Saturday, April 6, 2013



Label: Magnet Pictures
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Rating: R
Duration: 99 Minutes
Video: 16:9 widescreen (1.78:1)
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital with Optional English SDH, Spanish Subtitles
Director: Don Coscarelli 
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown
Synopsis: It's all about the Soy Sauce, a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs.

What we have here is a bizarre drug-trip sci-fi fantasy horror-comedy from the demented and wonderful mind of Don Coscarelli whom you will all know from the surreal and equally weird Phantasm (1979) series. Coscarelli is an auteur whose directed too few films in my opinion, the man emerges from the ether every so often to titillate our minds with a brand-new vision of oddness, he's like a surreal horror-tinged Terence Malik. At the start of the decade he returned to the spotlight with the deliciously quirky Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) featuring an elder Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead 2) and a black (!) John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis, Do the Right Thing) battling an ass-sucking mummy at a Texas convalescent home, a work adapted from Joe R. Lansdale's novella. Now decade later he comes to us with another movie-adaptation, this time it's David Wong's John Dies at the End (2012) and if you though the King and Kennedy battling a mummy was a bit odd you ain't seen nothing yet!

The film opens with weird pre-credit sequence featuring voice over narration from one of our protagonists, David Wong (Chase Williamson), in the act of beheading a skinhead in a striking snow-covered sequence. David's narration poses an odd philosophical question then we're thrust into a neat opening credit sequence then straight into a cool noir framing device as David relays to skeptical reporter, Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti, Sideways), the strange events that have transpired since he and his best friend, the titular John (Rob Mayes), were exposed to the mind expanding drug known as the Soy Sauce. A side effect of the sauce is the ability to communicate with the dead and travel through time and space into alternate dimensions, and with this the strangeness begins.

The film is peppered with trippy sequences that might not seem outta place in  David Cronenbergs' Naked Lunch (1991) or Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Odd sights abound from otherworldly insects, slimy over-sized slugs, freezer meat monsters and talking dogs, it's a weird and wondrous trip. The acting is inspired, the two 20-something slacker types who find themselves thrown into the world of spiritual exorcism and inter-dimensional time slipping are quite entertaining and engaging. Paul Giamatti is fantastic as the snarky reporter whose led down the path from skepticism to utter belief, would love to see him do more horror films and from the interviews I've seen he's a horror buff so it wouldn't surprise me a bit.

The film certainly goes to some unexpected places and is rich with surreal humor and strange scenarios including a menacing flying mustache, Dave communicating with the deceased through a bratwurstr, a doorknob that turns into a cock, and a pretty young woman crumbling into a pile of snakes - there's a lot to absorb here and I don't think a singular viewing is gonna allow you to take it all in. Watched it twice just today and caught a lot I'd missed the first time around, which is not to say the film doesn't make for a cohesive viewing just that it's richly layered and there a lot to appreciate, even more so on repeat viewings. As odd as it is the film moves along at a great pace, Coscarelli keeps the momentum moving forward with great dialogue and visuals that are a feast for the eyes.

The film is peppered with cameos from cult movie legends including Angus Scrimm, the Tall man from the Phantasm series, as a Father Shellnut, and Doug Jones (Hellboy) appears as the inter-dimensional enigma Roger North. I kept thinking if you threw a pencil-thin mustache on Jones he would be John Waters' twin. Even Clancy Brown (Pet Semetary 2) gets in on the action with a brief but integral role as TV psychic Marconi. Glynn Turman (Gremlins) appears as Detective Appleton whom picks up quickly on the strange events happening in his town and sets out to shut down the increasingly fantastic occurrences by whatever mean necessary, even if it means committing a few felonies along the way. 

Where the film ends up might not satisfy everyone, you definitely get the feeling that there's more to this story and certainly there is, there ds a sequel novel. While I have not read the source material the interviews with Don Coscarelli and Paul Giamatti all indicate that some of the original scope had to be trimmed out, regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed John Dies at the End and would love to see Coscarelli direct a sequel!

Something I love, loved, LOVED about the film were the practical effects work done under the guidance of Robert Kurtzman (Evil Dead 2, The Hidden), pretty cool stuff from the rod puppet insects, fearsome slugs, and the freezer-meat creature, the stuff was a throwback to the 80's practical effects, it's great stuff. Some of the digital effects were of the Syfy Channel variety, the worst offense happening during the end credit sequence as our duo are reluctantly recruited for yet another inter-dimensional crusade, but the practical effects are fantastic and far out way and digital shortcomings.

DVD: The disc from Magnet Releasing comes well-equipped with a wealth of extras including an audio commentary, deleted scenes, featurettes and interviews. The commentary is a lively affair, Coscarelli is always a blast and his cohorts keep it going strong for the duration of the film. The featurettes are fairly short but interesting, particularly Creature Corps: The Effects of Soy Sauce (8:36) with effects supervisor Kurtzman walking us through some behind-the-scenes effects work, we see set-ups for a bunch of effects seen in the film, good stuff. My only beef with Magnet's DVD is the awful artwork, the theatrical one sheet was amazing and what we get here is just uninspired photo shop, if I came across the film at Walmart I would assume this was a piece of Syfy dreck and pass it by and that would be a shame.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Don Coscarelli, Producer Brad Baruh, Actors Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes
- 7 Deleted Scenes (9:38) 
- Getting Sauced: The Making of John Dies at the End (6:45) 
- Creature Corps: The Effects of Soy Sauce (8:36) 
- Casting Sessions (7:13) 
- Fangoria Interview with Paul Giamatti (9:50)
- 2 Trailers (4:57) 
- Books by David Wong with Promotional Trailer (1:13) 
- Magnolia Trailers: The Sorcerer and the White Snake, Sushi Girl, Storage 24, ABC's of Death (7:04)

Verdict: So, can these two college dropouts stop the inter-dimensional invasion by a Lovecraftian creature? Well, like the adverts say "Don't spoil the ending" and I won't but it's worth noting that this is the sort of film that you just can't spoil. Whenever Don Coscarelli crafts a new film I will always be there to enjoy it, you never know what you'll get and this one went places I didn't expect, an acid-soaked decent into the surreal and bizarre loaded with off kilter humor and some decent splatteriffic effects including a brief but enjoyable gore strewn animated sequence. Weird, wacky and inspired, John Dies at the End, watch it, damn entertaining. 4 Outta 5 

Main Menu Screen 
The fantastic retro-panted One Sheet!