John Dies at the End (2012)

They use that skull welding mask in the ads a lot, but it's only in the movie for, like, a minute, tops.

They use that skull welding mask in the ads a lot, but it’s only in the movie for, like, a minute, tops.

Man, I do not envy the people who were actually getting paid to write a coherent review of John Dies at the End. It seems like a difficult and ultimately unrewarding undertaking. This probably won’t be one.

Almost immediately upon mentioning that I was seeing it, I was asked what my take on it was. That’s difficult to say. I enjoyed it, but I think whether anyone else does will depend more on them and what they want from it than on the movie itself. It feels incredibly long for only running 99 minutes. Not because it’s boring, but because there’s just so much weird crap going on all the time. It’s kind of all over the place, and its ambitions outstrip its budget on more than one occasion. But it’s got scads of monsters, and a manic, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink energy that keeps it from lagging, and Don Coscarelli is a deft hand at keeping the whole contraption from ever tipping completely off the rails, in spite of hot dog phones and topless dimensions and every other ridiculous thing. And while the metaphysical questions that it raises are the kind of thing that sound really profound to people who’ve never taken a high-level philosophy class, they’re actually pretty heady stuff for a gory horror film with meat golems and doorknobs that turn into cocks. (And the opening “ax problem” is pretty well executed.) So yeah, it’s a mess, but it’s an energetic one, and Don Coscarelli deserves some serious respect for making what could easily have just been a series of blackout sketches into something that works as well as this does. I have the feeling that, whatever your opinion on John Dies at the End, it would have been a complete disaster in any other hands.

Perhaps the most fascinating attribute of John Dies at the End, at least for me, wasn’t all the crazy monsters (although there are lots), or spotting the actor cameos (although there’s a fair few), or the philosophical underpinnings. It was that the movie tells a story that feels like it has no beginning and no end. It just kind of starts, then it jumps around in time, things happen, then it just kind of stops. Hell, the closing credits just go ahead and start playing in the midst of the film’s final scenes. It’s a thing that probably should feel frustrating, but instead just felt kind of fresh and appropriate here.

I haven’t read the book, though I’ve heard good things, so I can’t say how the two differ. I’ll probably pick it up soon, though, now that I’ve seen the movie. (Perversely, I like to watch movies first, if the opportunity to do so arises.) I’ll try to let you know how that goes.

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