"I'm sorry for everything that's going to happen. For all the people that are gonna ... explode".

Contrary to the title, this story is primarily about Dave (Chase Williamson). We first meet him in a Chinese restaurant where he's just got high on a new mind-expanding drug which has been nicknamed Soy Sauce. From his opening narration, it's immediately clear that the drug has extraordinary capabilities - like being able to transport people to an alternate universe, for example. "It heightens your senses" he explains at one point later in the film, "it helps you see things you shouldn't be able to see"...

In to the restaurant strolls Arnie (Paul Giamatti), a reporter who wants to hear Dave's wild story. And so, Dave starts to enlighten him - and us - as to how he got to where he is today.

His first narrated flashback takes us back just a few hours to the previous night, where he and his best friend John (Rob Mayes) oblige a hot stranger named Shelly (Allison Weissman) who had called upon their skills in spiritual exorcism to help save her from her undead ex-boyfriend. Agreeing to survey her home for signs of her unwanted zombie stalker, the boys suddenly realise that Shelly is not all that she seems: as they challenge her, her face explodes and she mutates into several snakes.

As if that isn't enough to jar the lads, the freezer in the basement suddenly opens and all the meat stored in it quickly assembles itself into a man-size critter with vengeance on its mind. Luckily for Dave and John, the beast is hankering for a showdown with popular TV spiritualist Marconi (Clancy Brown) - and the boys have a direct line to his mobile 'phone.

Using his psychic powers, Marconi is able to explode the meat monster telepathically over the telephone. Phew.

Eager to learn more, Arnie encourages Dave to reveal more of his story. This affords him the opportunity to take us back a further couple of years, and explain how his mate John first got introduced to Soy Sauce via a shady Jamaican acquaintance (Tai Bennett) and how the pair of them gradually came to realise that the drug - fun though it undoubtedly is to use - has an unfortunate side effect of potentially turning its users into hosts for otherworldly alien bugs to use as a portal into our universe...

Enter the freaky Roger (Doug Jones), who warns of a powerful adversary from the alternate world that Soy Sauce opens minds to, who goes by the name of Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson). Enter Amy (Fabianne Therese), a demure young girl who may just end up being Dave's soulmate. Enter detective Appleton (Glynn Turman), who picks up Dave in an effort to learn more about the party his pal John was at - and why all the other kids who took Soy Sauce that night have since met ill fates...

Meanwhile, we still have TV star Marconi to consider. And, of course, a growing population of young people who are unwittingly turning into bug-like aliens as a direct result of taking this mind-bending, time-shifting drug...

Very, very difficult to synopsise, JOHN DIES AT THE END is one of those films that truly does need to be watched to be understood. Even then, you may not fully grasp everything that's presented to you - but at least you'll be entertained to an extent that you won't question its inner logic until at least after the end credits have rolled.

Based on Jason Pargin’s cult book (written in first-person manner under the pseudonym ‘David Wong’ – the lead character’s full name), JOHN DIES AT THE END is the latest directorial effort from Don Coscarelli. Those familiar with the likes of his PHANTASM films and BUBBA HO-TEP will appreciate at this point just how off-the-wall this film is going to be.

Originally written as a series of episodes for Pargin’s website, the book is something I’ve not read but by all accounts is a pretty wild proposition, careering with wild abandon between slapstick comedy and dark body horror. Those who are fans do seem to love it ferociously.

Coscarelli delivers on both fronts. He elicits likeable performances from his genial cast which help ensure many of the comic moments really do hit home in laugh-out-loud style. And while never scary, the darker moments do evoke a sense of fantastical jeopardy not too far removed from the cinema of Guillermo Del Toro.

