Review: John Dies at the End (the movie)

John Dies at the End

In case you haven’t heard John Dies at the End is a movie now. This is a good thing since it lets me talk about John Dies at the End for a third time. Based on the book of the same that reviewed here, and mentioned here John Dies at the End is a low-budget project help brought to fruition by legendary horror director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba-ho-tep) and the enthusiasm of Paul Giamatti. There are only two directors I can think of who could stay true to the anythings-goes batshit insanity of JDatE and Coscarelli is one of those names, and Phantasm remains one of the best horror/fantasy flicks of any era (James Gunn is the other name I’m thinking of).

JDatE, for those too lazy to google, or click on one of the links above, is a wacked out send up to crazy and wonderful horror films of the 80s. A delightful and frenetic mashup of horror, fantasy, science fiction that revels in its own insanity to such a degree that when you’re a finished reading the novel your very mind is altered by the experience. If it wasn’t apparent let me say so now: I’m a fan. JDatE, both film and book, defies the expectations of genre and format to be its own thing. It is a novel born on the internet and film that both understands and revels in its own madness.

As with all print to film translations JDatE isn’t a 1:1 translation and some careful trimming and massaging was necessary to craft a compact, exciting, and affordable film. That isn’t to say this film looks cheap, far from it, Coscarelli and his crew have crafted a film that looks top notch with a blend of practical and CGI effects that even when slightly cheesy fit well with the tone of the film. Many of the characters recognizable from the book, while present, feature much reduced roles from their print counterparts. Disappointing in many respects this is entirely understandable but the reduction of these roles manage to give John and Dave a change to really shine.

Three roles in particular are less prevalent in the movie than in the book. First is Clancy Brown (the Kurgan himself) as Dr. Marconi. In the book Marconi plays an important role in the conclusion of the novel however since the ending of the film was changed significantly from the book he is reduced to a minor mentor/guide figure in the movie. Clancy Brown does an admirable job with what he was given but I definitely would have liked to see more of his take on Dr. Marconi. Doug Jones takes on the role of Roger North, a somewhat minor role in the book, but more of a presence than he is in the movie. Jones makes the most of his one big scene, his appearance in the back of Dave’s car, and again given the abbreviation of the book what we get is well still a stellar representation of the print material. Perhaps most disappointing of all is the serious reduction in Amy’s part of the story. Fabiane Therese does her best here but she isn’t given a lot to work with as movie Amy lacks the core of confidence seen in her print equivalent.

The minor presences of the aforementioned characters is mitigated by the stellar performances from Glynn Turman (Detective Appleton), Chase Williamson (Dave), Rob Mayes (John), and Paul Giamattii (Arnie). Turman turns out performance that borders on over-the-top but is pulled back just enough to be a pitch perfect combination of menace, competence, and insanity. Giamatti revels in Arnies scepticism and his final scenes in the movie are some of the best. Giamatti and Williamson have some definite chemistry and Williamson blazes through his role as if he had been acting all his life. Williamson’s performance is impressive and subtle offering two versions of Dave (a before and after) that stay true to the core of the book. Rob Mayes as the titular John could have used more screen time but manages to capture the manic nature of his character; walking a fine line between competence and outright wackiness Mayes’ John plays nicely against Williamson’s straight-man Dave.

Bottom line, despite some minor quibbles, John Dies at the End is a film that stays true to the theme and tone of its source material. Even better what sacrifices it does make it does to create a leaner more compact film that propels viewers along this bat-shit crazy ride. Bucking the trend of more recent films JDatE clocks in at a lean 99 minutes and feels a lot shorter thanks to the film’s rapid fire pacing. JDatE represents a film made quite specifically for cult audiences, a fact perhaps evident in its choice of director, and I think that the right kind of film viewer will absolutely eat this film up. I finished watching JDatE feeling energized and ready for more. I absolutely love the world that David Wong (Jason Pargin) has created and Don Coscarelli’s film splendidly translates that world to big screen. John Dies at the End is available now from your VOD service of choice and will be appearing in theaters on January 25th.

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