I was very enthusiastic to hear that Don Coscarelli, the author of my favourite ever horror franchise has completed another feature, JOHN DIES A THE END. My enthusiasm had dwindled somewhat after seeing the trailer, which made the film look like semi-mainstream horror comedy. I was scared that Coscarelli had succumbed to Hollywood and delivered something visually slick but shallow and thoroughly commercial with only a minor dose of his trademark atmosphere.
My fears proved unfounded once I watched JOHN DIES A THE END. It's a hell of a ride and has all the twists and the originality and panache of a classic Coscarelli film.
The plot concerns two young guys who by injecting themselves with a new drug known as the black sauce aquire powers which help them save their town and our Universe from various freaky aliens which are ready to burst in from parallel dimensions.
The pacing is spot on, jokes are plentiful and witty and there's some strong violence. JOHN DIES AT THE END is great genre entertainment.
Let me bitch for a second: there film does contain one embarrassing and inappropriate instance of bullet time.
Luckily, this dated and uncalled-for trick is quickly followed by some very wet gore and crazy plot twists and simply isn't enough on it's own to ruin the fun that is watching JOHN DIES A THE END. There's also roving camera exploring eerie derelict streets and interiors at night-time, shotgun violence+DIY flame-thrower action and a car flipping over in the best PHANTASM tradition.
Most importantly, there's a story.
A hellishly weird and unpredictable one, full of bizarre goings on. JOHN DIES A THE END is based on a novel and apparently the novel's been chopped up pretty mercilessly to work well as a 90-minute feature. Now I haven't read the book and therefore had no problem just sitting back and enjoying the ride without getting indignant at Coscarelli for taking liberties with the source material.
Another good thing is, there seems to have been sufficient funding to pull this sort of crazy inter-dimensional portal adventure off. The prosthetics effects are genius. The dslr photography is razor-sharp and skilfully handled with the exception of the blue screen shots which do stick out. However, the film has such a strong narrative drive that all the cheesy blue screen and quick dodgy CGI shots can be easily overlooked.
A few words have to be said about the cast, I guess.
Paul Giamatti rules, but he's not in the film enough.
Chase Williamson. The role demands that he runs around looking freaked out a lot, and he does that with considerable enthusiasm. A few minutes into the film I got accustomed to his exaggerated mimics and the overall cartoonish feel of the film. When I say cartoonish, I mean the character relationships, not the production design or anything to do with style. It's just that all characters are pretty simple and a bit too grotesque. Again, I am not saying the acting was bad. Oh no, quite the contrary. Just the tone seemed a bit off. There is a wonderful, memorable cameo from Angus Scrimm who's given some amusing dialogue.
Seeing JOHN DIES AT THE END has given me hope that there's still some great medium-budgeted cinema being made in the States these days. Something that isn't all pastiches and pisstakes of the 20th century classics. Thank you Mr. Coscarelli. To me you've been the beacon in the foggy sea of struggling, semi-independent filmmakers for over ten years now. Roll on BUBBA NOSFERATU, PHANTASM-V or whatever you feel like filming.