I wrote a couple months back that the recent coming of age comedy Dope was a sort of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World for 90s hip hop geeks & bucket hat enthusiasts. A snarkily overwritten, but genuinely sincere & visually expressive comedy for video game & manga-addled teens, Scott Pilgrim has become an unofficial benchmark for young adult media with highly specific target audiences. Viewed from that perspective, John Dies at the End can be understood as a Scott Pilgrim descendant for teen schlock junkies, a comedy specifically aimed at young B-movie nerds. That is, if John Dies can be understood at all.
The trick to appreciating John Dies at the End is allowing yourself to get on its wavelength & roll with the out of nowhere punches. The film does adopt a helpful interview & flashback story structure to vaguely rein itself in, but it’s mostly a loose collection of horror movie tangents that take on subjects as wide & as varied as zombies, alien invasions, exorcisms, demons, the Apocalypse, abandoned malls, heroic dogs, white rappers and alternate universes. The doorway to these swirls of madness is a mysterious needle drug known as “soy sauce”, the only real connective tissue to the film’s off-the-wall proceedings.
The episodic structure of John Dies would lend itself quite nicely to a Joss Whedon-esque television series, but in its cinematic form it feels much like a long string of practical jokes, cheekily playing with audience expectations at nearly every turn. Whether it’s a mustache suddenly taking winged flight or household objects transforming into floppy cocks, much of John Dies‘ humor is derived from the mischievous element of surprise. There are a few genuinely funny (and surprisingly vulgar) turns of phrase in the dialogue, like in the line “A toast to all the kisses I’ve snatched . . . and vice versa”, but it’s generally the film’s “Everything you know is wrong” edict that drives most of its amusement.
Just like how Scott Pilgrim felt authentic to its video game & manga roots, John Dies at the End is smart to stick to what makes B-movies great. Besides its genuinely eccentric weirdness, the film also boasts a tendency towards practical effects & grotesque creatures befitting even films like Possession or the best works of Cronenberg. John Dies even backs up its Scott Pilgrim connection by depicting the titular character playing guitar in a rock band, a trope also cringingly echoed in Dope. If any of the three films I’ve cited in this (admittedly loosely connected) genre appeal to me directly based on my personal tastes, John Dies at the End is an easy favorite. It’s overenthusiastic chase for a B-movie aesthetic is firmly in my wheelhouse & I ended up enjoying the film quite a bit once I gave into its purposefully messy charms.