Way, waaaaay back when, perhaps late 1979 or early to mid-1980, I got my hands on a betamax tape that carried a copy of the recently released horror film Phantasm.
There was an eeriness to the proceedings, of the story involving a young boy and the strange encounters he has with the supernatural. It was almost as if the movie presented a particularly twisted version of a fairy tale, complete with a very scary “witch” in the form of the “tall man” and his deadly spherical weapons.
The film, quite frankly, scared the living shit out of me.
Watching the film again many years later, it was obvious the original Phantasm was a no-budget work that featured some rather rough (ahem) acting and effects that weren’t all that good. While I suspect modern audiences may find the whole thing too slow and too cheesy, way back when Phantasm was a kick to the gut.
The years passed and sequels to the movie appeared. I wasn’t as into them as I was the original, but then in 2002 I heard about an oddball sounding horror-comedy called Bubba Ho-Tep. The plot certainly sounded intriguing: Elvis Presley is not dead but in an old age rest home along with a black man who believes he is John F. Kennedy. Together, the two old men face off against…a mummy’s curse?!
Clearly, one of the more…original…concepts out there. Even ten years later.
The best part of it all? Bruce Campbell was playing Elvis!
The film proved a delight, and it was only after doing some research on it I realized the director of that film, Don Coscarelli, was also the director of Phantasm, its sequels, and a few others, including the cult flick The Beastmaster. Since then, Mr. Coscarelli has been on my personal radar, and when I heard about his latest film, John Dies at the End, well, it was a must see.
Alas, the film appeared to have, at best, a very limited release. In fact, I don’t think it showed up at any of the theaters around my neck of the woods so I had to wait for Netflix to get their hands on it and, yesterday, I finally had a chance to give the film a look.
To put it simply: If you enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep, you’ll probably love this film as well. However, Bubba remains the superior product.
Having said that, John Dies at the End (JDE from now on) is well worth your time. The movie concerns two friends, Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) who, while at a party in which John sings with his band, stumble upon a strange drug known as “soy sauce” which grants its users some extraordinary abilities…and may lead to the destruction of Earth as we know it.
The story is told in media res, with the drugged out Dave talking to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) about the series of strange events that have led to this point in time. The movie begins on a potentially ominious note, but quickly establishes the tongue in cheek attitude that was prevalent in Bubba Ho-Tep, delivering each scare with an armful of chuckles.
What the film lacks, however, are the stronger stroy concepts and established actors that helped push Bubba Ho-Tep into being something truly special. This is not a knock against JDE’s young principals, but their characters are lacking when compared to following such historical figures as Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy. Further, JDE plays out like an extra weird two-part episode of the TV show Supernatural rather than a self-contained film.
Still, and despite these knocks, I still highly recommend John Dies at the End to anyone who enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep. When all is said and done, nothing may ever surpass the clever lunacy of Bubba Ho-Tep. However, while Mr. Coscarelli is still in the game and swinging, I’ll most certainly be around to watch.