John Dies at the End (2013) makes no sense
John Dies at the End (2013), a film by Don Coscarelli, literally makes no sense and I think it is the new, illegitimate oddball of the movie world. Don Coscarelli is the guy who made Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) and Phantasm (1979), two good movies I enjoy, especially Phantasm. But this movie is just an oddball. It doesn’t seem to have the creep factor of Phantasm and most of the humor is not on the level of Bubba Ho-Tep, but it does try its hardest to present something entertaining. Maybe there’s no room for b-movies in this day and age, because this movie looks and feels like your strange, visceral 70s B-Movie, but all the characters in the movie know they are in a b-movie, making the teens more sarcastic and annoying. I was hoping Jason or Freddy would pop-up to kill some of them.
I’d usually do a recap of the plot during my review and see where they went wrong or did things right, except that the plot in this movie is entirely nonsensical. It doesn’t take itself seriously and zips along at a good pace, but it is often busy setting up for the next strange scene. In comparison, I’d say this movie feels like a Sam Raimi film and seems heavily influenced by Raimi’s other horror films. The comedy is reminiscent of Evil Dead, as the protagonist struggles with creatures from Hell, other dimensions, and hallucinogenic manifestations, which is a fairly generic way of saying that most of these characters were on drugs and act like it for about 90 minutes.
That’s what this movie is. A trippy adventure without any Beatles music, except in this movie, there are weird elements introduced to our main character just to be weird, much like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I liked Chase Williamson and Paul Giamatti in this film and they do a good job, but I am curious just what these actors were expecting to accomplish in a film like this. I mean, there’s very little development as they go from weird encounter to weird encounter, so there’s no deep, meaningful dialogue, and no chance for anyone to really deliver. It’s a comedy movie. People throw around dialogue and one-liners like candy.
The movie begins with some narration from David Wong. Wong, played by Chase Williamson, tells his life story to Arnie Blondestone, a reporter, played by Paul Giamatti. Arnie expects to hear something he can write about. The story begins with David and John helping a girl with her boyfriend, who is dead, or something. Some meat from a freezer forms into a creature and it threatens them, but a religious cultist helps them. And I haven’t laughed yet. This is not a “ha ha” movie like Abbott and Costello or Seinfeld, but it uses a sarcastic tone and contains buckets of dark comedy. Maybe it has satire, but I couldn’t tell you where.
David describes his friend John and tells Arnie about their friendship. The setting is fairly commonplace and the performances are alright, I guess. What I can say about the dialogue is that people don’t talk like that. Real people, I mean. Maybe people who know they’re in a dark comedy ramble on about existential crap, but real people don’t.
After it gets going, I think the dialogue gets more amusing, which is an improvement. When David and John talk about David’s story in a diner, the situational dialogue is pretty strange and that’s probably the best part. Maybe if they would have had more back and forth with David and Arnie it could have been a little better, but they weren’t trying to build anything but more dark comedy. David later calls a priest for help and I was glad to see Angus Scrimm in this movie as the priest, because he does a great job. He’s just in there for fan-service though and it somewhat derails the movie off wherever it was going, if anywhere.
Anyway, John gets pricked by a needle with some black stuff inside and he begins hallucinating. Even as he’s telling his story, David is probably stoned. As David continues his story, he describes talking to dead John using a bratwurst as a cellphone, and visits a trailer park where a cop shoots him but doesn’t shoot him. Or something. He’s saved by his dog. Anyway, the plot veers all over the place, presenting dark comedy scenes, which they could have done with a linear plot that made sense, but I guess it works this way too. It must be a drug movie or something. At least it’s not Dumb and Dumber or Baseketball, because those are comedies I don’t enjoy. This one, despite my criticisms, rises above the South Park imitators and becomes something unique.
All in all, I would say John Dies at the End is not for everyone. Some critics have been very harsh to this movie, but it does have things that are pretty well done. Some things are crap though and I wouldn’t ever watch this movie again over Phantasm, Evil Dead, or crap like Drag Me to Hell (2009). It’s a gag movie like Dumb and Dumber, except without the physical humor and stupid characters. In fact, I liked most of the characters in John Dies at the End, but I suspect there is something better in the book this movie is based on. Overall, I think the wit needs to be a little less weird, because it really didn’t make me laugh, which is unfortunate for something called a comedy.