In an early interview Coscarelli described the story as "Douglas Adams meeting Stephen King" and that’s a pretty accurate description. The story rides a hard Lovercraftian horror vibe throughout, making contact with multiple octopus-like creatures and different dimensions, but does so with a tongue in cheek script that keeps you smirking the whole time. Coscarelli does what he does best, creating a B horror movie with a bigger budget, and he does a good job at creating a followable narrative with such a strange script.
The movie really shines with the acting abilities of Rob Mayes and Chase Williamson, both relative unknowns. Williamson's portrayal of Dave Wong is reminiscent of Edward Norton in Fight Club, a skeptical narrator who sarcastically leads us through the story with voiceover monologues that Chuck Palahniuk wishes he wrote. Rob Mayes is consistently fun as the best friend John Cheese who is all too excited to be involved in this new monster filled world. The two play off each other really well and it’s a shame they didn’t have more on-screen time together, with over half the movie having Dave looking for John. We are also treated to a number of exciting cameos, with Doug Jones showing up as interdimensional creature, Clancy Brown as the powerful mystic Albert Marconi, Paul Giamatti as a reporter, and Angus Scrimm popping in as a blunt preacher with a potty mouth.
At times it seems like too much was crammed into one movie. The plot deviates pretty significantly from the novel, which is broken into three separate pieces. The book weighs in at a hefty 480 pages and it’s clear to see that some cutting and splicing had to be done to make the movie a viewable length while still making the plot feasible. A few different points of the movie seem illogical, almost unnecessary, but most of this is made up for by at least bringing a few laughs with it. It really rides the fringe of horror and comedy.
Through the course of the movie we do end up seeing bloodsucking slugs, a plethora of tentacles, reanimated corpses, mask-wearing naked cult followers and exploding heads but nothing is truly scary. Overall, the movie is just a lot of fun. It’s a cult classic in the making, full of genre vets and two newcomers who I hope to see a lot more of.
Coscarelli really hits it home, landing John Dies At The End right alongside of Bubba Ho-Tep as a ready-made cult classic that’s bizarre, well-acted and humorous.