John Dies at the End ✮✮
by Glenn Lovell
We’ve always expected wacky, screwball horror from Don Coscarelli, whose slim output includes the “Phantasm” series and that hilarious Elvis-vs.-The Mummy comedy “Bubba Ho-Tep. Compared to Coscarelli, Sam Raimi of “Evil Dead” fame is almost a shrinking violet. Coscarelli has always struck me as the indie circuit’s answer to the midway huckster who practices cinematic sleight-of-hand. He’s part Houdini, part Georges Méliès.
The intriguingly titled “John Dies at the End” is, by far, Coscarelli’s most ambitious venture yet: It blends horror, the supernatural, geopolitical gobbledygook, and the kind of hallucinatory tangents we associate with Lynch and Cronenberg (think “Naked Lunch”). What’s real and what’s imagined in Coscarelli’s phantasmagorical world? Along the way we encounter zombies, mountebanks and large, hairy spiders. If these manifestations aren’t weird enough for you, the bat-like mustache, the meat monster and the doorknob that morphs into a penis ought to do the trick.
Our guide on this maniacal mystery tour is an amiable patsy named Dave (newcomer Chase Williamson). Dave recounts the events of the last few days to Arnie (Paul Giamatti), a journalist who pegs his subject as a nut job or con artist. Dave traces his visions to an hallucinogen referred to as Soy Sauce. He has accidentally injected himself with the stuff after meeting a Rastafarian who foreseers the apocalypse. John (Rob Mayes) is to Dave what Bill was to Ted: an incorrigible slacker friend with a knack for trouble. True to the title, John buys it along the way. But not to worry, he keeps in touch through a bratwurst phone and a dog named Bark Lee.
Also popping up in what is seeming increasingly like an out-of-body experience are a paranoid cop (Glynn Turman) and a TV spiritualist named Marconi (Clancy Brown doing what sounds like a Transylvanian accent). “What in the name of Elvis is going on?” the old-school cop demands, echoing our own confusion. Marconi points to a ghost door and parallel universe, lorded over by a tentacled Korrock.
This review cries out for a caveat: I don’t know if anything I’ve described above is accurate. But, of course, that’s Coscarelli’s intent. He’s after the ultimate freak-out, a breathless succession of non-sequitur imaginings. Whether you buy into it will depend on your tolerance for such mind-games. Personally, I found some of Coscarelli’s bugaboos startlingly original, but as we skip from trailer park to Mall of the Dead to “Eyes Wide Shut” processional, the sum total came off as enervating and monotonous. After all, there’s only so maggoty stew one can swallow.
JOHN DIES AT THE END ✮✮ With Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Glynn Turman, Clancy Brown. Directed, scripted by Don Coscarelli from David Wong story. 99 min. Rated R for violence, nudity gore effects