Having never taken psychotropic and/or psychedelic drugs, I can only imagine what it is like to dose myself so heavily in mind-bending pharmaceuticals as to make Timothy Leary look like a tea-totaler, but I am of the firm belief that the end result would essentially be John Dies at the End.
The new film from Bubba Ho-Tep and Phantasm mastermind Don Coscarelli, it exudes the same kind of imaginationgasms, seeking to belie its rather obvious low budget through sheer force of will and velocity.
We meet Dave in a poorly-named Chinese restaurant, seeking to tell his impossible story to Paul Giamatti, a scribe from an unnamed publication. He explains how through the use of a designer drug called ‘Soy Sauce’ (seemingly named for it’s inky black color), he has overloaded sensory perception. It contains within it the ability to see what others can not see, do what others can not do, esp, precognition, wind, fire, all that kind of thing. No, sorry, some of those were from Egg Shen’s Six Demon Bag in Big Trouble in Little China. Regardless, he explains how he managed to accidentally expose himself and of his friendship and partnership with the title’s John, a buddy of his that draws him into the line of interdimensional fire, jumping around in his narrative like Quentin Tarantino writing a screenplay after snorting a mountain of cocaine.
His ingestion of soy sauce puts them in a position to stop an invasion from a neighbor dimension, but with so much coming at them from all directions, it won’t be a simple delineation from point A to point B.
In much the same way as last year’s Detention, this film is more concerned with ideas and energy than with making sure the narrative is completely coherent. But, also like Detention, those ideas and energy are strong enough to carry the film. It’s hard to explain how a movie like John Dies at the End can go so right where an equally incomprehensible flick like Sucker Punch gets it so wrong, but I do believe a lot of it comes down to the fact that John is, while optioning horror elements, a comedy. Along with the funny, there’s something very punk rock in it’s construction and execution, sort of like the Frighteners filtered through Repo Man.
Alongside Giamatti, the main players are Chase Williamson as Dave and Rob Mayes as John. Williamson makes a great lead for the film, somehow managing to put forth the calmest freakouts I’ve ever seen. His Dave spends a good portion of the film trying to come to grips with the bizarre things in front of him and is perfect in his portrayal of a man barely keeping it together, on the verge of screaming and running headlong into traffic. And at a certain point, there’s a fantastic visual shift as he completely changes from this normal guy in a frightening circumstance to saying “eff it” with every portion of his being and simply accepting everything that comes at him, meeting it headlong with a gun and his three-day stubble.
Mayes is more excitable as John, clearly more interested in being a part of the world-saving business. Meanwhile, an excellent supporting cast including Clancy “Lex Luthor” Brown as an infomercial guru, Glynn Turman as a detective, Fabianne Therese as Dave’s lone-handed quasi-love interest and Doug Jones (still not sure exactly what he is) round things out, each bringing their own unique brand of oddness.
Coscarelli does his best with the obviously shaky CGI work, and even some mediocre flash animation. (One would guess for the purpose of both saving money on what would be a crazy horror sequence and managing to get the film an R-rating like the anime sequence in Kill Bill.) He still manages to make things pretty visually impressive strictly from a filmic point of view.
Basically, if you’re like me and have enjoyed Coscarelli’s work in the past or if you just want to spend an evening being beaten over the head with fifteen pounds of lunacy in a ten pound sledge hammer, this one’s for you.
(Four damns out of five)