John Dies at the End | Movie review
Don Coscarelli’s crazed dark comedy feels like two-dozen outlandish genre movies for the price of one.
One bonkers B-movie conceit has never been enough for Don Coscarelli. The Dr. Moreau of schlockmeisters has been hybridizing genres since the late ’70s; his franchise-spawning Phantasm crams elements of gothic horror, outer-space sci-fi and Hardy Boys adventure into 88 fleet minutes. That litany of crazed components looks low-concept compared to the bottomless pit of oddities unleashed in the director’s latest. John Dies at the End, an overstuffed dark-comic pastiche, never stops piling on the fanboy bait. As if going down some geek-approved checklist, the movie finds room for vengeful cadavers, extraterrestrial slugs, supernatural hallucinogens, celebrity psychics, Jamaican mystics, grizzled detectives, a talking meat monster and Paul Giamatti. And that’s just in the opening half-hour.
What’s surprising, at least for those familiar with Coscarelli’s mad MO, is that all this convoluted mythology originated outside of the filmmaker’s brain. The source material is a cult novel by Cracked.com editor David Wong; his book began as a Web serial, which explains why its plot—about an everydude (Chase Williamson), his titular buddy (Rob Mayes) and the parasitic wonder drug they both take—feels as if it’s being made up as it goes along. More arch than amusing, John Dies at the End may exhaust your patience for everything-but-the-kitchen-sink “storytelling.” Still, there’s something endearing about its relentless barrage of gonzo happenings, even as many of the best bits—a Sam Raimi–ish battle with a sentient mustache, a Lost Highway–style phone call—have been filched from better movies.