Published on June 20th, 2013 | by The Editor0
John Dies at the End
John Dies at the End was originally a series of web posts by author David Wong, the nom de plume of Cracked.com editor Jason Pargin. It gained a cult following and finally exploded when director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) bought the rights and shot a film version that premiered at Sundance in 2012. I’m not sure that I should even get into describing the plot, but let’s just say that it starts with a drug called Soy Sauce that gives you extraordinary mental powers and helps you see through time and space, which leads our heroes, Dave and John, to uncover a plot against the Earth itself.
The best way to classify this book is as a cross between Clive Barker and Douglas Adams. It has some creepy scenes, and truly deep sci-fi ideas, but it’s also totally hilarious. It veers from highbrow hard sci-fi humour to fart jokes, in a way that mostly works. I waited until I had finished the book to see the movie; it’s a weird enough story, with some insane visuals and I was constantly asking myself, “how the hell are they going to film that?” (More on the movie in a moment…).
Though the book uses the same old slacker best buddy characters tropes, it uses them in mostly the right ways, with Dave’s more sensible character playing off John’s more childlike and adventurous persona. The character of Amy is particularly interesting, and a strange love interest, in a good way. Some of the best writing happens when Dave and Amy are explaining to each other how they got into a school for developmentally challenged kids. It’s scenes like this that go beyond the gimmicky nature of the book and show that Wong/Pargin is actually a pretty talented writer.
My only real, hard criticism of the book is just that it feels like the story unfolds in segments, which, hey — it did. It doesn’t ruin the story by any stretch of the imagination — it just isn’t as tight as a novel would normally be. But you can’t fault it for this, seeing as it wasn’t originally intended as a novel. I have just started reading the sequel, This Book is Full of Spiders, and I’m hoping that this one was written all in one go.
As for the movie, it was a fun distraction, but seriously pales in comparison to the book. How could it not? There are so many ideas bursting from the book. Even characters are made composite (Jennifer Lopez and Amy become the same person), and then those characters are all but written out (Amy is in the film, but she barely justifies her existence, unlike her importance in the book). Some of the effects leave a little to be desired, though the movie wasn’t made on a big budget. I wonder if the movie would make sense to someone who hadn’t read the book, actually.
All in all, if sci-fi and horror are your thang, and you love a book like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, then check out John Dies at the End.