Tonight at the Shattuck Cinema, Northern California will get its first official look at Don Coscarelli’s newest genre defying film John Dies at the End. Spoiler alter: John does not die at the end. He dies about a third of the way through, but that doesn’t really matter because death doesn’t really matter because time, the universe, and all that jazz is some kind of cosmic pretzel. It all makes sense, but mostly it is just a hell of a fun ride.
Let me describe the opening of film. Our hero David hacks the head off a man with a cheap ax from Home Depot. In the process, he breaks the ax handle. He goes to the hardware store and gets a new handle for the ax. Another event causes him to break the ax head. He goes to the hardware store again and replaces the head. When he gets back home, the reanimated man he killed at the beginning (his head reattached with plastic weed trimmer line) comes back. He sees the ax and says, “That’s the ax that slayed me!” David posits the question, “Is he right?”
Ah! That’s the way all horror films should start: with a good philosophical question about the nature of reality. It really all does depend upon your definition of what is is. And what John Dies at the End is is a lot of stuff: gore fest; film noir; amputee romantic comedy; and, of course, treatise on the question of existence.
The film is nothing so much as a reminder that David Cronenberg used to make really great movies. This film reminded me a lot of Videodrome and especially eXistenZ. But, perhaps for personal reasons, I think that John Dies at the End is better than anything Cronenberg ever did. I always feel like an outsider while watching Cronenberg—his obsessions are not mine. But in John, I was fulling plugged in. Over the last few years, I’ve become more and more a mystic; existence is far more bizarre than we can imagine.
Consider, for example, this discussion of the nature of the universe (this is from A Brief History of Time):
To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think about this story. But what I do take away from it is that the old lady was right: turtles all the way down. When you start thinking about the nature of existence you are forced one way or another to just shrug your shoulders. Some find such thoughts really boring. Others, like me, find them forever fascinating.
John Dies at the End provides a concrete way to think about such things. Plus a lot of blood. And jokes.