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'John Dies' might be bad-good, or maybe just bad

...but gets an 'A' for futuristic distribution.

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'JOHN DIES AT THE END': Chase Williamson and Paul Giamatti star image
  • 'JOHN DIES AT THE END': Chase Williamson and Paul Giamatti star.

With Oscar season over and the studios no longer fielding their blue ribbon films, we've hit the becalmed Sargasso Sea of cinema between "For Your Consideration ..." and "THIS SUMMER BRUCE WILLIS WILL BLOW. YOU. AWAY!!!!" There's just not a lot of product coming out of Hollywood right now, and we're not ready to start reviewing Bollywood flicks (too much dancing!), so we decided to go with a non-traditional pick this week called "John Dies at the End."

See, kids, here in the future, filmmakers are slowly realizing that they don't have to go through the hassle of actually showing a film in what old poots like me call "a theater." There are other channels these days to get a movie before the masses, and — though it will be a sad, sad day — there's probably going to come a time when going to the sit-down-and-have-your-feet-stick-to-the-floor movie theater will be an old timey curiosity on par with going to the drive-in. "John Dies at the End," for instance, is not only being shown in limited theaters, it's also available on demand right now in eight spots online, including Amazon, iTunes, X-Box Live, Google Play and Vudu. Yay, future!

The only problem with all this lovely futurism is that "John Dies at the End" might be the most confusing movie I've ever sat all the way through, destined for either the .99 cent store or college-town screenings where drunk kids shout memorized lines and throw toast at the screen. Even though I watched it and then skipped through and rewatched all the parts I was confuzzled about, I still have no idea what was going on in a solid 40 percent of the flick. Forgive me, then, if the following synopsis gets it completely wrong:

Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, the creator of the cult-fave "Phantasm" series, "John Dies at the End" follows slacker friends David (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) as they fall down a very weird rabbit hole after David meets a Rastafarian dude who seems to know everything about him. Or can see the future. Or can read his mind. Or something. Eventually, David figures out that the guy's strange abilities have something to do with a black, living oil he comes to call Soy Sauce. Getting dosed with the stuff leads him into all sorts of semi-nonsensical adventures, including fighting a monster made of meat (yes, I know we're all made of meat, but this is literal sausages and T-bone steaks), a hot girl whose face explodes into a mess of snakes, inter-dimensional creatures you can only see out of the corner of your eye, a fight with an undead high schooler, a bratwurst that doubles as a telephone that can talk to the dead, inter-dimensional holes like in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, a slaughter done in literal cartoon, and swarms of tiny insects that want to take over the earth. And, at one point, they become badass shotgun-toting monster fighters. I think. Right in the middle of all that, for some reason, is a very nice series of cameos by big time Actor's Actor Paul Giamatti (who also produced the film) as a reporter trying to figure it all out. Good luck with that, pal.

I wanted to like "John Dies at the End." I really did. I've been a huge fan of the "Phantasm" horror series since I was a kid, and I love Giamatti. I also like flicks that try to mashup horror and comedy, which is a lot harder than it looks. So I actually gritted my teeth and TRIED to like this movie. My failure to do so is made even more frustrating by the fact that "John Dies at the End" is all done so earnestly, so carefully, with a real eye toward Cronenberg-grade body-horror weirdness, and some lovely shot composition. In places, "John Dies" is really fun to look at (though not in others, particularly some of the very bad green-screen work toward the end), and throughout you get the distinct impression that Coscarelli himself not only knows exactly what's going on, he's sure it's going to save peoples' souls if they'll just, like, free their mind to accept the truth of the movie, man. The problem is, this audience member never really got that truth, even for a second, and I consider myself a pretty good movie watcher person. Did I mention that I really wanted to like this movie?

Long story short, "John Dies at the End" turns out to be so strange that it might actually be one of those horrible movies that fans actually come to love, the way you might love a runt puppy, or Khloe Kardashian. Might happen. Who knows? Until that Rastafarian's Soy Sauce becomes available at Walgreens, none of us can see the future. Or something.

Related Film

John Dies at the End

Official Site: www.johndies.com

Director: Don Coscarelli

Writer: Don Coscarelli and David Wong

Producer: Brad Baruh, Don Coscarelli, Andy Meyers and Roman Perez

Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Daniel Roebuck, Fabianne Therese, Jonny Weston and Jimmy Wong

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