So, um, right. Where was I? Oh, yes. ‘John Dies At the End’.
Simply put, this is great. It’s great in that weird, quirky, cult way that ‘Army of Darkness’ or ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai’ is great…well, in that way that ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai’ should be great but isn’t in any kind of practical sense, because the screenwriter is so in love with the concept that they never actually bother doing anything with it and the only real difference between it and ‘Leonard Part Six’ is Bill Cosby’s incessant mugging and everyone says it’s full of quotable lines but they all only ever quote the same two damn jokes…
…sorry. That sort of went to a weird place. The point is, ‘John Dies At the End’ is an intensely personal movie. It is someone writing a story that they know is probably only going to appeal to them, but they don’t care because it’s an idea that is flowing so deeply from their soul that they can’t not write it. And if they ever find a second person who enjoys it, then so much the better, but they don’t have a whole a whole lot of interest in changing it for mass appeal.
Which isn’t to say that they didn’t change the movie to making it a little more audience-friendly. There are changes from the book, primarily because a) the book is really long and needs to be condensed a bit to fit it into movie length, and b) the ending is a bit of a downer, and even though the tone is all over the place between Lovecraftian horror and splatstick comedy, it still works a bit better with a happier ending. Oh, and c) when you get Clancy Freaking Brown in your movie, you beef up his role a bit. But it’s amazing how much of the weird, discursive, digressive, occasionally perverse if not outright perverted spirit of the story survives the transition to film entirely intact.
For those of you unfamiliar with the novel or film, it follows the adventures of David Wong and his best friend John, who stumble onto a consciousness-expanding drug called “soy sauce” that makes you aware of the greater, stranger, scarier hidden world beyond normal human perception. It also makes that hidden world aware of you, which is why David is now having to deal with demons made out of frozen meat and ghosts and parallel universes and the kind of weird shit that makes people go find a little rubber room somewhere to be voluntarily committed to, just on the grounds that it makes it harder for THEM to get to you. On that score, it’s a cool and creepy horror movie with some wonderful scare moments.
On the other level, though, it’s a hilarious comedy, because the response of real people to crazy shit isn’t necessarily to go crazy in that classic Lovecraftian “rant and rave and wind up in a rubber room” way. We have coping mechanisms, and sometimes those take the form of laughing at the strangeness of it all and sometimes they take the form of blowing off saving the universe in order to play pick-up basketball with your best friend and sometimes they take the form of combining a nuclear bomb with industrial-grade hallucinogens because it may not kill the Lovecraftian horror-god, but “it will sure fuck his shit up”. And on that level, it’s absolutely hilarious.
So I can’t guarantee that you will love ‘John Dies At the End’ the way I did, because it’s a deeply personal movie and deeply personal movies always have a love-it-or-hate-it aspect to them. But that’s what makes them worth watching even if you wind up hating them, because it’s worth encouraging people who pour their souls out like that and make the world a more wonderful and strange place by giving us their artistic visions instead of mass-produced soulless tripe. Movies like this cannot leave you unaffected, even if that effect is to hate them.
In other words, you may not love it…but it will sure fuck your shit up.