Writer-director Don Coscarelli is a filmmaker who is never satisfied unless he's smashing genres together into a goopy, frothy mixture that defies being pushed into a category, such as horror, science fiction, fantasy, comedy or adventure. Coscarelli is more of a "all of the above" kind of guy. Keeping that in mind, his latest, JOHN DIES AT THE END, which is finally trickling its way into theaters across the country this year, is classic Coscarelli, taking apocalyptic horror and adventure and throwing it into a blender with drugs, trippy monsters from other dimensions.
Adapted from the long-believed unfilmable novel of the same name by David Wong (real name: Jason Pargin), the film begins about a drug called Soy Sauce, which takes its users to another dimension (literally), but also gives the users psychic powers and eventually leads to an invasion by the aforementioned monsters whose mission is to take over the earth. Got it? Good. A pair of users, the titular dead man John (Rob Mayes) and Dave (Chase Williamson), are college dropouts who become the unlikely possible saviors of mankind. Or something like that.
The film's pièce de résistance is Paul Giamatti as run-ragged journalist Arnie Blondestone, who is attempting to make sense of the drug's influence and significance by interviewing the modern-day David in a Chinese restaurant. It may go without saying (but here goes anyway) that Coscarelli didn't have a big budget to make JOHN DIES AT THE END. If something this ambitious had been attempted by a studio, it would have cost $250 million and taken years to get made. Instead, Coscarelli (who also adapted the book) embraces the discount look of his production (which actually looks pretty good considering).
The director also relies heavily on the book's philosophies on existence, perception, fate and what exactly life is showing us. It's also a hoot at times, tapping into stoner comedies of the past, classic horror scares, and old-school sci-fi paranoia and delusional visions. For those who worship at the feet of Coscarelli's PHANTASM film (as well you should), there's a similar dreamy vibe, but with higher stakes and maybe a bit less atmosphere. Combined with some absolutely stellar supporting work from the likes of Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones, Clancy Brown and Glynn Turman, and you have yourself one hell of a ride that takes our heroes right up to the brink of the world's end, one that may not be for the faint of heart or the narrow of mind. After a couple of drinks (or a hit of Soy Sauce), JOHN DIES AT THE END will probably make a whole lot more sense.
If you happen to live in Chicago the film opens in today at the Music Box Theatre, with Coscarelli presenting the 7:20pm screening tonight. The film will be followed by a Q&A with Coscarelli (moderated by yours truly), who will then introduce a 9:45pm showing of his previous film, BUBBA HO-TEP. On Saturday, Feb. 9, Coscarelli presents another 7:20pm screening of JOHN DIES AT THE END (with post-screening Q&A), followed by a 9:45pm screening of his horror sequel PHANTASM II.