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rochefort [Film Festival 03.24.12] horror comedy fantasy

Year: 2012
Directors: John Coscarelli
Writers: David Wong (novel), John Coscarelli (screenplay)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 8 out of 10

Every now and then comes a movie that manages to get where it's going exactly how it damn well pleases, and "John Dies at the End" is one such movie.

Dave (Chase Williamson), a self-appointed demon-hunter, has summoned Arnie (Paul Giamatti), a journalist who specializes in investigating and debunking paranormal affairs, to a local diner so he can tell Arnie his very complicated tale. Dave owes his new calling as a paranormal warrior to a bizarre street drug called "soy sauce" that has a seemingly infinite amount of properties and side effects, not the least of which is that it grants its users the ability to see in multiple dimensions. Dave has known this ever since being accidentally mickeyed with the drug by his friend John, an energetically impulsive opportunist who frequently calls Dave on his cell phone, despite the fact that he's probably dead.

Writer/Director Don Coscarelli's 1979 horror movie "Phantasm" was a neat little shot in the arm when it was first released; it combined horror and sci-fi in equal parts, integrated wacky left-field elements like its inter-dimensional dwarf minions and killer flying silver balls, and probably had a serious influence on the trippier leanings of directors like Wes Craven and Sam Raimi. After a string of "Phantasm" sequels and "Beastmaster" films (he directed only the first), it was vindicating to see Coscarelli back in new territory with 2002's "Bubba Ho-Tep", based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, and with his latest pic he's wisely decided to adapt another original work, the David Wong (aka Jason Pargin) book that began as a webserial and has since spawned a sizable cult following. Coscarelli is one of those writer/directors like Raimi or Stuart Gordon who knows how to properly blend gore and scares with humor that sometimes veers into slapstick territory, and with this new material he's playing to his strengths, given a little more money and a fun new mythology to work with. And if you're a fan of "Bubba", you might be pleased to know that, thanks to his rather distinctive handling of tone and pace, "John Dies at the End" feels like it's taking place in the same universe.

This one is a drug movie, first and foremost, and like any good drug movie it marches to the beat of a more erratic drum. It's nowhere near as stream-of-consciousness or quasi-episodic as standouts like "Trainspotting" or "Naked Lunch", and has a much more recognizable plot structure, but it takes its time getting there, often settling into its own weirdness and letting the wackier scenes play out and breathe in their own way. Which is not to say it drags or is ever boring; quite the opposite, in fact. It's so much fun to watch the running gags work, time after time, that you'll likely forgive the fact that you've sometimes forgotten where things were supposed to be headed.

Dave and John flop in and out of one mishap after another, each of them basically a pawn of a demon named Korrok who is planing on a kind of multidimensional hostile takeover, and the only reason they survive (well, sort of) from one scene to the next is because of the help they get from characters like Roger North (Doug Jones), a super cool dog, and a televangelist-style mystic named Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown, who looks like he's having a really good time). Characters contact each other from beyond the grave and beyond time, soy sauce users astrally project into arms factories to cause defects in bullets that will later be shot at them, and deep freezes spew forth lesser demons made entirely of meat. That it comes together at all is a testament to both Coscarelli's script and Wong's source material, and the only real gripe I have is that, if this first film isn't successful, I won't get to see what they do with the rest of the book, since this first film really only covers about half of it. Every now and then comes a movie that manages to get where it's going exactly how it damn well pleases, and "John Dies at the End" is one such movie. It's over before you expect it to be, and you won't want it to end, but you can't deny how much fun it was getting to the middle of nowhere.

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