I had the pleasure of attending a pre-release screening in New York on Jan. 7 of a horror comedy by filmmaker Don Coscarelli (“Phantasm,” “Bubba Ho-Tep“) called “John Dies at the End.” Paul Giamatti (“Sideways“) plays a role in the film and served as one of the executive producers, and the two participated in a Q&A after the screening. The movie will land in theaters on Jan. 25, 2013.
I’ve never been a fan of horror films, and “John Dies at the End” is decidedly a “lad flick.” There are moments when the gore made me flinch, but I handled most of it fine. That’s because I thoroughly laughed my you-know-what off during the movie, and most of the gore is done in a cartoonish way, spoofing the horror genre.
This movie is just plain laugh-out-loud funny and tremendously inventive. Based on the book by Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin under the pseudonym, David Wong, “John Dies at the End” started out as an Internet phenomenon in 2007. Again, this is not the type of book I would normally read, but the film made me want to pick up a copy.
The two main characters, David and John, are college dropouts and unlikely heroes played by Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes. A street drug called “soy sauce” sends those infected with it across time and into other dimensions. When they come back less than human, chaos (and hilarity) ensues. The postcard handed to us at the screening said, “Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can’t.”
The chaos includes a monster made of pieces of meat from a freezer, which Coscarelli said was largely put together with low-tech tape and monofilament. Nevertheless, the result manages to look very much like a computer-generated creature.
Coscarelli told us he came across the book by accident because he “allows” himself to read a couple of zombie novels every year. ”I got this email out of the blue from a robot at Amazon,” he said, “which told me that if I liked that zombie fiction, I would love ‘John Dies at the End,’ and the robot was right.”
“The book was great,” he continued, “and David Wong’s talent and creativity was just phenomenal. And I was lucky enough to make contact with him and get him to sign the rights over to us to turn it into a film.”
Of course, the book had to be condensed for the screen. “I was so excited when I first sat down to start reading the book,” Coscarelli said. “I think it might be one of the greatest titles in film or literature there ever was. I just love the fact that he discloses something like that. But as I was reading the book, I was really hoping that it would work as a movie. And it did … for about the first third. And then, it just takes this left turn into an area that’s just not filmable…. Then, it came around to a pretty simple and correct conclusion, I thought. So, what I did was took out those sections.”
One of the heroic characters in the movie is a dog, and someone asked why the dog was named “Bark Lee” in the film. It turns out that they couldn’t rename the dog and get him to respond to the name of his character. ”He was not the most top level professional dog,” Giamatti said, “so he would only respond to his actual name.”
“This was his first role,” Coscarelli added. “He’s looking for an agent now.”
When Giamatti mentioned the name of his production company, Touchy Feely Films, everyone laughed. “You think I should change it?” he asked. “Was it the wrong idea? Oh, sh**! Well, it’s too late now. We have the cards printed up and everything.”
The pair will hopefully team up to make a movie of Wong’s sequel book with the great title, “This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It.”
Someone asked Giamatti what his speech would be on Oscar night when “John Dies at the End” inevitably wins best picture. “This kind of thing should win every kind of f***ing award possible,” he said. “Don makes movies with real sincerity, which is why they’re so weird … And I want to thank the Academy.”
“John Dies at the End” isn’t for everybody, but considering that I’m probably not its target audience and still enjoyed it immensely, I think it will have wide appeal. Of course, if you’re into the horror genre, it’s an absolute must-see.