John Dies at the End [thoughts + spoilers]


Film: John Dies at the End

Director: Don Coscarelli [guy who did Phantasm films]

Writer of the book [not sure about the screenplay]: David Wong

Genre: Bizarro sci-fi

Starring: 2 guys you don’t know, Paul Giamatti, Toto.

Is Clancy Brown in it? Yes.

Does he play a prison guard? No.

Why not? No prisons to guard.


I’m not writing for anyone that pays, so I’ll skip the intro/preamble and the through line argument and just write down some random notes.

Note: I’ve never read the book, but I have seen the film, so that’s what I’m going off.

It’s an empty world

First thing I noticed was a lack of parents. A lack of anyone, actually. The restaurant at the beginning doesn’t seem to have any waiters or waitresses or even customers except David and Paul Giamatti. There might’ve been a maitre’d when Giamatti first entered, I can’t remember, but if there was, they didn’t appear again.

Neither John nor David lives with their parents. The only oldies in the whole film are Giamatti, the police officer and Clancy Brown.

When David escapes from the police station, there’s no one else on the street. There’s no one at the mall [probably because it’s after hours, but still, kids usually hang around outside malls at night, don’t they?] and there aren’t many people in the fucked up alternate dimension either.

Lack of people = creepy atmosphere

I can’t think of many other films, with young adults as the main characters, where they live alone and don’t have jobs. Or they don’t go to their jobs in the film, at least. It really does add a lot to the bizarro feel of the thing. Well done, Don.

Is David funny?

I think he’s supposed to be. The guy who wrote this is the editor of cracked, he clearly writes humour [and is usually okay at it], and David Wong is the pseudonym he uses. In case it’s not clear, David Wong is the name of the author and the main character. So, David is the straight man who’s main function is to react to all the weird things happening to him in a bemused way, which should in turn be funny [similar to Steve Martin in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’]. Whichever way John reacted to all the same weird things doesn’t matter…it could’ve been similar to David, or weirder even, but we never see this side of him as he’s always two or three steps ahead of the plot, so, basically, it’s surplus, and if they’d tried to shove it in, it would’ve fucked up Coscarelli’s efforts to keep the film under 90 minutes.

Note: John disappears for most of the first half of the film…that’s why we don’t see his reactions, that’s why it’s unimportant.

David is the plot follower, basically. We follow him and he shares our reactions to things like the meat monster and the police man in the interrogation room who isn’t really there but can still strangle people…and the reactions generally work, they ground the film in something close to our reality…but I’m not sure about his lines.

I’m guessing he’s around 20 years old, maybe a little older…I can never tell with American films/TV because they cast guys who are 29 as teenagers…but I’ll assume he’s around 20. His lines aren’t really that funny, they’re just basic responses that most people would give, which means one of two things:

1] The writer was trying to make him funny, but isn’t as funny as he thinks he is, so the character isn’t funny.

2] The writer doesn’t think 20 year olds are funny, but he’s aware they think they’re the funniest people on the planet so he wrote a guy who is caustic and glib most of the time yet also unaware that no-one’s really laughing.

I’m not sure which it is…actually, I can’t even remember how often David is caustic in the film as it’s been a couple of months since I watched it. Maybe it’s not as extensive as I remember…

Never mind, the reactions sell most of the humour, even if the lines aren’t that great.

The ending is cheap, but the other ending is so weird it almost works…

To clarify:

The ending where the dog jumps into the alternate dimension blob creature and kills it is worthless. I didn’t care about the dog. I didn’t genuinely think the blob was going to take over our dimension. I didn’t think the cave was a great set. I didn’t care what happened to either John or David. I didn’t understand why John was still alive at the end.

Basically, it was a typical resolution to a plot that, up to that point, was brilliantly zig-zagging all over the place. Forty minutes in, I had no idea where it was going. Eighty minutes in, as soon as they entered that cave, I knew where it was going and it wasn’t to a very interesting place.

The part where I felt this could really be something special was when John escaped from the police station and there was no one else on the street apart from the hot dog guy. At that moment, it had the potential to go anywhere and I actually paused it and thought, man, this could go anywhere, I wonder what will happen next, maybe Danny Trejo or Jane Fonda will show up [The only other time I’ve done that is with John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ when I was 13].

But then the blob creature appeared [not Jane Fonda].

If only they hadn’t gone to such a bland alternate dimension. Can’t think why they did…maybe they ran out of cash…or maybe it worked better in the book…

I don’t know.

The other ending…where Paul Giamatti turns out to be a dead black man…that was surprising. I didn’t really feel much for him as a character, but it was a good enough twist to make me think back on the plot to figure out why he had been killed like that.

There’s a third ending too…another alternate dimension where men in small ships float down to the basketball court and ask for John and David to save their world…but we’ll leave that one as it wasn’t funny and it had zero emotional weight. Who are these floating ship men? Do they all live near the basketball court? Why are we seeing this?

Emotional weight is a problem throughout the whole film. The characters don’t show enough variety in their behaviour to make us really care if they get devoured by the blob creature or go back to their big, empty houses and wonder why they have no parents. David is just puzzled most of the time and John flits in and out of the story, talking nonsense and being hyper. There is a funny line where he sees the Asian kid in the back of the truck and says, ah, we must be going to the mall, not coming back from it as that guy’s still alive. The kid’s reaction is priceless.

But apart from that, there’s nothing. David is in constant danger of being killed and he always has the same ‘am I really in a film?’ expression. John is already dead, then he’s not, then they’re facing a blob creature that wants to eat them and…nothing.

It’s just something that’s happening, really. It doesn’t actually mean anything. Which is a shame as the plot’s definitely there in the first half of the film…the problem is the characters just can’t sell it as anything other than weird.

Is it worth seeing?

Up to the point where they leave the mall and cross into the other dimension, yes.

How many minutes is Clancy Brown on screen for?

One minute and forty seven seconds.

Does Paul Giamatti do blackface?

No, thank god.

Why is he a white guy pretending to be black?

Wrong way round. He’s actually a black guy who thinks he’s white. Or he’s a black guy who doesn’t know that his ghost looks like a white guy to other people.

Either way, he neither raps nor shoots a gun.

But he’s a black guy in an American film…

Yeah, it’s weird. He’s a journalist, more like a Samuel Delany type figure than Ice T.

Sounds like a good thing…

It is.

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