I met Phantasm director and writer Don Coscarelli once. Well, “met”. It was a screening of Phantasm at the Hollywood Cemetery, where he introduced the movie. I made my way over to where he’d been buttonholed by a few fans. When my turn came, I said something about how Phantasm was a huge part of my childhood.
“Must have been quite a childhood,” he said.
I suppose it was. So I feel awful that I don’t like John Dies at the End, an obvious labor of love from Coscarelli, a guy who’s early contribution to horror is infinitely more valuable than anything Wes Craven did before Nightmare on Elm Street. But for whatever reason, Coscarelli never had his own Nightmare on Elm Street.
After the jump, balls of silver only get you so far
You get a good sense for the youthful irreverence of David Wong’s John Dies at the End web series from Coscarelli’s movie adaptation. But the execution feels very WB, and that’s not a compliment. The bargain-bin production values, the attractive smirking actors, and the flat “let’s-shoot-it-and-get-out-of-here-we-only-have-the-set-for-another-hour” direction all detract from a funny but somewhat compromised adaptation of the horror comedy. Call it Scott Pilgrim vs. Cthulhu and keep in mind that sometimes geek culture doesn’t translate well.
But this is only a problem if you’re hoping Coscarelli will tap into what he did with Bubba Ho-tep (forget tapping into Phantasm, which is a precious artifact of 70s cinema, the essence of which eluded Coscarelli for two and a half sequels). Bubba Ho-tep was a delightfully uneven mix of gravity and silliness, part meditation on mortality, part goofy mummy shenanigans, resting comfortably on writer Joe Lansdale’s original story and actor Bruce Campbell’s years of committed B-movie performances. John Dies at the End, the product of a rather precocious but frivolous horror comedy series and not much else, is no Bubba Ho-tep.
It works occasionally as a light comedy, and it’s not nearly as bad as the wretched adaptation of the Dylan Dog comics (Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, starring Brandon Routh), which it slightly resembles. Some of the gore is fun to watch and it unfolds unpredictably enough if you’re new to the series. Lead actor Chase Williamson very nearly pulls it off. It’s amazing how everything comes alive when Paul Giamatti, who also produced the movie, shows up to just react to things. It’s too bad they couldn’t work Giamatti in as anything other than a framing device. It’s also intriguing to see full body puppeteer Doug Jones not wearing a creepy suit in a Guillermo del Toro movie. He’s best known as the guy in the Abe costume in Hellboy and the guy in the Pale Man costume in Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s so thin that he looks like CG.
John Dies at the End is available for VOD now and starts a limited theatrical tour at the end of the month. You can support Qt3 by