John Dies at the End is a 2012 horror movie based on a novel of the same name. The movie is totally bonkers. Ordinarily, we'd tell you to be wary of spoilers, but you saw the title of this thing, it's not that kind of jam. So just buckle in, watch the trailer below, and hop aboard the crazy train.
Jack: John Dies at the End. I mean . . . what else is there to review right? The name says it all right there. Another perfect review down; next!
Mark: Glad we got through it. Time to talk about Pokemon Go. What’s your favorite thing about pokegoing? My favorite thing is the pokemon.
Jack: Fine. If that’s the alternative then I’ll say more things. This movie is based on David Wong’s (real name Jason Pargin) 2009 novel by the same name. You know what else that guy was doing around that time? Managing the writer’s workshop for Cracked.com where yours truly was once upon a time a prominent featured author. You heard that right. This guy had an article published on Cracked.com once in like 2010. What have you done lately?
Mark: You know what Jack, we can’t all pluck the low hanging fruit of what animals happen to have the most irrational sexual behaviors. Some of us just don’t have the ability to so blatantly state the obvious and paste together some sorta-related visual gags.
Jack: In any case, John Dies at the End, or JDATE, as I’m choosing to call it, was adapted for film and directed by horror journeyman Don Coscarelli, whom you may know from the Phantasm series, The Beastmaster, and Bubba Ho-Tep. And, just like the other JDATE, this movie . . . I actually don’t have a punchline to that joke. This movie’s abbreviated title is the same as a Jewish dating website is what I’m saying.
Mark: Just wait until they come out with Crazy Horror: Reality Is Time In A Nebulous Meandering Insipid Nothingness - Gory Last Enigmas as a movie title. Then we’ll have something to talk about. CHRISTIAN MINGLE, Jack. Betcha didn’t know how nihilistic that site was.
Jack: Damn buddy. Felt like a bit of a reach, but I respect the effort. So it turns out that this movie is pretty hard to review. And having just written that, I’m realizing that we’ve said that about a whole bunch of different movies. What does that say about us?
Jack: Ehh, I’m sure it just means that we’re great at picking movies and pick ones that aren’t just your straightforward, cookie cutter, slapped together jobs. We go in for deeper fare.
Mark: I think it also might be indicative of the genre as a whole. It seems like within the realm of horror you have to either go rigidly formulaic (which makes a movie hard to review because you have to expound on very minor nuances) or you go balls-out wacko (which makes it hard to review because it’s fucking bonkers). This movie happens to fall into the latter of these two categories. I would’ve put a more relevant visual gag in here, but I really didn’t want to google “balls-out wacko” so…. uhhhhh…. here.
Jack: So the movie opens with Dave, our hero, axing the ever-loving shit out of a skinhead. Once as a normal skinhead, and once as a zombie skinhead. As John uses the axe multiple times, different pieces of it break and are replaced one by one. A narrating Dave throws the Ship of Theseus paradox at us, and we’re in this thing.
Mark: This one really got me started on the wrong foot. So having read the book (just kidding, all I did was read the wikipedia plot synopsis) I can tell you that this has much more significance to that story. In the movie it is just a one-off two minute long intro-to-philosophy lesson that has absolutely no relevance to the rest of the film. What the fuck? Why not just include that part of the story from the book if that’s how you’re gonna open the thing? It just seems unfocused.
Jack: Yeah, right from the get-go this thing reminded me a lot of decidedly non-horror-movie Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas. The narration, the cursory allusions to classic philosophical concepts, the knowing and irreverent tone, it’s all there.
Mark: After the wholly irrelevant opening section we get dropped into the “story” where we meet Dave at a chinese restaurant. He’s meeting reporter Paul Giamatti so that he can share his story with the world. Thus we have the play-within-the-play established, and we also are confronted with one of the most deeply philosophical enigmas surrounding this whole shindig: How the hell did they get Paul Giamatti to do this thing? Anyway, Dave starts telling a story about a party that him and John (who dies at the end) go to. There are dogs, psychic rastafari, kegs, and heavy psychoactive drugs. Standard high school stuff.
Jack: After Dave gets back from the party, he gets a call from a frantic John. Dave books it on over there, and finds John bugging out, hallucinating and the like. John tells him that the drug that Rasta McDrugDealer gave him is called Soy Sauce, and it makes you perceive different dimensions, and also makes you become unstuck in time, just like Billy Pilgrim and the Time Traveler’s Wife. And one time Billy Pilgrim did something with a Jewish chaplain I think. Probably used JDATE to set that up. This book is called JDATE. Bam. Got there. Nailed the joke.
Mark: See, it’s that type of writing that the rest of us that aren’t published authors on cracked.com just can’t hope the achieve. They really demand a standard of quality over there.
Jack: After John accidentally takes the Soy Sauce, this thing goes off the rails quick. He meets an alien, talks to a dog, escapes from the police, learns that John died, but then speaks with John of the future via his phone, which he later learns is unnecessary, and he can speak with future-John over a bratwurst. That was a strange sentence. Even when the first dose of Soy Sauce starts to wear off, John finds the last of it at Dreadlocks McPusher-Man’s house, and those pills turn into bugs and burrow their way into his bloodstream. Accidental second dose. That’s what they all say.
