John Dies at the End desperately wants to label itself a cult classic, the kind shown at midnight screenings. Those are usually reserved for the likes of Rocky Horror, the original Tron, or worst movie of all time candidates like The Room and Troll 2. John Dies at the End is nowhere near good enough for classic status and it is only run-of-the-mill horrible, not Troll 2 horrible. It won’t achieve midnight screening status, it will achieve #3.95 Wal-Mart DVD bin status.
Perhaps the 2007 book (written by Jason Pargin under the pseudonym David Wong) it is adapted from is unfilmable since the screenplay is so choppy and incomprehensible it ends making no sense at all. All the kids in town are taking a new street drug named ‘soy sauce’. When you’re on the sauce, you can see the future, see the past, travel to alternate dimensions, and also get to make up your powers as you go along. About every 20 minutes or so, a character on the sauce will reveal a new power when the plot demands it.
Told in flashback by sauce-head Dave (Chase Williamson) to rumpled-looking reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), the story hops around from yesterday to a few years ago. John (Rob Mayes) took the sauce first, died, came back to life, travelled with Dave to another dimension to save the world, and now they are some sort of ghostbusting team fighting evil demons. Actually, I have no idea if John really does die or not; this movie does its best to make sure you have no idea what is going on. The first draft of these plot points must have been written on a bar napkin and then typed up in screenplay format by a different person who had no idea what the cryptic and illegible notes meant. The main plot point and ideas in the movie do not connect with one another.
There are enormous and creepy looking spiders, demons composed of all the meat from an overstocked meat locker, and a very aware dog named Bark Lee who follows Dave around. It all adds up to nothing. The dead-pan humor is part film noir, B-grade horror film, and black comedy sci-fi flick. A doorknob turns into a penis for no reason at all; at least none that writer/director Don Coscarelli decided to figure out. Coscarelli also wrote and directed the much superior Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) which has the same dry humor but has an actual plot instead of unintelligible and ill-explained vignettes.
John Dies at the End is a great title but do not give the movie the satisfaction of ever claiming it is a cult classic; that’s just what it wants you to do. The story had such potential. A drug with the awesome name soy sauce which heightens your senses, perceptions, mind powers, etc… and acted in such a straight-forward, cool and collected manner is the foundation of an engaging film. Why deliberately muck it all up with nonsense plot holes, meaningless asides, and the whole alternate dimension bit?
Do yourself a favor and make the choice. Make the choice to not press ‘watch’ on Netflix. Make the choice to leave John Dies at the End forever more languishing at the bottom of the $3.95 bin. I believe in you.
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli, David Wong
Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Fabianne Therese, Jonny Weston, Jimmy Wong