Spoiler: John Dies at the End (a movie review-like article)

John Dies at the End is finally available on VOD services and it arrives about a month before it releases in theaters. I like it when movies do that. I don’t always want to pay the ten dollars for the smaller flicks that pre-release on VOD, but I am happy to report Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of the David Wong novel is worth it.

For the most part.

Pointing out the flaws in a movie like this is like refusing to go to bed with Marilyn Monroe because she has a mole on her face. All the great genre classics are flawed, from Escape to New York to Evil Dead 2. After time the movies become better because of their flaws and I suspect John Dies at the End will be no different. So, the occasionally goofy special effects aside, this movie’s a crowd-pleaser for sure.

Coscarelli was the director who presumably broke out when he made the ultra-low budget Phantasm, a movie about a tall, demonic man whose bidding was done by dwarfs and sentient spheres of metal. It’s not a very watchable movie these days, but I still have a soft spot for some of its sequels, particularly the gore scenes. There’s some memorable stuff in there and, hey, who wouldn’t want a four-barrel shotgun? The series also introduced me to a little known actor by the name of Reggie Bannister, who’s apparently referred to as “The hardest working man in horror.” There’s just something charming about this guy. The reason it’s awesome to see him play a hero in movies is because it’s so damn unexpected to see someone like him in movies at all. Tom Cruise, eat your heart out.

Speaking of Phantasm, “The Tall Man” (Angus Scrimm) makes a cameo in John Dies at the End as a priest.

Not very long ago, Coscarelli made Bubba Ho-Tep, in which the real Elvis Presley (played by Bruce Campbell) switches places with an Elvis impersonator to escape the smothering aspects of fame and fortune. Naturally, it’s the impersonator who died while the real Elvis is old and dying in a nursing home with what he refers to as “a growth on my pecker.” His best friend is a black man (the late, great Ossie Davis) who thinks he’s JFK, but his skin has been dyed black by the CIA. At night, a mummy sneaks into the nursing home and slays the elderly, one by one. Only Elvis and the black JFK can stop it.

I mention Bubba Ho-Tep because that marks the beginning of Coscarelli’s transformation into the stylistic director he is today. I think it’s safe to say this guy isn’t making a ton of money. He’s making movies way better than they have to be because it’s obviously what he likes to do. Sometimes the ideas are better than the execution, but you try making a movie for a hundred thousand dollars or so.

John Dies at the End is even harder to summarize than Bubba Ho-Tep’s whacky plot. It’s about a couple of slackers who’re addicted to a drug that makes them see things from another dimension. There’s an alien subplot, too, and a sometimes confusing order of events. I’m still not exactly sure when one of the opening scenes took place. Damn it, there I go again pointing out the flaws.

Just watch the trailer. If that appeals to you, then so should the movie. I have to go now. My hot dog is ringing.

Sinister won’t receive any complaints for false advertising

Sinister is the best horror film in a long time.

That isn’t saying much. Horror is currently in a lazy, intellectually offensive place right now because more than ever before it’s marketed to idiotic kids who wouldn’t know a good horror film if it splattered them in the face. Sinister isn’t made for kids and it reminds me of a time when they used to advertise Stephen King books on daytime television. Horror movies back then weren’t just made for children.

spoiler-filled trailer… watch the movie first

The film opens in grainy 8mm film. There’s a family of four—husband, wife, two kids—hooded and bound. There are nooses around their necks, the ropes of which are loosely draped over a tree branch above them. We see a pole saw cutting another tree branch where the ends of the nooses are tied. As that branch goes down, the family is slowly strung up. It’s a pretty effective shot and by now most of you should already know if it’s the kind of movie you want to see.

Enter Ethan Hawke, his wife, and two children, who are moving into the very house where that family lived. Hawke is a true crime writer who dreams of becoming the next Truman Capote. He got a taste of fame and fortune a few books ago, but proved to be a hack in the time since. Somehow his wife doesn’t know the history behind the house they’re moving into, which I found to be kind of silly; there’s usually red tape involved when buying psychologically distressed properties, isn’t there? And seriously, how often has your spouse gone to buy a house without involving you in the transaction?

The first act of the film, as with any horror film with a superficially idyllic family, is fat and bloated (see: the film version of Pet Semetary). Hawke’s character stumbles upon a box in the attic containing a bunch of snuff films and a home movie projector. The film canisters are labeled innocently enough: Family Hangin’ Out ’11. Pool Party ’66. Sleepy Time ’98. BBQ ’79. And my personal favorite is Lawn Work ’86 as it makes shocking use of a Honda lawnmower. (I don’t think that was product placement, by the way.)

