If you read Rob G’s MOST ANTICIPATED HORROR OF 2013 article, then you already know that all of us at ICONS OF FRIGHT are excited about Don Coscarelli’s adaption of JOHN DIES AT THE END, David Wong’s hilarious 2007 novel about alternate realities, great one liners, and a drug called..soy sauce? I’m happy to say that it lives up to the hype that is currently surrounding it, and keeps you thrilled from the beginning all the way to the hilarious ending.
JOHN DIES AT THE END tells the story of well..David Wong, who along with his buddy John begins to experience an alternate reality (that’s the condensed version) after being exposed to a drug called Soy Sauce. While David thinks he’s just having a bad trip after accidentally poking himself with a syringe filled with the drug, things begin to happen that pretty much confirm that nothing is what it seems, complete with characters talking through a bratwurst, channeling themselves through a dog driving a truck, and so on.
I purposely don’t want to go too much into what happens in the movie, because it’s one of those films that definitely benefits from a blank slate approach to watching it, but I will say that the writing and acting in this one are both top notch. Coscarelli took Wong’s book and really made a film that will make you laugh so hard you’ll cry (a doorknob turning into a penis, a white wannabe thug inhabited by “insectoids” & telling David to start calling him “Shitload..because there’s a shitload of us in here!”), jump at some really bloody moments (eyeballs bursting completely out of nowhere) , and will pretty much keep you smiling the whole time. It’s one of those movies that you’ll walk into expecting to like but will walk away loving.
One of the many things that really makes the movie work for me, is the casting. The team of Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes really kick ass as David and John, there’s a chemistry that those guys have that makes the movie really believable (as much as a movie like this could be believed), and the secondary characters are filled by great actors as well. Paul Giamatti is great as Arnie, a journalist whom David tells his story to throughout the film. Here’s hoping that he’ll eventually play Colonel Parker in the anticipated sequel to Coscarelli’s hilarious BUBBA HO-TEP that’s been rumored for years now. Also in the film, are great performances by Clancy Brown (The Kurgan from HIGHLANDER, among many other awesome roles), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien in HELLBOY, PAN’S LABYRINTH, etc), Daniel Roebuck (Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN, FINAL DESTINATION) and the Tall Man himself, Angus Scrimm (in a scene that had me laughing my ass off). It’s a movie that has many cameos by many great actors, but isn’t too referential to those people, instead it relies on them to play interesting characters that make the movie even more entertaining that it would be without them, and every single person involved does just that.
Another element of the film that knocks the ball out of the park, is how creative it is visually. While it’s definitely obvious at times that Coscarelli was limited on budget, he makes whatever he did have work to his advantage, and Robert Kurtzman (and also Rob Hall doing additional work) does a great job on the practical fx in the film. There’s a creature made out different types of meat towards the beginning of the movie that might have sounded silly on page, but comes out looking both hilarious and scary at the same time. The combination of practical and computer fx work together really well, making sure that the CGI stuff sprinkled throughout the film doesn’t overdo it to the point of taking you out of the fun.
All in all, if you’re looking for a pretty awesome way to start your 2013 year, I’d recommend seeing this one on the big screen when it comes, but if that’s not a possibility due to its limited release, hit up iTunes or the various other VOD platforms it’s available on now. It’s a fun ride, full of nonstop laughs, great storytelling and some really great performances.