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Ten Word or Less Review – The book was better.  A lot better.

Cult film fan favorite Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) looked like a dead on directorial candidate to adapt David Wong’s sprawling comedy/horror novel John Dies at the End.  With it’s extremely bent ‘two idiots vs the dark side’ story laced with wiry, grim and unpredictable sense of humor, the man who gave the world Bruce Campbell as Elvis fighting a mummy in an old folks home probably struck someone as a masterstroke of directing choice.  Sadly no one gave the guy the $100 million and four hour run time he’d have needed to do this adaptation any justice.  It looks like he was handed $500 and a pat on the back for luck.  No Hollywood studio is apparently eager to dump that kind of money or time into a film based on a book where people routinely explode, a hero is force fed a spider monster and a battle takes place between mercenaries and a lobster gorilla monster.  Sam Raimi, where the fuck where you when we needed you?

This is a curious case where the film in question was such a unique let down that I sought out the source material as soon as it ended.  I picked up Wong’s novel and found something far greater than what was transported to digital celluloid.  Coscarelli’s adaptation strikes the right tone at times and induces hearty giggles peppered through out.  It’s probably destined for midnight showings with the Alamo Drafthouse crew, complete with fans wearing meat monster costumes and all.  But as an adaptation of Wong’s novel it’s reminiscent of David Lynch’s Dune.  Like that blundered, fascinating, sci-fi monstrosity, John Dies is a curious, confusing, baffling effort hamstrung by run time, lack of money and thick fingered execution.

This is paragraph where I would usually describe the plot.  That would take too long.  There are monsters and this stuff called soy sauce that makes you see spooky shit and a Rastafarian whose levitates and metaphysical humor and lots of other stuff.  Go look it up yourself.  I’ll even give you a cheat.  Click here ———>  X.  Okay.  Welcome back.

Coscarelli and original novelist David Wong have written a movie that freely admits its inability to tell the story as originally put forward.  The movie encompasses the first and last 75 or so pages of the novel, all but abandoning the 200 pages in between in which lots of things happened that sounded really expensive to put on screen.  One is simply left to wonder whether they slaved over it for weeks and eventually said fuck it then drank a lot or started off knowing they were going to hack apart Wong’s book like a butcher over a slab of meat.  And while I’d be the first to suggest that Wong’s novel needs some pruning, the resulting film comes across as slapdash and incoherent, getting by on the strength of a few choice scenes, there’s that meat monster, decent casting, and some choice bits of quirky dialogue lifted straight from the book.  How they left out that passage about Fred Durst I’ll never know or forgive.  So giving it some credit is due but that missing 200 pages accounts for a lot.

The legitimately grim and regretful tone running through much of the book is completely absent.  Wong’s novel is incredibly funny in places but it’s also a work of horror and nothing like straight horror is really at play here.  The movie is very tongue in cheek kind of stuff that no one could take seriously.  And I have to hold a grudge for not including the flying dog that explodes or that lobster gorilla monster I mentioned earlier.  I respect trying and failing far more than not trying at all.  What’s left over contains some funny which is sure to amuse genre film fans, but the lingering aroma of something greater hangs heavy on it.

If the unorthodox and silly tickle you then John Dies at the End seems destined to entertain.   Or at least confound.  If you’ve read the book you’re going to be left wondering where the Hell the story went, but if you can not let that nag you, or that the bastards completely waste Clancy Brown, there’s some fun to be had here.  Maybe not so much fun you’ll want to make your very own meat costume, but I doubt you’ll forget the experience whether you like it or not.



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