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John Dies at the End (2012)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/2/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/9/2013
If you're like me and pay attention to the behind-the-camera talent, then you've no doubt noted the output of certain directors. Some seem to put out a new movie every year, while others take a great deal of time between projects. What motivates this? Is it financial? This can't always be the case, as the presumably wealthy Steven Spielberg still puts out a movie every few years (or sometimes two in one year). Are they waiting on the right material? Since 1976, Don Coscarelli has directed 10 movies. While that's an average of one movie every 3.7 years, he actually took 10 years off between his last project, 2002's Buppa Ho-Tep and his latest, John Dies at the End. While this latest offering isn't perfect, it does show that we need as much Coscarelli on the big-screen as possible.
As John Dies at the End opens, we are introduced to David Wong (Chase Williamson), a young man with a unique set of problems. He and his friend, John (Rob Mayes), spend their time investigating supernatural occurrences. After visiting the home of Amy (Fabianne Therese) to check on a ghost sighting, the two attend a party where John is given a drug known as "Soy Sauce". When David goes to find John, he two ingests the drug and learns that it gives the user psychic abilities. Through this, John is able to communicate with the dead and he learns that beings from another dimension are planning an invasion. David, John, Amy, and Amy's dog, Bark Lee, must utilize their unique talents in order to save the world.
The above synopsis most likely sounds fairly straight-forward, but it was a challenge to write, as there is a lot happening in John Dies at the End. The film is based on the novel of the same name which was written by David Wong -- a pseudonym for Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin. While the core of the story may have some logic, the rest of the movie is comprised of bizarre occurrences and weird visuals which add up to a crazy time. We get giant bugs, time travel, telepathy, possession, and meat monsters -- and that's just in the first thirty minutes! If David Lynch and a young Peter Jackson teamed up to make a third Bill & Ted movie, it might look something like this.
Thrown into this wackiness is director Don Coscarelli, a man who knows a little something about wacky having directed the four films in the Phantasm series. Those films are known for taking supposedly average horror film ideas (zombies, graveyards, etc.) and turning them on their ear. And while it's not often mentioned, Coscarelli has a great eye for visuals as well. (Just look as some of the tracking shots in Phantasm II.) For most of his career, Coscarelli's movies were based on his original scripts, but for his last three projects, (Bubba Ho-Tep, the "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" episode of Masters of Horror, and now John Dies at the End) have been adaptations of the works of other writers. Given the bizarre nature of John Dies at the End I don't know if there is a "perfect" director for it, but Coscarelli's resume certainly makes him a good candidate, the movie weaves together several different subplots which go in and out of our reality.
The movie does, however, have some problems. Much of the story is told in flashback, as David recounts his adventures to a report (Paul Giamatti). However, even with this framework, the story feels thin at times. For example, we never learn how or why David and John are paranormal investigators. Is this even their real jobs? We learn that John is also in a band. Did they do that just to go see Amy? While there is always something happening in the film, the pacing is a bit slack at times. (Coscarelli admits to having spent a year editing and re-editing the film based on notes from fans of the books. That's sweet, but maybe he should have gone with his gut.) The movie doesn't look like a low-budget affair until the finale, when some of the questionable green-screen effects really sucked me out of the movie.
While John Dies at the End certainly has its flaws, the movie ultimately succeeds on sheer moxie, and here's why: It's an incredibly weird movie which never acts like an incredibly weird movie. If you've ever seen an interview with Coscarelli, then you know that he's a soft-spoken and laid-back guy and his personality comes through in the film. While other directors may have worked too hard to make John Dies at the End zany and hyper-kinetic, Coscarelli's gentler approach makes the odd nature of the plot really stand out and thus gives the film personality. The bottom line is that it's great to see any work from Coscarelli and as I tell my wife every week, "If I win the lottery, I'm giving Don Coscarelli the money to make Phantasm V."
John Dies at the End never explains what a "Camel Holocaust" is on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. Coscarelli has given the film a slightly heightened style, and the colors look very good. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as we can make out textures on objects. The depth is appreciable as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done and we are alerted to events taking place off-screen. The surround sound effects are abundant throughout, really coming into play during the action scenes. These effects are detailed and we can pick out individual sounds. The subwoofer effects also add to these moments.
The John Dies at the End Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Don Coscarelli, Producer Brad Baruh, Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes. The Disc offers seven DELETED SCENES which run about 10 minutes. Some of these scenes are brand new, while most are simply cut moments from existing moments in the movie. "Getting Sauced: The Making of John Dies at the End" (7 minutes) is brief but it contains some interesting interviews with Coscarelli and the cast, as well as some on-set footage. There's a lot of focus on Paul Giamatti's involvement in the film. It's always great to hear Coscarelli's view on things, and his comments on the editing process are interesting. "Creature Corps: The Effects of Soy Sauce" (9 minutes) takes us into the special effects workshop, allowing us to see how the monsters and props were created. "Casting Sessions" (7 minutes) shows Williamson, Mayes, and Fabianne Therese auditioning for their roles. We hear more from the actor/executive producer in "Fangoria Interview with Paul Giamatti" (10 minutes). The Disc contains the Red-Band and the Green-Band TRAILERS for the film.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.