Hawke, like any smart person would do, calls the police. But when he’s put on hold, he see his best-selling book on a shelf and realizes his discovery is going to make for a hell of a book. So he hangs up. And we groan because we know there are going to be at least as many thin excuses to keep Hawkes and his family in danger as there are genuine scares.

Things do indeed get sinister. Following a lead provided by a typical movie deputy, Hawke gets in touch with an occult expert (Vincent D’Onofrio) who says the symbols seen in each of the films reference a child-consuming demon. Demon or not, considering the scorpions and snakes in Hawke’s attic, I would have moved out of that fucking house on day one. This isn’t much of a spoiler and I feel it needs to be mentioned: it’s yet another horror movie in which there are “spooky” children in it. I know I’m not the only one who’s getting sick of that trend.

At the end of the day, it’s almost a worthwhile picture, just a little slow. Yeah, the term the filmmakers would probably prefer is “suspense-building,” but I don’t know. It didn’t really work for me. There was hardly anything I haven’t seen before. The film is certainly a little creepy, but it isn’t exactly scary. Although I’m not entirely disappointed I saw it despite the predictable ending and the fact that it, like most horror films today, has nothing to say.

A lot of people complain they don’t like Ethan Hawke. I do. Gattaca is one of the better examples of science fiction in film and Training Day is nothing short of brilliant. Hawke is integral to those movies working. He’s capable of playing a kind of character few can pull off (or maybe it’s a character many don’t want to try to attempt), but it’s a necessary character for many films. Here’s a hint for moviegoers who don’t like him: a lot of the time you’re not supposed to like him. That’s why he’s good at what he does. I mean, did you ever see Tape?

Flash Gordon fans: do yourself a favor and watch Ted

Mad Magazine knows what’s up

I’m not the biggest fan of Family Guy. The last time I saw it I was in a bar and couldn’t even hear it. Yet I occasionally see creator Seth MacFarlane in interviews and think, “He’s a surprisingly intelligent guy.” What really impressed me was his love for science as well as his involvement with the Cosmos reboot, which will hand Carl Sagan’s torch to Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s also an outspoken fan of Star Trek so he must be pretty cool, right?

So I bit the bullet and watched Ted. As narrator Patrick Stewart tells us in the opening reel, Ted was a celebrity when his story swept the world: there is a living, breathing teddy bear living among us. He became so famous he even appeared on Johnny Carson (this is done with Forrest Gump-like special effects). “But people eventually ceased to give a shit.” Fast forward several years later and Wahlberg is a thirty-five year old with a shit job who’s trying to keep his relationship with Mila Kunis from falling apart. Meanwhile, he still clings to his living teddy bear who sounds suspiciously like Peter Griffin and smokes a ton of pot.

You’ve seen the trailers. Whereas a lot of comedies spoil the funniest parts in the ads, Ted’s redband trailer opts to show most of its raunchiest moments instead. That’s practically all the raunch in the movie. What’s so surprising about Ted is the fact it’s a pleasant, unoffensive movie as far as modern comedies go. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of politically incorrect jokes and fart humor, but it’s far less offensive than, say, anything with Kevin James in it. In fact, the movie was so easy to digest, I wasn’t even sure I liked it…

Until about halfway through the movie.

Ted and Wahlberg’s love for Flash Gordon manifests itself in a series of scenes that had me rolling. I don’t want to give it away, but I found myself saying to the screen, “Holy shit! It’s really… I can’t believe… holy shit!” I have a feeling if it weren’t for my own love for Flash Gordon (my childhood cat’s name was Flash), I wouldn’t have liked Ted nearly as much as I did. At the end of the day it’s a pretty basic comedy, but that’s not the review it deserves. Even the average cookie-cutter screenplay can be done well and MacFarlane (or his script doctors) prove as much.

People expecting MacFarlane’s typical Family Guy humor probably won’t be nearly as pleased as I was, but if you’re a fan of Flash Gordon, be sure to check it out.

Have you seen it? What’d you think? Spoilers allowed in the comments.

Star Talk with NDT

Few things make me happier than watching Wil Wheaton explain the inter-species sex in Larry Niven’s Ringworld series to Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
Ah, The Nerdist Channel… it’s like The Sci-Fi Channel as it existed twenty years ago (believe it or not, it was actually pretty bitchin’ back then).