You may or may not be familiar with the work of Jason Pargin already. If you’ve ever visited Cracked.com, then you may know him by his pseudonym, David Wong. Here, Pargin adapts his own book, written by his alter ego, of the same name, starring his pseudonym self.
Confused? Well get used to it, because this is about as normal and mundane as it gets. Aided and abetted by director Don Coscarelli (Bubba Ho-Tep), Pargin (or Wong, please yourself) has created a world that defies categorisation. Labelled with various degrees of futility as another Naked Lunch, Hithc-Hikers Guide or Bill & Ted, John Dies At The End is a cult indie just waiting to be recognised. Starring Chase Williamson (David) and Rob Mayes (John), this complete and total headfuck of a story is difficult to pigeon-hole, tricky to second-guess and nigh on impossible to forsee (unless you have read the book, of course)
Labelled thusly by Imdb “A new street drug that sends its users across time and dimensions has one drawback: some people return as no longer human. Can two college dropouts save humankind from this silent, otherworldly invasion?” JDATE is all of these things and plenty more besides. This laughable synopsis barely scratches the surface of this bizarre tale of two friends that innocently do the wrong kind of drug one night at a party and all hell breaks loose. Whether this is in their own heads or not, or how much of it may be nothing more than overactive imagination, well, that’s a decision you need to make for yourself. I wouldn’t try, however, as just like mother nature, just when you’ve think you’ve got a handle on it, it throws something at you like a duck-billed playpus, just to fuck up your initally well-thought out explanation of mammals.
And to be honest, I was more oblivious to the existence of this story and its magically tragic characters than the director himself, who only became aware of its existence by happy accident. It was made known to him as a recommendation from Amazon, after buying a completely different book. Taken by the natty title, Coscarelli decided to give Wong’s adventure a whirl and what you see here is his (and Jason’s/David’s) adaptation.
I was even slower, only catching the second book ‘This Book Is Full Of Spiders’ in the saga as a recommendation on Audible. If nothing else, it proves that Both Coscarelli and I are nothing if not open-minded and appreciate the benefits technology can offer. Essentially, without our computers, I would have missed a great story and cinema would be one very odd film short of complete.
Regularly gory and occasionally amusing, seeing these characters on screen is like getting a hug from an old friend that you haven’t seen for some time, but can’t honestly say you’ve missed all that much. Yes, it’s nice to see them and the casting is creepily accurate, but this is such a strange and bizarre world, that just like the aformentioned Naked Lunch, you’re not sorry to be out of it when you’re done.
It doesn’t have anything like the same creeping dread and slithery tension provided by Cronenberg, however, concentrating its running time with comedy more than horror. The Shaun Of The Dead approach of being surprised by something so otherworldly and just how someone completely unprepared to deal with it copes with being put in this situation is where the story hangs its hat. The second book continues this approach with most of the characters of not make re-appearances, aswell as that legendary soy sauce.
Ultimately, this film is bonkers. In that respect, it is frightfully honourable to the original text, with only a few things changed to make a very strange book slip comfortably from page to screen. The casting, as mentioned, is brilliant. Sometimes, you might get lucky and find that the casting director has matched up maybe one character that you have forseen yourself whilst reading the initially faceless pages. Here, we are treated to at least three characters that you can name without so much as hearing them speak.
A good translation from one medium to another, but it really does benefit from having a copy of the book recently soaked up, as otherwise you may find yourself bombarded by things that just do not make sense. When you begin to understand that this is just another part of the beauty of the story itself, you can relax, knowing that, perhaps, you shouldn’t try and take it too seriously. A survival horror game, reduced to feature-length proportions for a greedy audience. It’s not a classic and the script is, much like its source, simple, alarmist and base. Still, bloody good fun, nonetheless.