Director: Don Coscarelli
Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Glynn Turman, Clancy Brown, Fabianne Therese and Paul Giamatti
Plot: The world of two slackers, David Wong and John (Williamson and Mayes), is turned upside down, when they discover a drug, called ‘Soy Sauce’ that lets them see into a hell dimension.
While I have not read the novel this film is based on, I have read the sequel and it was one of the funniest, most random books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. David Wong (yes, the author named the main character after himself. So what?!), has such a brilliant imagination and his refusal to take a story about hell rising up and destroying the world with any sort of seriousness is contagiously amusing. The film struggles to capture the charm of the book, but it does a lot of stuff right. Let’s start with the good stuff.
The jokes are told perfectly. The book is really random, with pieces of meat flying together to make a monster created from cold turkey. There is a scene where a door handle turns into a penis and none of the characters want to open the door, because it means touching dick. In fact, one of the charms of reading Wong’s novel is that it is almost impossible to imagine. The sense of hell on earth is really strong, because it feeds off this idea that no one can tell what it would actually look like. However, Don Coscarelli really tries to get it off its feet. This film was made for less than a million and I think it is the cheap Indie style that pulls it off. The monsters look really crap, but in a weird way, it harkens the old-timey Sci-Fis, like Flash Gordon. They are used sparingly as well, just showing us enough to wet the palette. The randomness also helps avoid the usual pitfalls of bad CGI. A scene where a horde of giant killer spiders tear apart helpless sacrifices is told through cartoon graphics. It is so random and you need to take this movie with a pinch of salt, but if you like watching movies unlike anything you have seen before, you need to check John Dies at the End out. There will never be a movie like this again.
The little details work well too. Coscarelli makes this with the book in mind. The casting of unknown actor Chase Williamson is on-the-nose. He is exactly how I imagined him from the book, walking around set-pieces with a detached shell-shocked state. The sarcastic tone is very apparent throughout and it pokes holes at the Sci-Fi, time travel and horror genre, making it a refreshing break from the rest of cinema. It also added a Noir style to the story, which I didn’t really think of before, but it helped convey the mental process of David’s character. It also helps lead towards some of the more random jokes, hitting the mark every time. It helps that Paul Giamatti was invested into the project, a fan of the novel this film was based on. He features as a connecting tool for the story, but his fame and gravitas make this film feel more than a forgettable movie that struggles to take itself seriously. I wouldn’t recommend this movie for anyone that isn’t prepared to go on a journey with this movie. If you can’t mesh with the humour, then this will be a very painful two hours for you.
It does fall apart, when you compare it to the book, but alas, it is a tough novel to adapt. It tries to cram as much as it can into a movie format, but the books are just too long. The novel reads very fast-paced, so each one gets through a lot of material. The movie doesn’t get around to embracing the wider universe and it also travels so fast, it is impossible to connect with anyone that isn’t David, John or the dog. Even Amy, who was a great character in the second book, doesn’t make as much of an impression as I hoped she would. The movie has fun with the universe of David Wong’s book, but it never becomes a story in its own right. It never settles onto any format, always on the move. It feels like a very long TV show pilot. What we are given is better than good; it is still better than anything I could have imagined from a movie adaption of this crazy novel, but I would still recommend trying the book over the movie.
Final Verdict: A worthy adaptation, proving that a movie of this book is possible, but, in all honesty, it just made me want to read the novel again.