Unpredictable horror/comedy is perfectly ridiculous
Loves: Crazy plots
Likes: Don Coscarelli films
Hates: When people can't handle originality
From the film's brilliant beginning, which takes the form of a creatively unfurled riddle, seemingly disconnected from the rest of the movie, John Dies at the End is working on a different plane from the majority of cinema. The story of Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), a pair of slackers who battle the supernatural on an informal basis, is told via an interview between Dave and Arnie (Paul Giamatti), which acts as a framing device for the tale. The great thing about the story, which includes intergalactic drugs, refrigerated monsters and alternate universes, is there's no way to tell what's real, which makes everything a surprise, right to the very end. There aren't cheap misdirects or fantasy reveals either, as Coscarelli lays pipe throughout the film, foreshadowing and hinting as to what's coming.
Though the film is often out-there and breaks more rules than it obeys, it all makes sense in the world of Dave and John. However, what doesn't completely work is some of the devotion to the book, in the form of some of the longer dialogue scenes. Yes, there's a lot of backstory to explain what the hell is going on. Yes, these scenes feature memorable writing and acting. But when much of the film comes at you with intense visuals and fast-paced action, these talkative moments tend to drag a bit in comparison. That said, they don't eliminate the momentum Coscarelli cultivates, and they keep the movie from spiralling into the atmosphere like some anarchic whirlwind. Instead, it's a buffet, offering a little bit of everything, and leaving you quite satisfied in the end.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 isn't the most dynamic mix I've heard in a while (no doubt a result of the limited budget), but what is there sounds solid, as the dialogue is consistently clear, the emotive score comes across strongly and the side and rear speakers get to handle a decent amount of atmospheric sound as well as some nice surround effects during the film's more action-filled sequences. Nothing stood out negatively about the audio, and the result is an engaging experience that doesn't distract from the film.
Seven deleted scenes are up next, running a combined 9:39. These moments don't add much to the overall film, though one explains a slight continuity issue in the final film, while others feature more dialogue more attuned to the book. One, which seems to be an alternate ending to the film, was better left out of the movie.
There's a quartet of featurettes included, beginning with "Getting Sauced: The Making of John Dies at the End" (6:46) Though not too in-depth, it gives you a look at how the film was shot via on-set footage and some interviews with the key players, without repeating much from the commentary. Then "Creature Corps: The Effects of Soy Sauce" (8:35) gives good focus to the special effects work, with a look inside the shop responsible for the film's creative props and monsters. So much of the movie rides on this stuff shining, so it's great to see it get some spotlight.
"Casting Session" (7:43) lets you see why the actors cast were chosen, as you get to see their test reads. There are some minor variations in the material, but it's familiar enough that you should be able to easily compare their first takes on the script with what ended up in the movie. The extras wrap with a nearly 10-minute interview by Fangoria magazine with Giamatti, who not only acted in the film but helped produce it. His interest in the material, genre and especially Coscarelli are spoken about, though the interview feels a touch awkward.
The Bottom Line