John Dies at the End DVD Review: Hey, Thanks for the Spoiler Alert!

Every filmmaker has some sort of visual signature that can be easily recognized in their works. Sometimes, such as in the instance of Alfred Hitchcock, it’s a brief walk-on role that you have to look out for (to say nothing of his directorial style, but that’s quite literally beside the point in his case). For others, it’s the tendency to repeat the same damn scene in every movie they make – such as that no-talent hack Michael Bay and his frequent usage of something exploding on a freeway as the camera pans away. And then there are directors like the great Don Coscarelli. Actually, there’s only one Don Coscarelli: I can’t imagine another moviemaker in this universe who would be capable of pulling off Phantasm, The Beastmaster, and Bubba Ho-Tep.

Speaking of something of this universe, that’s pretty much Don’s forte. Well, kind of. You see, Mr. Coscarelli has a tendency to set his stories in-between realities. The Phantasm series has become legendary for its creepy vision of a hellish alternate universe full of weird little people that bring forth flying steel balls of death. Even Bubba Ho-Tep was set in a world with an alternate account of history than our own. It should come as little surprise, then, that Coscarelli’s latest feature – John Dies at the End – his low-budgeted return to big screen entertainment after a notable ten-year gap – features the familiar aspect of dimension hopping. Nope, no big stunner there whatsoever; the flabbergastment there, though, is that Coscarelli didn’t invent this story.

Yes, he wrote the screenplay – which is definitely Coscarelli-esque – but the original writing credit for John Dies at the End goes to author David Wong, who beget the story as a webseries in 2001. Better known to some by his birth name of Jason Pargin, Wong (who also serves as a senior editor at the illustrious timewaster of an Internet site, incorporated his own dramatist persona into John Dies at the End along with that of his fellow Internet writer, Mark Leighty – who uses the online alias John Cheese. The story here centers on two college dropouts – David Wong (Chase Williamson) and John Cheese (Rob Mayes) – and the bizarre otherworldly encounters they have with dimension-jumping baddies.

A deadly, mysterious, and new drug known only as “Soy Sauce” has appeared on the street. Sadly, most of the people who opted to take it wind up dead, though our heroes – specifically David – are given a newfound lease on their otherwise meaningless lives when they discover the Soy Sauce has given them extraordinary powers to not only see into the future, but to perceive that which mere mortals can not: including humanoid aliens and weird insect-like creatures that have been sneaking into our world via a secret portal. As is so commonly typical in such scenarios, the invaders aren’t of the friendly variety. In fact, they mean business: real apocalyptic stuff, you know? But our unintentional antiheroes are just as ready for saving the world as they are anything else (they have nothing else to do, after all!), and it’s going to take the assistance of a TV psychic (Clancy Brown, in a small, glorified role) and one damn smart dog named Bark Lee to make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

Paul Giamatti – who co-produced – inhabits the role of a reporter whom our hero David recounts his tale to in this crazy, clever, funny fantasy. Doug Jones makes one of his rare appearances in his real skin (the actor is usually cast as a creature), Glynn Turman is a confused cop, Daniel Roebuck plays a heavy heavy from another universe, and Phantasm villain Angus Scrimm has a cameo as a priest who is just too honest for his own good in this, what one can only hope is the beginning of a prosperous collaboration between Coscarelli and Wong. Magnet Releasing brings us this low-budget treasure to DVD in an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen presentation with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound with English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles.

Special features for this gem consist of a fun audio commentary with Don Coscarelli, stars Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes (who could very well become the next dynamic duo of cult films if they play their cards right), and producer Brad Baruh; nine deleted scenes; and several featurettes about the making-of the movie. Also included is a theatrical trailer for the main feature (as well as previews for other films from the same distributor), and a promo for Wong’s latest book, This Book Is Full of Spiders.

Highly recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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