turned me away from this. It didn’t start like that, I happened to find the film’s opening, involving an exorcism, a doorknob that transforms into a penis, and a demon made up entirely of frozen meats, quite entertaining. The plot just sort of unravels as it is trying to build.
That’s a lot of what makes up John Dies at the End: trying. I can see that it is trying to be strange and yet appealing. I can see that it is trying to be comedic. I can see that it is trying to shock. It is, and yet none of that matters between a weak script and lead performers that can’t carry the film.
Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes are unknowns, and are likely to stay that way, neither one of them seems to be able to handle a scene and truly hold an audience in the way that Dave tries to hold Blondestone.
Coscarelli was quoted that John Dies at the End was one of the greatest titles in motion picture history, and that can be kind of true, although SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT allowing John’s character to live makes it come off as less inspired. Making the decision to kill off the character you promised to kill off would allow you some more creative freedom to embrace the strange, because it allows the audience to be less focused on the ending and more on the journey, which is oftentimes a tough sell. END SPOILERS.
In the end, I can openly appreciate the attempt that this film is making. I can, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that I was checking my watch less than fifteen minutes in, and that doesn’t make for a wonderful last eighty minutes or so. Don’t rate Coscarelli on this bummer.
-Kyle A. Goethe
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