John Dies at the End
I was given a copy of David Wong’s book “John Dies at the End” very shortly after it came out. It sat on my shelf for a good year or two before I actually picked it up.
I was hooked at once.
There’s a great humor and familiarity to this world. It’s simultaneously one of the funniest books I’ve vever read and one of the most terrifying. The humor of the characters is rivaled only by the terrify descriptions of the monsters. Seriously, the monsters he describes in this book give me chills. They get under you skin (no pun intended) and fill you with dread….even as John apologizes to Dave for repeatedly sending his phone pictures of his privates.
It’s very locker room humor, very phallic and not something I usually get into, but it just works here. The monsters are very inscetoid, and shadowy and pervasive. They warp reality in ways that only certain people can see (people who have been exposed to a drug nicknamed “Soy Sauce”). While every one else sees that poster of Ronald McDonald playing with kids, you see a picture of him blood stained and eating his own intestines. It’s terrifying, visceral and humorous at the same time. I couldn’t put the book down and when it was done I was kind of bummed because there was no more.
So why am I talking about a book released back in 2009? well, mostly because the sequel is out : “This Book Is Full Of Spiders”. Moreover a film adaptation of “John Dies at the End” is also out, and I’ve spent the weekend with both.
I’m really not terribly far into the book so I can’t speak with any knowledge about it except that it has the very same style and fun that the first book did and that’s no mean trick. Sequels are usually a lesser product, but so far this one really holds up. It’s nice to visit again with David, John and Amy back in that undisclosed town, and some of the things that have happened in the interim make perfect sense. If I didn’t have to go to work, I’d still be reading it right now.
Don’t get me wrong here. This is going to sound really negative, like I’m trashing the film. I’m not…..not exactly. Have you ever been drinking juice, then ran out and had to switch to pop? It feels thinner, less substantial. That’s the feeling I get from the film.
The problem here is that the movie was never going to do justice to the book. It’s too complex, too convoluted. The film manages to adapt the book by throwing out about 2/3rds of the story and that’s a bit of a problem because what they cut was most of the character development, and that’s where a lot of the humor is. The descision was made that this would be David’s story, that we would focus on his character. That means that John is way underused, and that just doesn’t fit for a buddy picture like this. John is the funny one. He’s Lou Costello. Can you imagine making a picture that was pretty much just Bud Abbott? It just doesn’t work right. The tone gets played straight a great deal so that even lines that feel funny in the book are delivered with a great deal more seriousness in the movie.
Speaking of Dave and John, these guys are just too…..pretty. Not at all what I imagined reading the book. They do try to scruff them up a little bit and they wear constantly perplexed facial expressions, but they still maintain way too much of their cover model looks. I imagined a couple of gangly, perpetually unshaven (patchy, not macho) guys with uncombed hair who looked like they might smell kind of bad. The picture on one of the earlier copies of the book comes a lot closer to what I thought they should look like. These guys are built. They have some meat on their bones, I imagined them kind of thin, almost bone daddy….not by choice mind you, mostly because they are a couple of broke slobs. It also occurs to me that for a couple of guys who were into booze and cigarettes as much as these guys, we really don’t see a lot of that in the movie.
Criticizing appearances isn’t exactly fair though. The character is never going to look in the film like they did in your head. I always imagined the restaurant David tells his story in to be more of a stark white diner kind of place rather than the moody atmospheric restaurant we get. That’s cool. I’m fine with that, but even if they don’t look the way you pictured them, the rolls can be cast in such a way that you forget all about what you expected. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy cast it’s roles so well I never minded that no one looked like I wanted them too (Well maybe Ford, but that’s it). In John Dies at the End, you really needed to cast ordinary looking people. EXTREMELY plain and ordinary. I keep coming back to this. They’re just to….pretty.
That goes for Amy as well. I really imagined her being mousey, always in baggy sweatshirts and reclusive. And for a major character in the book, she’s barely in the movie. Her characterization begins and ends at “missing a hand”. If she weren’t needed for a major plot point involving a ghostly door, I suspect she would have been left out entirely.
Now here’s the good news. This is a GOOD horror movie. It’s missing a lot of the humor and depth of the book, but it’s a cracking scary flick. The monsters are realized extremely well, far better than I could have imagined. Someone gave Don Coscarelli a budget for a change. The creatures are just as nightmarish as the book describes. So much so that My wife had to bail on the movie half way through. Even though they cut out huge chunks of the book, a lot of the movie and dialogue is straight off the page. As it was happening on screen I could almost see the page from the book in front of me that described the girl exploding into snakes.
Because it’s Don Coscarelli, there’s a bit of a Phantasm vibe to the movie. I don’t know if I’m reading into it because it’s him, or if it’s his style coming through, but you feel it in the narration and the interdimensional nature of the film, and how those things are portrayed. It works, especially if your a fan of Coscarelli or the phantasm movies.
At the end of the day, this is still a buy for me. It’s better if you see the movie first THEN read the book, but either way, this is a god movie. It’s showing on the big screen at the Capitol on February 15th and I’m planning on going. We’ll pop up a reminder here that week and would love to see you there!
I’m off to go try to sneak in a another chapter of spiders before I have to go back to work on Violent Blue.