With its glibly ironic, postmodernist title, “John Dies at the End” is certainly an attention-getter, but cult director Don Coscarelli’s mishmash gore fest adds up to a self-referential load of B-movie slacker flippancy that only the most uncritical fan boy could love.
Coscarelli has accumulated an underground following with such off-track, low-budget creepy-crawlies as “Phantasm,” “The Beastmaster” and “Bubba Ho-Tep,” and here he’s adapting a gonzo cult novel by author Jason Pargin (written under the pen name David Wong) that was originally serialized on the internet. All this hipster, underground, micro-budget vibe might give the film street cred among a certain sect of “knowing” fans. But for anyone expecting even a modest level of storytelling coherence the movie will feel like a lot of slap-dash, self-indulgent silliness.
With its barrage of insider horror jokes, juvenile potty humor, cheesy CGI effects, gooey splatter gore and aimless stoner attitude, this feels like the same-old, same-old from Coscarelli (who, one would think, should be showing some growth and maturation in his filmmaking prowess).
Largely though, the story feels like “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” meets “Ghostbusters,” and its central conceit about a new street drug called “soy sauce” that throws its users through time into another dimension – one populated by the ickiest monsters a latex-mad makeup team could conjure – feels more than a little tired and shopworn.
The story of a pair of college dropout slackers, Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), battling slimy, grotesque visitors from the other dimension to save the world is framed as Dave relates the lurid adventure to a jaded newspaper reporter played by Paul Giamatti. It’s Giamatti’s considerable presence on screen (as well as in a producer’s role) that lends the movie whatever little credibility is musters.
After compiling a store of irreverent visual jokes and characteristically gross-out set pieces (gore upon gore in every scene is Coscarelli’s signature), the film rather late in the game reaches ploddingly to tie things together into a narrative of sorts. But after all the cool-dude, tongue-in-cheek posing and tired shock tactics, there seems little point in pretending to tell a real story.
Despite some shaggy-dog wit, a few solid, guilty laughs here and there and amiable performances by the two doofus leads, “John Dies at the End” finally plays out as a loud, cartoonish and aimless exercise in weirdness for the sake of weirdness. As far its story goes, it’s D.O.A.
- Dennis King
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti
(Bloody violence and gore, nudity, language and drug content)