John Dies at the End (2012)

Don Coscarelli, in his 36 year tenure in moviemaking, has made 10 movies. Six of those are in the horror genre. Four of them are the Phantasm series. Almost half of his filmmaking catalogue is a classic horror franchise. That’s pretty impressive. Add to this the fact that his Tall Man is one of the most iconic horror villains ever created, and you have to be impressed. Coscarelli has played the long-game. Other directors spit out their best work early in their careers while with John Dies at the End, Don looks like a man at his peak – 33 years after his first foray into horror features.

John Dies at the End is the story of two friends thrust into a world of weird creatures and inter-dimensional travel at the mercy of a mild-altering drug known as soy sauce, told through multiple flashbacks by our hero, David. We’ve seen the drop-out hero arc a million times before, but never has it seemed so effortlessly cool as it does here.

Coscarelli merges satire, spoof, and great writing to produce a film that is so much fun that I have to rethink my year end list. John Dies at the End feels like a spiritual successor to Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch, and it flaunts that fact. They have more than a few things in common. Both are based on novels that have been described as difficult to commit to film. Both feature cross-dimensional travel through the conduit of hallucinogens. Both have weird bug creatures. Both are fucking awesome. Obviously, the tone is slightly different in Coscarelli’s entry into the drug-bug micro-genre, but you can’t deny the similarities.

Despite it being a bloody, violent affair, I was positively gleeful for the entire running time. Strangely enough, John Dies has the distinct feeling of a first feature from a fresh director, much like Gorepress favourite Detention. I’m attributing this to the fact that Coscarelli appears to be fearless when it comes to tackling classic stories with brilliantly contemporary twists. He did the same with Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s clear he has had some help with this transformation, due to the fact that both of these films are based on acclaimed stories by celebrated authors but there is still a sense that Coscarelli may have been transported somewhere and came back altered somehow.

The performances are wonderfully pitched, with relative unknowns Chase Williamson and Rob Hayes holding their own alongside Oscar nominee, Paul Giamatti, and character actors such as Doug Jones and Clancy Brown. I don’t think I’ve seen Giamatti have this much fun since the 2007 action misfire, Shoot ‘Em Up. The rumour mill has suggested that the Coscarelli and Giamatti had been itching to work together for years, I can only hope that they work together again.

My favourite scene in the movie – the opening gag – may not bear any relation to the following narrative, but it sets the tone wonderfully. Just a simple joke, but one with the punchline completely obscured by the fact that it has no business being in a movie. If you laugh at that gag, you’re in for the long haul.┬áBrilliantly clever and funny writing makes this flick one you just can’t miss. If you like horror with its tongue in its cheek and its eye on the classics, you should watch this immediately. The soy sauce chose me, and it will choose you too.

See. This. Movie.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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