The special effects are generally very good. A lot of the practical FX, including occasional forays into stop-motion territory work tremendously well. And the bug-like creatures, which can’t fail to bring to mind NAKED LUNCH, are often convincingly repugnant. There is a fair amount of CGI on offer too: as ever, this is employed with varying degrees of success …

Story-wise, Coscarelli adapts Pargin’s source material for the screen and the results are fast-moving, sometimes confusing (the blurring of reality and altered state – such as being able to take a telephone call from a person’s alternate self while their actual being sits conversing with you across a table) but always fun. There are inevitably online purists who moan that too much has been chopped from the novel. Although not having read that, I can see how Amy’s character could potentially have been compromised (apparently she’s a major aspect of the book, whereas here she’s less involved) and I do imagine the opening riddle concerning an axe probably makes much greater sense given more context.

But compromises are almost always made when adapting a piece of literature for the screen. What remains in Coscarelli’s screenplay is still incredibly busy (perhaps a tad TOO busy?), so I dare say he’s justified in most of his decisions.

Wildly energetic and undeniably original, JOHN DIES AT THE END also benefits from lovingly fashioned production design (superbly brought out by shooting on the Red One camera) and a suitably lively score from Brian Tyler.

Undoubtedly an acquired taste, JOHN DOES AT THE END is silly, unpredictable and even a little smug at times. But by-and-large it is also extremely entertaining, and incredibly refreshing in this age of endless ‘found footage’ and torture porn bores. Oh, and that title isn’t as much of a spoiler as you’re probably thinking …

Eureka! bring JOHN DIES AT THE END to DVD in its uncut version, presenting the film in a superb anamorphic transfer which respects the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Images are pin-sharp and clean, detail is excellent throughout. The colour schemes are very deliberate in their stylised, Del Toro-esque hues and they’ve been adhered to perfectly here. There's nothing to beef about in this top quality transfer.

Likewise, the English 5.1 audio track on offer is supremely justified by way of considered channelling and a clarity that rivals most lossless mixes. Optional English subtitles are also on hand for the Hard-of-Hearing, and are similarly well-presented.

The screener disc provided for review purposes is a bit of a puzzler. It contains not only the film but also a fine selection of extras. However, when this film comes out the DVD will be a bare-bones affair (containing the film only) while the extras will be exclusive to its blu-ray variant. This to me seems a tad shitty as the picture quality of the main feature is not compromised at all by the inclusion of the extra features on this screener DVD.

Anyhow, for the benefit of potential blu-ray buyers, the bonus content is as follows:

An enjoyable audio commentary track featuring the affable Coscarelli in conversation with Mike Patton-lookalike Mayes, Williamson and co-producer Brad Baruh. It’s a predictably fun and packed affair, and yet it fails to clarify any of the narrative’s more confusing moments.

Nine deleted scenes follow, which collectively run for just under 10 minutes. These all look as good the main feature but offer little of consequence. Perhaps the best of these is a TV interview with Marconi, purely because gives a little more of the superb Brown.

"Getting Sauced" is a pitifully short (6 minutes) Making Of featurette, offering a mix of behind-the-scenes footage and onscreen interviews. Interestingly, although already touched upon in the commentary track, Coscarelli reveals how he came to make this film after receiving an email from Amazon randomly recommending the book to him.

An 8-minute featurette on the design of the film’s numerous creature FX is more insightful.

We also get 7 minutes of original casting session footage. This is a little tiresome despite its meagre running time. I suppose it’s nice to have from a completist’s point of view.

A 10-minute interview with Giamatti is most worthy. This finds the acclaimed actor in relaxed mode as he chats to Fangoria about how he was keen to get involved in a Don Coscarelli film, along with voicing his passion for genre films in general.

Finally, the film’s original trailer runs for just over 2 minutes and does a good job of making it look screwy.

Imagine a high-speed hybrid of BUBBA HO-TEP, MEN IN BLACK, PAN’S LABYRINTH and NAKED LUNCH, and you’ll be only halfway to visualising what Don Coscarelli’s latest film has to offer, There’s certainly precious little else like it out there, and that’s just one of the reasons JOHN DIES AT THE END has ‘cult item’ written all over it.

Kudos to Eureka! for stepping away from their usual fare and bringing it to the UK home video market.

By Stuart Willis

Released by Eureka
Region 2
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review