Film Review: “John Dies at the End”


“I once saw a man’s kidney grow tentacles, tear itself out of a ragged hole in his back and go slapping across my kitchen floor, but that’s another story.”

Review by David Feltman

Director Don Coscarelli is known for outrageous, borderline psychedelic cult flicks like “Phantasm,” “Bubba Ho-Tep” and “The Beastmaster,” and “John Dies at the End” fits comfortably into his filmography. Based on the serialized web novel of the same name, the titular John (Rob Mayes) and his friend David (Chase Williamson) use drugs to aid them in their fight against inter-dimensional threats to humanity. The story is framed by an interview between Williamson and a journalist (Paul Giamatti) who parses out the perplexing narrative.

The plot might sound like a cross between “Ghostbusters” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” but visually and thematically the film comes closer to “Naked Lunch” meets “Donnie Darko.” Williamson and Mayes face off against massive meat monsters, entrail-laden spider skeletons and Lovecraftian tentacle nightmares. The film gorges itself on bizarre spectacle, which makes for an engrossing experience, but it occasionally threatens to derail the tale.

The film is hinged around a Heraclitian paradox involving a nazi zombie and an axe that serves as the key to the movie’s philosophical bait and switch. Themes of permanence, being and identity underscore the grindhouse fare on the surface. Coscarelli utilizes repetitive framing and shot composition to create a visual allegory that parallels the film’s metaphysical mysteries.

“John Dies at the End” is a rare film that successfully marries over the top exploitation with provocative meditations. It might try a little too hard and falter in parts, but no one could accuse this movie of being unentertaining. Currently, it can only be found on Video on Demand, but “John Dies at the End” is well worth seeking out.

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