CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a guest appearance by Michael Arruda)
(THE SCENE: An all-night Chinese restaurant at midnight. DAVID WONG —looking a lot like actor Chase Williamson—sits in a booth. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES enter and sit down across from him)
WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.
LS: We’re professionals. Of course we made it.
WONG: Did anyone follow you?
MA: No, I made sure to drive erratically to throw anyone off our trail.
LS: You drove like that on purpose?
MA: Of course I did.
LS: Yeah, sure.
WONG: Enough of your bickering. I only have a limited time to tell you all about the soy sauce and the creatures from another dimension and the remarkable Dr. Albert Marconi.
LS: No need. We just saw the movie. We’re all up to date.
WONG: Are you sure? Did you watch the right movie?
LS: Of course we did!
MA: Calm down. Why don’t you tell him what you saw?
LS: Okay, sure. The movie JOHN DIES AT THE END is the tale of David Wong, who looked just like you…
LS: Wong is in a restaurant, just like this one, telling his tale to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It’s about how he was pulled into a secret plan to save the Earth, along with his friend John (Rob Mayes), who sings in a punk rock band called Three Armed Sally.
Wong’s story begins with a chance meeting with a Jamaican guy at a party named Robert Marley, who tells David several things he should not know. Later that night, or rather the next morning at 3am, David is awoken by a call from his friend John, begging for help. He goes to help John battle some supernatural baddies and then ends up in a police station where a detective tells him that the night before, a bunch of people went to the trailer of a certain Robert Marley after a party and four are missing, the rest are dead, and John is a suspect. David has no clue what is going on, but a phone call from John (that was made the night before but just reaches him now) tells him he needs to get out of there. But he has to fight a man who appears to be a cop (but isn’t) first.
To explain beyond this (early) point would be kind of pointless. JOHN DIES AT THE END isn’t that kind of linear, straight-forward movie that caters to an easy synopsis. Suffice to say that David Wong goes on an adventure that involves a girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese) who has one prosthetic hand, her dog Bark Lee, Dave’s friend Fred (Jimmy Wong), a white rapper wannabe named Justin White (Jonny Weston), the world-famous magician Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown), and John, who dies early on in the movie, but doesn’t exactly stay dead.
The catalyst for all this is a drug called “soy sauce” (because that’s what it looks like). When you take it, either it creates vivid hallucinations or opens your mind to realities we aren’t normally aware of. I’m not saying which. It’s also alive and when ingested it either kills you, or uses you for its own purposes. And those purposes ultimately involve a plot by people in an alternate world who worship a living machine called Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), and their desire to enter our plane of existence and make our world like theirs—a horrible place that lives only to serve Korrok.
The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…
LS: …this is getting a little confusing.
The movie is pretty good. mainly because you’re never sure what is going to happen next. I liked the fast, witty repartee in this one, and the rapid-fire pacing. A lot of times critics compare certain movies to amusement park rides, like roller coasters, but this movie lives up to the comparison.
It was directed by the great Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the classic PHANTASM (1979), THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), and he does another cracker jack job here, bringing the novel to life.
The cast is pretty solid. I liked Chase Williamson as Wong a lot, he was a strong central character here…
LS: And the great Paul Giamatti rarely gives a bad performance. He’s good here, too, but his character is mostly around so Wong can tell him his story (and in the process, tell us). Rob Mayes, who plays John, might be familiar to some people from TV shows like the new version of 90210 and THE CLIENT LIST. And Clancy Brown, as the all-powerful Marconi, has been in tons of stuff from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) to STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and lots of television shows. I thought he was especially good in the sadly short-lived HBO series CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005), where he played Brother Justin Crowe.
Other recognizable faces include Angus Scrimm (the “Tall Man” from the PHANTASM movies) as a priest named Father Shellnut. And Doug Jones—mostly known for roles where he’s not so recognizable, including Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY movies, the Faun and the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, 2006, and the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, 2007—plays a strange alien being named Roger North.
The cast is really good and the story gives us a good mix of thrills and laughs. The sheer unpredictable nature of the movie is what makes it so unique and enjoyable. Not everything is perfect—but for the most part I thought it worked really well. I give it three knives. People should check this one out.
WONG: Just three, huh?
LS: Errr…Tell him what you thought of it, Michael?
MA: I didn’t see it.
LS: What are you talking about? Of course you saw it. You were telling me all about it in the ride up here.
MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.
(MA begins to make strange noises)
WONG: I think there’s something wrong with your friend.
(MA suddenly turns into a gooey monster with writhing tentacles)
LS: That wasn’t Michael at all! I’ve been tricked!
(WONG pulls out a gun and blasts the creature, which disintegrates.)
LS: Whew. That was a close call.
WONG: Your mission has been compromised. They’re on to us.
LS: I guess that means I better leave, huh?
WONG: Do what you want, but I’m out of here.
LS: Wow. Neat trick.
(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)
LS: I’ll have number 4 and number 15 to go, and make it quick. Okay?
WAITRESS: Right away, sir.
LS (to audience): Well, at least this wasn’t a total loss.
© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares
LL Soares gives JOHN DIES AT THE END ~three knives.