I knew what I was getting into with John Dies at the End, considering Don Coscarelli’s previous work on Bubba Ho-Tep which is just as strange, to say the least. But I am not sure if it was the presence of Bruce Campbell that made Bubba Ho-Tep work or some other component. However, John Dies at the End just did not make the same impact. It has its moments but mostly it just seems like a lot of ideas thrown at the wall to see what sticks.
I am not sure how accurate it is in comparison to the novel by Jason Pargin that it is based on, so I can’t say for sure whether it keeps true to the source. But I can probably guess with a fair amount of certainty that the movie missed a lot of the nuance and/or context that was in the novel.
John Dies at the End starts off with two stoner slackers called John and David. At a rock gig, they come in contact with a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. Its street name is Soy Sauce and it takes the out of this world experience a bit too literally. Users who take it can drift across time, space and dimensions and in cases having psychic abilities. However, not all those who experience this new dimension come back from the experience as humans. John and David soon realise that the world is under attack by otherworldly beings, and they are the only ones that may have the know-how to stop it.
If you are drawing a lot of parallels with H.P Lovecraft after that short summary, you will not be wrong there. It definitely draws inspiration from the guy who created cosmic horror, but obviously with slacker vibes for the two main characters in this. I am sure that the book was able to capture this feeling of oppressive dread, but I did not capture this feeling from the movie. With a comedy horror, that does not fall in the black comedy side of things, I am not sure it would have been possible in that format. At least not without a lot of skill and attention to detail throughout.
But let’s put that aside and just consider John Dies at the End on its own merits, though it is very hard to avoid drawing comparisons. For the first half of the film, I was very intrigued by the plot especially the way it is set up. From the very onset, we see David beheading some humans with little to no explanation. It is with his meeting with a journalist at a Chinese restaurant, in that he wants to get his story out to people, that David recounts his wacky tale. After a brief description of an encounter with a demon, he tells Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) about how it all started.
At this point, even though the summary of the movie on IMDb does give you some inkling of the plot, I have to say it does not do it justice. We are taken on a strange weird voyage, where time and reality are at odds with one another. As we follow David who in his recounting is just as confused by all the ongoings and John’s warnings, we join him in this comedic nightmare. The mystery of finding what was going on was probably the high point of this movie. Once the source of this invasion was finally revealed, I guess the wackiness of it all just could not match up to it.
Don’t get me wrong, John Dies at the End still manages to be completely off the wall with all the events in this. We have talking dogs, flying moustaches, a monster made of meat products and a scene straight out of Eyes Wide Shut. But with all things in movies, wackiness cannot be a substitute for a cohesive plot. The characters were all charming and lovable in this, so it is a bit of a shame that it could not have had a more impactful third part to this film.
It just felt once they got to the demon that was responsible for it all, they did not know what to do with it. And after David spent a lot of time, trying to find answers, the solution just seemed a bit too simplistic for my tastes. This may be part of the problem throughout it as each situation seems to be resolved by the use of deus ex machina. So I guess I should not be surprised that the ending was the same. But you are more likely to have a chuckle at preceding events, but for the big finish, it needed to be much different.
With the abundance of talk about drug use, John Dies at the End might be a more worthwhile experience if you join them on this psychedelic experience with your own concoction. For those who are massive fans of Coscarelli, this movie would be probably right up their alley. For the rest of us, however, John Dies at the End is more of a swing and a miss.