Mark: It’s not his junk man, he’s just holding it for a friend by allowing it to crawl into his face. Kids these days nahmean? It’s roughly around this time that John travels back in time in order to sabotage the police officer’s bullet that he is about to be shot with, gets shot anyway, but then get’s saved by the psychic dog driving a car. You might be getting the gist of why this movie is a bit hard to comment on.
Jack: So eventually, a whole shitload of more bonkers shit occurs, and eventually Dave finds himself in a Platform 9 ¾ style alternate dimension with a dog named Bark Lee whom John is either possessing or speaking through. I’d honestly kind of lost track by this point. Constant meta and pataphysical thought will make a guy start paying a little less attention.
Mark: Long “story” short (too late) there’s a an alternate dimension containing many topless women and an organic supercomputer that consumes people to obtain their knowledge. Wouldn’t ya know it, it wants to consume our heroes? Crazy. They can’t kill it (because reasons) so they use the psychic dog to drop a bomb of hallucinogenic gas onto the motherfucker to really send it for a trip.
Jack: All’s well that ends well. Dave and John become professional demon-hunting Billy Pilgrims, Bark Lee’s owner Amy and Dave start dating all up on each other, and Paul Giamatti decides to publish Dave’s story, regardless of what that means for him. Except psych!! Paul Giamatti was actually a dead black guy and just a figment of Dave’s imagination the whole time.
Mark: There are some things at the end about saving other universes and whatnot. Dave and John do not seem into it. Also John doesn’t die at the end. So there’s that too. What the hell, man? Why you gotta be like that?
Jack: Yeah. It ended . . . and you know, philosophy and stuff . . . and . . . ratings?
For 1 think of how Lloyd Dobler would rate selling things bought and processed and the like:
For 10 think of how Kai would rate smashing:
Jack: 7 - This story is bananas. You can’t accuse it of being anything other than totally original. And it knows what it is so it manages to successfully pull off being so over-the top-crazy that you can’t really question any specific aspect of the plot. With that said, I thought the timing of scenes where shit is happening versus scenes where Dave was talking to Paul Giamatti was pretty inconsistent. That’s a shame because I really liked the latter of those scenes, and wish the movie had done a better job blending the two.
Mark:2 - This movie reeks of a story that was adapted from a book where the adaptor didn’t bother trying to keep track of important plot points. There might be a cohesive story here (and that’s a hell of a stretch) but the links of the chain connecting it are long gone. That also assumes that these stories are all parts of the same chain. To strain the metaphor, it’s really more like a chain tied to a rope which is stapled to one of those snowflake chains which is itself taped to an unraveled Burger King birthday crown.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 4 - So this movie isn’t particularly immersive, but it’s not really trying to be either. Also the whole thing is too bonkers to really build a cohesive world for itself. With that said, you start to have a pretty fun time watching this thing and get drawn in a decent little bit.
Mark: 2 - A pattern begins to emerge. Look, if you set out to intentionally make a bad movie for philosophy reasons or something you can’t get mad when you succeed. The one thing this movie has going for it is that it’s front half is so kafkaesque that I was sorta compelled to pay attention to try and make sense of it all. Once I realized that the shit was borked I gave up completely and the score for the second half fell to a zero.
Jack: 3 - This isn’t a scary movie. It isn’t really a gory movie either with one or two exceptions. But psychological twilight zone “stuff’s different but no one will acknowledge it” stuff scares me, and also there’s a couple of squirmy bugs boring into skin-type scenes that make this non-zero.
Mark: 2 - This movie isn’t scary. It’s also not much of a horror movie. As such it scores pretty low in both interpretations of this category. It’s got some okay jump scare-esque scenes with the spider monsters in John’s apartment and maybe the flies if you are afraid of bugs.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 4 - This movie certainly tried to do a whole lot effects-wise. Some of it worked, some didn't. There's a practical effects meat-monster at one point that's pretty ace, but there's also some ugly CGI as well. Overall, the effects were below the mean.
Mark: 2 - While the concept of the meat monster is pretty great, I gotta disagree with Jack’s assessment of the execution. It looks pretty bad. The swarms of flies look fine I suppose, but literally everything else looks like it was animated in an AP Computer Science class in high school. Pretty sure I had similar graphics to this in my 10th grade english class presentation on The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and that shit was on VHS. That guy’s wife totally shot him on purpose.
Jack: 5 - This movie fills a very specific role. If you're in a college dorm room doing things of which Rasta McDreadlocks would approve, then this movie will blow your mind and take you on a pretty fun ride along the way too. If you're a depressing amount of time away from college like us old fucks, then have a few beers and don't worry too much about what's going on, just enjoy the spectacle.
Mark: 3 - I had to break the pattern. I guess my ratings system isn’t perfect, but I reserve 2 and 1 for shitswill that is nigh on unwatchable. This one isn’t particularly pleasant or fun to watch, but it’s also a cut above the horribly made handycam crap that you used to be able to find at blockbuster video after all of the decently made movies were picked off the shelves. Like Jack said, go ahead and watch this if you are stoned out of your gourd. If you aren’t, then skip the hell out of this thing. You want a decent movie with a similar feel? Watch Odd Thomas.