Director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) chose the smart route when he took up the challenge of adapting the much-loved cult novel John Dies at the End into a film. There was no way that this highly referential piece of surreal psychedelia was going to appeal to a mainstream audience so Coscarelli geared the festivities towards the genre nerds by way of some slick (and strange) special effects and a cast of supporting actors straight out of the horror convention circuit including Doug Jones, Clancy Brown, and his old friend Angus Scrimm. Sure, he had to cut out some of the novel’s big set pieces, basically taking the first act and combining it with the climax, but just seeing someone successfully adapt any aspect of the work is a real treat. The end result is pretty much what you’d expect: a fun, slick ride that wears its low budget on its sleeve.
Dave and John (newcomers Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes) are droll slackers who are forced to stand up and protect their small town from an inter-dimensional threat. Their humorous nonchalance when facing the supernatural is what really propelled the book and the same goes for the film, aided by the interesting choice of casting unknowns as the leads. When they do react to their circumstances then there’s something really weird going on, like a penis doorknob or a monster made out of meat that talks on a cell phone. Not your typical art house stuff. Hallucinogenic drugs, existential crises, and intentional anachronisms that are above our simple heads (think Bill & Ted’s time travel tricks without the luxury of definitive explanations), John Dies will surely be a fun ride for the open minded and an indecipherable mess for the mainstream-inclined.
John Dies at the End opens today at the Ritz at the Bourse.