“Now, you have to be really brave to asking yourself the serious questions?”
Before reading this review you must solve the following riddle. On one winter’s morning you are chopping off a man’s head with an axe. Once the head is off you notice the handle is broken, so you get it repaired. The following spring you are using the axe again and the blade breaks, again you get it repaired. So now the axe has a new blade and a new handle. It is now winter again, and the man whose head you have chopped off is back as a zombie, you grab your trusty axe ready to fight him off again and the man says “That is the axe that slayed me”, is he right?
This is the riddle that David Wong poses the viewer at the start of John Dies at the End, he claims that through it, you can reveal the dark secrets of the universe, and this opening segment sets the tone of the film perfectly. Mind blowing philosophy, humour and the hidden things that you can only see out of the corner of your eye.
John Dies at the End is the story of how David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John Cheese (Rob Mayes) save the universe from Korrok and Shitload (Jonny Weston) after taking a new mind-opening drug called Soy Sauce (which they get from a magical Jamaican called Robert Marley (Tai Bennett). Along the way David and John are aided by a TV psychic called Marconi (Clancy Brown), a strange man by the name of Roger North (Doug Jones), and of course, Bark Lee the dog.
The film unfolds as David tells his story to a sceptical reporter called Arnie (Paul Giamatti), since David wants the truth to be out there. Which is one of the main themes of the film, truth, the other being illusion (time).
Sometimes the humour might appear juvenile (penis door knob and a whip made out of knotted penises) it doesn’t take away from the film, the narrator and protagonist is a 20-something slacker, so it fits in with the personal journey feel of the film. Additionally, the blasé nature which the characters take on the supernatural is a personal highlight and serves to only further the character developments. I know if something similar happened to me, my nerdy mind will be running circles.
John Dies at the End is one of the most weirdly creative films in a long time, a monster made out of cut pieces of meat products, for example. The Soy Sauce as well, though not 100% original (Fringe uses the same idea of drugs allowing you to cross and see into other worlds as one of its main pillars), the idea that the drug is alive and living is stupidly creepy and seems to be a slight analogy to drug use. Though the idea of a drug allowing you to see the monster is somewhat reminiscent of John Carpenter’s 1988 film, They Live where special sunglasses allow you to see the ‘truth’. Interesting fact, the Chinese where David meets Arnie is called They China, a subtle reference maybe?
The film has a very much a B-movie, Sam Raimi, feel to it, with similar camera work and somewhat dodgy SFX (which only really become noticeable near the end), but what do you expect, it’s an indie film. Though, to me, the effects don’t take away from the film, the casting (spot on), story and direction more than make up for it.
Now I have a confession to make, I haven’t never seen any of Don Coscarelli’s previous works, nor have I read the book (nor its sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders), however after watching this film I am now on a mission to go back and watch Don’s back catalogue and to grab David Wong books.
David Wong (pseudonym of Jason Pargin) first started writing John Dies back in 2001, releasing a chapter every Halloween while working at a law firm copywriting and running his own humour site, Pointless Waste of Time which would later become part of Cracked. The book was free to read until 2008 when it was taken down, but at this point the manuscript had already been seen by 70,000 people. A success story I think every one of us wouldn’t mind claiming as our own. The book itself has been described as a mixture of Douglas Adam’s and Stephen King, which I have to agree with from the viewing of the film. Humour and the stuff of nightmares.
As I wrote this review I tried to think of films I could compare it too, but I drew a blank, it truly is an original film, and hopefully will be the start of a new trend of slightly meta, dark humour horror films.
One more thing before I go, I would advise you all to watch it, though just be sure not to pirate it. A video has been released stating that those that have done so have suffered a terrible fate, their heads exploded… Apparently the film is cursed.