John Dies at the End

John Dies at the End is now available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: Movie Dies at the End but is great until then.

John Dies at the EndJohn Dies at the End (2012) – Rated R

“Promising a trip that transcends time and space, a drug called Soy Sauce is sweeping the landscape — and quietly robbing users of their humanity. Now, it’s up to a couple of slackers to stop the psychotropic invasion before it’s too late.”

I’ve always been meh about writer/director Don Coscarelli’s popular Phantasm series. I think the problem was that not only did I not catch them when they came out at the theater but that by the time I did, I expected a horror movie with a straight forward narrative and decent acting. They are certainly inventive and dream-like. I was blown away by Bubba Ho-Tep. Not only was there nothing like it but it was really good as were the two leads. The incredibly rampant profanity is offputting at first but really works in context.

I was really looking forward to catching John Dies at the End in the theater. It opened at our local Carolina and, being busy, planned to catch it on the second week. Amazingly it only lasted the one but here we are a month and a bit later and its already on instant Netflix. Lucky me!

Unlike Coscarelli’s other films, John Dies at the End is an adaptation of a book and not an original work. Coscarelli still wrote the screenplay. I have not read the book so I am not able to comment on comparisons.

The opening is an absolutely brilliant reframing of an old existential question to wonderful effect. The movie continues being marvelously weird right up through the ending. The finale appears to be the only weak point – the long, strange trip has to wrap up and it does, in haste. As if to apologize, there are a large number of bonus scenes that play out over the end credits.

All of the actors are engaging. Unknown Chase Williamson plays our lead, Dave and Rob Mayes is his best friend, the titular John. Both are quite likable. They are backed up by veteran actors, Paul Giamatti as a reporter and Clancy Brown as the mysterious Dr. Marconi. Glynn Turman steals the show as Detective Lawrence Appleton.

It is obvious that John Dies at the End has a low budget but Coscarelli actually makes that work for him, adapting the story and locales to suit the budget. Again, only the finale really seems to have run out of money. John Dies at the End is a wonderful, strange trip – you may not like the destination but you’ll really enjoy the ride.

Now Mr. Coscarelli, where is my Bubba Nosferatu?

People Watch: Look for the ultra-thin Doug Jones as Roger North. He is more regularly seen covered in heavy makeup as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, Ice Cream Man in Legion, Fauno in Pan’s Labyrinth, Joey in Men in Black II, and my favorite, one of the gentleman in the “Hush” episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.

 

Mimic

Mimic is currently available on instant Netflix.

Mimic (1997) – Rated R

“Mira Sorvino stars as an entomologist whose work results in the eradication of disease-carrying cockroaches, only to create a new breed of lethal, man-sized insect in the sewer systems of New York City.”

Sometimes an insect will even mimic its predator.”

How do you make a good horror movie? It certainly helps to hire a visionary director like Guillermo del Toro. Guillermo del Toro disavowed Mimic in the end because of the monumental interference he suffered from the studio. The interference was so bad that afterwards he went back to Mexico. Still Mimic is an excellent horror movie.

Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins wrote the screen story and screenplay. It is based on the short story, Mimic, by Donald A. Wollheim. The screenplay is well-plotted and very literate. It also wisely allows things to unfold over time.

Another nice ingredient in a good horror movie is to fill it with good actors. Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino is quite good as Dr. Susan Tyler. Her partner in the accidental creation of the creatures is Dr. Peter Mann, played by Jeremy Northam. Northam was recently in The Tudors as Sir Thomas More. The final member of their team is pistachio-eating Josh, amusingly played by Oscar-nominated Josh Brolin.

The supporting roles are filled by good actors as well. Dr. Tyler’s mentor is Dr. Gates, played by Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham. Golden Globe-nominated Charles Dutton plays Leonard. Finally Oscar-nominated Giancarlo Giannini plays Manny, a father searching desperately for his lost boy.

In addition to the visionary director, good actors and literate script, Mimic also features great creature design, set design, and wonderful special effects. Backing Guillermo up was none other than Robert Rodriguez as the second unit director.

While Mimic is excellent, I would love to see what del Toro’s original vision was, especially given how fantastic Pan’s Labyrinth was. Guillermo recently released a Director’s Cut on Blu-Ray that he says he is happy with, being the best he could piece together with the elements available. Be aware that this film deals extensively with bugs, both giant and of the cockroach variety.

People Watch: Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones plays Long John #3 here. He played Fauno and Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth and Abe Sapien in the two Hellboy movies as well as Chamberlain and the Angel of Death in Hellboy II. Distinctive character actor Julian Richings, Death in Supernatural, plays a workman here. Norman (Boondock Saints) Reedus briefly plays Jeremy. Reedus is enjoying success as Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead.

Sequel-itis: Obviously an iconic monster like the insects in Mimic have to be replicated. The straight-to-video sequels Mimic 2 (2001) and Mimic: Sentinel (2003) are quite forgettable.