STARRING: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Jonny Weston.
WRITTEN BY: Don Coscarelli
DIRECTED BY: Don Coscarelli
If you enjoy trippy horror films that are obviously heavily inspired by a combination of Sam Raimi/Evil Dead and bizarre underground comic books, then this is your film. Always inventive, sometimes gory, and never more than slightly disappointing, John Dies At The End is one of the most original films you could watch this year.
Dave Wong (Chase Williamson) is at first glance a slacker with no direction in life. Upon learning more about him, you might peg him as a freelance ghostbuster, or you might think he’s full of shit. That’s kind of the direction of the movie, is figuring out if Dave is telling you the truth and blowing your mind, or if he’s lying, or the third option: he’s completely fucking nuts. Dave shows up at a restaurant to talk to Arnie (Paul Giamatti) and fill his mind with truth, or basically what Dave did last night. Arnie can’t believe it, and neither will you.
Dave’s friend John (Rob Mayes) comes across some ‘soy sauce’, which is an incredibly powerful drug that either opens up your mind and allows you to experience things you’ve never seen before, or it is a very dangerous drug that creates powerful hallucinations. Dave comes to John’s rescue during one of these “hallucination/experiences”, and saves him, only to accidentally take the drug himself later. When that happens, Dave’s world spirals out of control as he loses a grip on what is real, what might be real, and what isn’t real.
The film is shot in the same kind of joyous glee that a first time, straight out of college filmmaker would use if given a substantial budget. It never feels like a typical film, always like someone is learning to direct their first feature. Sadly, that’s isn’t the truth about Don Coscarelli, who has directed several other films including Bubba Ho-Tep. It is nice to see though that at his age, he hasn’t lost the childlike enthusiasm. It’s a little gonzo, a little crazy, but also a little amateurish.
I would say my greatest problem is that the cast could have been so much better. Chase Williamson is so average, it’s almost as if someone pointed at him on the street and said “THAT GUY! He should be our lead!” I can’t imagine Chase turning into a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. He could do a few student films, or youtube shorts or something, but he’s not a movie star in training. The written material and the concept is so much stronger than the people who actually brought this to life.
Yes, the film is unapologetically gory, and you’ll have to accept that if you’re watching it. I warned you that it was heavily inspired by Raimi and Evil Dead, so you’ve been warned. I’m aware there is a graphic novel version of this, and I have a feeling that the original work is stronger than the adapted work. Something was lost in translation, and the film comes off as being a student-level film rather than a Hollywood production (or even a really good indie production). It’s disappointing, because with the right team (Sam Raimi?), who knows how awesome this film could have truly been. If they end up filming the sequel “This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It”, maybe they’ll pick a better team.
FINAL GRADE: C+