Anarchic action horror John Dies at the End opens with the voice-over of Dave Wong (Chase Williamson). He discusses the existential question that if you kill a man with an axe then replace all the parts of the axe, when he returns from his shallow grave months later to murder you, is he right when he exclaims “that’s the axe that killed me!”
This sort of irreverent supernatural madness is a perfect example of the content and spirit of director and writer Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of the comic horror novel written by Jason Pargin, published under the pseudonym of the lead character David Wong. The film catapults the audience into a wicked and wonderful world combining H. P. Lovecraft, David Cronenberg, Douglas Adams, Stephen King, Sam Raimi and Hieronymus Bosch.
The story is anything but simple, hinging on a mysterious drug dubbed ‘Soy Sauce’ that allows the ingestor not only a whole host of psychic powers but also the ability to see a hidden alternate realm of evil beings and mutated monsters that exists within our own world.
Desperate to reveal this fact to the general populace, David meets up with reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) to tell the story of how he and his best buddy John (Rob Mayes) ended up dedicating their lives to demon hunting and defeating the denizens of the darkness.
What follows is an insane joy ride of death, destruction and dimensional distortion with giant leeches, bible wrapped baseball bats, the mall of the dead, a magical Rastafarian, a driving dog and a malevolent body jumping entity named Shitload And it’s all thrown together while packing in plenty of gore filled freaky action and ludicrous laughs along the way.
Like a spaced out Supernatural, a grown up Frog Brothers or a ghost busting Bill and Ted, John and Dave are a great double team and Chase Williamson does well carrying a lot of the film with his voice-over working as a constant companion to us throughout the narrative.
Giamatti, who also produced the film, is as always excellent and he is joined by a solid cast including Glynn Turman as a crusading detective and Clancy Brown as a mega star mentalist with actual powers.
Constantly and crazily inventive Coscarelli, the man behind the brilliant Bubba Ho-Tep and the Phantasm series no less, crafts a visually stunning movie full of fantastical creatures and vivid nightmarish imagery that perfectly rhymes with the hallucinatory hectic storyline.
Linked in to this, if there is one criticism to aim at John Dies at the End it’s that it is at times a little too chaotic and disjointed. This could plunge a more linear and less open viewer into confusion and perhaps disappointment at its lack of answers proportionate to the bloated bus load of questions it proposes.
This said, if you are prepared to open your mind to the bizarre bedlam that is hurled at you Coscarelli’s film is a horror comedy kaleidoscope full of splatter and entertainment. This combination makes John Dies at the End an instant cult classic that will jump to the top of many horror lovers lists.