The Director himself and star Paul Giamatti were on hand afterwards to answer questions and even, graciously, shook people's hands, signed people's stuff and even pose for photographs.
It was a fantastic night.
I intend to cover the film in a little more depth over on the podcast and I have some exclusive content from the Q&A that I will be sharing very soon as well but I just wanted to get down my initial impression of the film here on the blog.
Let me begin by saying I am a big fan of Coscarelli's work, you can read my Phantasm and Bubba Ho-Tep reviews elsewhere on this site but I really dig his style and sensibility behind the camera. So couple that with the always reliable and likable Giamatti and a plot that promised some absolutely bonkers stuff and me wanting to see this film, from the moment it was first mentioned, became a no-brainer.
Having seen the film the first thing that came to my mind was 'I need to see that again'. It has a very definite vibe, a particular disjointed mindset and I am not just referring to the weird plot, I mean in the way it was written, shot and performed. If I am honest. I am not sure tonight I was always in the groove with it, maybe it was having spent the day at work in my mind-numbing 9 to 5 surrounded by beige and grey tedious indifference or maybe it was the fact that usually on a Monday I am operating on hardly any sleep but sometimes I connected with it and other times I didn't. Hence I need to see it again and soon. Clear headed, awake and ready to go anywhere with it.
I am not even going to bother to try and explain the plot in depth, as it would do the film a disservice, but it has something to do with a drug called soy sauce that makes you see into the past and the future, travelling to other dimensions, monsters, friendship, zombies, exorcisms and a magic dog. Anyway, this thing is different and I urge everyone to see it.
It's the mutant love child of Naked Lunch, Twin Peaks, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Phantasm and contains references to a dozen more cult genre favs.
In fact an ever so slight criticism of the film is that, while it clearly marches to the beat of its own drum, as much as it can, the script does, on occasion, have the distinct whiff of a fan boy's giggly, immature paws all over it but never to the annoyingly grating and smug extent of someone like a Tarantino (who has all the subtlety, where homages are concerned, of a 15 Ton, Monty Python, style weight).
On the plus side it has phenomenal, pleasing performances from almost the entire cast, it's directed and edited with Coscarelli's usual charm, flourish and delight in the downright weird or darkly comic and the script throws endless curveballs at you both clever, comedic and also sometimes just for curveballs sake. I am not someone who usually likes a film that tries to be all smug, clever and different for difference sake and I am pleased to report that John Dies At The End does narrowly avoid sliding into that territory.
There's also some great Bob Kurtzman practical effects and also some not so great B-Movie CGI but, to be honest, that they did it at all for the low budget, it's incredible.
I haven't read the book and from comments made in the Q&A I understand that a vast passage of it would be unfilmable, no matter how much money you had, but I can say that the film version could have, to please more pallets, attempted some level of coherence in it's third act. What it lacks in pleasing structure, however, it more than makes up for in vivid, intriguing and artful images.
Now is it ever going to be as successful or as much of a fan favourite as the Phantasm series? probably not and will it ever match up against the understated perfection of Bubba Ho-Tep? definitely not but that's not to discount it, when you have a resume as sparse but as cult and fan friendly as Coscarelli's, winning out over past glories becomes a fools errand and, with John Dies At The End, he, thankfully, doesn't try to. There is, however, plenty here that fans of his previous work will eat up with a spoon.
It has been 10 years since Bubba and 7 years since his Masters of Horror episode and in that time mostly all we've heard about was the ill-fated Bubba sequel. I, for one, am glad that John Dies was, eventually, the film Coscarelli made and not Bubba Nosferatu, while he will no doubt get a lot of idiot critics desperately trying to compare this film to the nuanced brilliance of Bubba Ho-tep, imagine how much harsher it would be if he had gone ahead with the planned, Campbell-less, sequel instead.
As much as I believe this film will divide his fans and have as many embracers as detractors, I am going to go ahead and say we NEED films like this and we NEED film-makers like Don Coscarelli. At the Q&A Paul Giamatti said that it's films like this that America should be embracing, he is clearly a passionate genre fan, and I couldn't agree more. Love it or hate it we just don't get enough films like this being made and so when one comes along I think we owe it to ourselves, as passionate genre fans also, to do what we can to make sure it's not the last time a film like this sees the inside of a cinema.