Wednesday 1 April 2015

John Dies At The End

Moustache You To Leave Now

John Dies At The End
USA 2012
Directed by Don Coscarelli
Another World 
Danish Blu Ray Region B

Warning: Slight content spoilers, I guess.

There’s a really old joke/story that goes something along the lines of a young whippersnapper pointing to a 'genuine stone age axe' in a glass case in a museum. A curator comes over to the interested party and starts telling of the history of the 'genuine stone age axe' in question. The handle was replaced once in the 1950s and the axe head was replaced twice during the 1970s. And that’s yer genuine stone age axe for you.

Don Coscarelli’s relatively new movie, John Dies At The End, starts off with a really entertaining, deadpan and gory variant of this old joke as a pre-credits sequence... instantly bringing a smile to the face and clueing you in on exactly the kind of movie this is going to be... one in which you definitely need to have your sense of humour along with you for the ride.

I’ve been a fan, of some sorts, of Coscarelli ever since seeing the original UK TV spots of his first Phantasm movie, with the silver ball flying over the boy’s head as he flattens to the floor, back in 1979... and then, catching up to the actual movie on TV ten or so years later. Of course, I can’t tell you exactly when those adverts ran because, according to the IMDB at time of writing this, the movie wasn’t released in cinemas in the UK but... I grew up in that era and, take it from me, it definitely played in cinemas here (I remember walking past the cinema with the poster from it on my way to school every day while it was showing) and it definitely had adverts running on the ITV channel in the UK (the one channel out of the only three broadcasting in the UK at the time, that had commercial breaks... so better days).

I love the four Phantasm films, can remember loving Coscarelli’s The Beastmaster at the time (although I can remember pretty much nothing about that one) and especially adored his movie Bubba Hotep, where an ageing Elvis and JFK, living an existence of sorts in an old peoples home, have to take on a soul sucking mummy to save the souls of their elderly colleagues. Yeah, there’s always been a big sense of humour in this director’s works, even the more serious pieces, and maybe that’s why this film, based on the novel John Dies At The End by David Wong, is particularly suited to Coscarelli’s screenplay treatment and is, in my opinion, one of his most accessible, possibly even the greatest, of his works so far.

The cast of mainly unknown actors is headed up by Chase Williamson as main protagonist Dave Wong (the writer of the novel, I guess), Rob Mayes as the titular John and the wonderfully cute Fabianne Therese as the amputee Amy. There’s also the always wonderful Paul Giametti, who co-produced the picture, plus a really great turn from a dog called Bark Lee... played by himself according to the notoriously inaccurate, aforementioned IMDB. I have to say, that this film was in very good hands with the cast and crew in this one and was a hoot right from the word go. Comedy situations have always been a good match for the horror film because, grim humour aside, the rules of the genre are so simple that it was one of the first to successfully combine itself with comedy. Think about why those 1940s & 1950s films like Abbot And Costello Meet Frankenstein, Old Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (aka Vampire Over London) and Abbot and Costello Meet The Mummy were so well received at the time. This is a tradition which is still very much alive today, of course, and films like this are our modern equivalent of that phenomenon, to some extent.

John Dies At The End starts off a little episodic in nature but that’s apparently due to the stylistic restraints of the original novel and, to be honest, you need to get to know the characters a little anyway. It doesn’t really matter... there is an overreaching story arc which soon makes itself apparent and luckily, for viewers like myself, it’s full of surreal manifestations and wild humour. In fact, in order to be able to interact with the world which Dave and John have set themselves up in (as kind of gory versions of the Ghostbusters, I guess), they have to be tripping on 'soy sauce', which is a drug that they both get from a guy called Bob Marley at a party. He may or may not be the real Bob Marley but, one thing is for sure, Marley and most of the guests at the party don’t survive the night and that’s when Dave is thrown in at the deep end and hilarity ensues. Wonderfully strange moments like receiving phone calls from John from different points in the story (and even when John is also sitting opposite him at one point), lead you into the harder and stranger stuff as the movie plays out. Things like a monster made up from the contents of a refrigerator, for example. Or a man who casts no reflection and whose arm Dave pulls off by accident... when Dave punches him, his moustache comes loose and starts flying around the room like an aggressive butterfly, trying to get in on the act. And then there’s the scene where Dave is saved by Amy’s dog, who drives his car through a wall to rescue him... this is all good stuff.

I’m trying to find something critical to say about this movie but, honestly, I can’t think of a single thing. The always reliable Brian Tyler composes a wonderful and appropriate modern horror style score for it when it’s needed most and it really supports the on screen action wonderfully. And the kinds of sequences Tyler is supporting are full of nicely clean (midst the often designer chaos and lived-in gore of the mise en scene) shots showcasing some lovely bright colours and it’s all edited together rather well. It’s a very surrealistic and, at times, less than linear path you are following as you make your way to the end of the movie but the editing is such that you really aren’t likely to get discombobulated by anything you see on screen and are probably just going to have a lot of fun with it.

And that’s about all I got to say about this one. I had a real blast with this movie and I am already recommending it to my friends because, really, they have to see this one. If you are already a fan of horror then you are probably also a fan of the less than serious side of the genre and will have no problem finding something to like in this one. You’ll definitely be cracking a smile or two if you chance it and I can imagine it would make a great double bill with something like Tucker And Dale Versus Evil (reviewed here). Give it a go.

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