Book Review: John Dies at the End

Book Review: John Dies at the End

If you’re the kind of person who visits a site like Into-the-Dark, and you’ve never heard of John Dies at the End, I’m willing to bet you’re missing out on what’s going to become one of your favorite books. A complex horror story, a meta-novel, and a non-stop barrage of humor that ranges from witty and intellectual to grotesquely adolescent, John Dies at the End is a constantly surprising trip, Phantasm by way of The Hangover. It’s hard to imagine a book better suited for the generation obsessed with films like Shaun of the Dead, Trick R Treat, and Army of Darkness.

Written by David Wong – senior editor of quite possibly the funniest humor site on the web, Cracked.com – John… tells the tale of how David and his disturbingly immature (yet industrious) best friend John bumblefuck their way into what may be the coming apocalypse. Drunk at a party, the two run afoul a faux-Jamaican drug dealer peddling a substance known as “the sauce.” A few hits later, and residents of their small town are ripping each other to pieces, exploding into maggots, and putting their mutated selves back together to kill some more. All the while, David struggles to figure out if any of this is real or just a reeeally bad trip. The answers to his question risk unraveling all of reality (or at least his own weird little reality…)

John Dies at the End - movie posterThe major areas where John… succeeds is in its bizarre, seemingly incoherent plot that slowly but surely begins to make a kind of warped sense, and comedy writing that includes lines like: “I shook the treat…then tossed it through the door. The dog ran in after it. We waited for the sound of, say, dog flesh splattering on the well, but heard only the padding of Maggie’s paws. Eventually she came back to the door, grinning stupidly. We decided it was safe to go in.” To appreciate Wong’s humor, you need a high threshold for jokes about living things exploding, as well as for jokes about John’s genitals roughly every three pages. But if you’ve got the stomach for it, the sick jokes are fast, furious, and stay surprisingly fresh over the course of 450+ pages.

Not all of John Dies at the End’s cylinders fire perfectly. At times, the sheer volume of dick jokes can start to overwhelm the story’s more genuinely terrifying moments (though Wong usually realizes this danger and eases up on them at the right moment.) More frustrating is how the book starts as a deliciously meta text, doing its best to bend your reality and the reality of the book around each other. I love trippy, progressive literary concepts along these lines, but unfortunately, John…’s fades out long before the text’s conclusions, regulated to a few random pages from fake history books and some of Wong’s weirder musings.

That said, the book’s still worth it, and it’s definitely worth reading before the movie comes out. Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep director Don Coscarelli picked up John Dies at the End for adaptation a few years ago, and the completed film has been making the rounds at festivals such as Sundance and South By Southwest. (You can see the trailer here – http://www.johndies.com/ – though it gives away some of the book’s great imagery.) The response to it has been overwhelmingly positive, and you can expect a big release sometime in 2012. But the book contains about ten times more scares and laughs than you can fit into a 90-minute movie. So before the movie get its release date, give the book a whirl this summer – scare yourself shitless and laugh yourself silly.   

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About Josh_C

Josh has studied film at the Universities of Missouri and Florida, and he is currently studying horror film and popular culture in the Communication and Culture program at Indiana University. He has previously worked with the True/False Documentary Film Festival and the Ragtag Theatre in Columbia, Missouri, and he served as short-term production assistant on This Film Is Not Yet Rated. He is currently working on a dissertation on independent horror, horror film festivals, and horror fandom; feel free to contact him to discuss any of the above! He is also studying Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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