The Horror Honeys: Just Don't Spoil the Ending!

Just Don't Spoil the Ending!

A Sci-Fi Honey Review

John Dies at the End (2013)

There are plenty of old-school Don Coscarelli fans out there who re-watch the Phantasm series repeatedly, squeeing whenever the Tall Man starts playing with his kill balls (hehe); and with an entry in the Masters of Horror series, Coscarelli has established himself in the annals of fear-film history. With films like Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) and now John Dies at the End, there are sure to be a new school of fans who revel in Coscarelli’s auteur status as the king of “what the hell am I watching” cinema.  John Dies at the End is not a perfect film by any means, but for all its wit, vigor, and weirdness, I would not be surprised if it skyrockets into rabid cult status in the years to come.

I will briefly attempt to describe the plot to you, but just be aware: this film has a very loose grasp on the definition of the word.  Our heroes are Dave Wong (Chase Williamson) and his friend John (Rob Mayes), the unfortunate character whose demise is boldly alluded to in the title.  Dave and John, through various means, end up experimenting with a new designer drug known as “Soy Sauce,” which may generate a killer high, but will also produce in its user startling psychic abilities, the power to see beings and worlds from other dimensions, and the capacity to travel through time and space, among other unfortunate side effects.  Dave is desperate to spread the word about Soy Sauce and the disastrous way it has not only affected his life, but all life on Earth as we know it.  To make his outrageous stories public, Dave has enlisted the help of a journalist (the always fun to watch Paul Giamatti), who, like every other person in this film, may not be all that he seems.  It won’t help you to delve into the plot any further than this superficial rundown of players and events; after all, as with a rollercoaster, the less you know about where the climbs, loops, and stomach-dropping descents occur, the more you can just strap in and enjoy the thrill of the ride.

Shit's about to get real.
Based on a book of the same name authored by the real David Wong (or is he?), the film appropriately captures the hysterical weirdness of its source material almost to a fault, since narrative cohesion gets lost in translation from page to screen.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, however; if you’re a fan of Bubba Ho-Tep, you’ve learned to see a Coscarelli film as an exercise in the bizarre.  In this sense, the film succeeds wholeheartedly, as digression upon digression allows the viewer to experience stories-within-stories, slimy otherworldly creatures, hallucinations, ghosts, alternate dimensions, psychic animals, and even a cameo from participants in the Eyes Wide Shut orgy.  During an early scene in which a doorknob magically transfigures into a penis, I kind of abandoned all hope for any ability to understand what is happening in this movie.

I really don’t want to subject you to an image of that, so here’s a gif of Surprise Kitty.

For all its wonderful weirdness, however, John Dies at the End sometimes threatens to collapse under the weight of its eccentricity.  It has some really fun and inventive asides, which unfortunately don’t add up to much when they’re just thrown in as a brief gag or digression.  Lead actors Williamson and Mayes are both phenomenal for having been in relatively nothing of note before this film, but their cleverness feels wasted in a film stitched together by tangential episodes.  I’m a huge fan of the films of David Lynch so I can put up with a whole lot of randomness, but in the case of his films even the most random moment seems to serve an artful purpose.  John Dies at the End comes off as weird and random just for the sake of being weird and random.

Just a dude made out of meat, not random at all.
Most films that achieve cult status are polarizing: quoted, reenacted, and adored by fans who worship it, and hated by pretty much everybody else (I know it’s revered, but don’t get me started on how much I hate The Rocky Horror Picture Show).  People who love a good cinematic mindfuck are going to love the twisted energy of John Dies at the End, and people who like their films to make sense are going to hate it.  Perhaps the genius of this film is its assured ability to inflame passions on both ends of the spectrum.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: three and a half vials of Soy Sauce out of five.  Don’t take all five; you’ll never come back from it.