Dir/scr Don Coscarelli. US. 2012. 99mins


From the director of the sci-fi horror Phantasm flicks and 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep, which pitted an elderly Elvis against an evil mummy, comes this comic-horror lark full of severed limbs, squishy insects and demonic alternative worlds. While the story doesn’t always follow a logical trajectory and the characters are shallow vessels for eyeball explosions and other well-executed low-budget shock effects, John Dies At The End offers some mildly diverting fun for fans of this sort of thing, most likely on VOD and other new media outlets.

Coscarelli, a contemporary of George Romero, clearly enjoys some of the same torn apart flesh, blown-up heads and empty malls as the Night Of The Living Dead horror maestro.

Cut down by 10 minutes from its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, where Magnet Releasing acquired US rights, John Dies At The End follows post-collegiate slacker David (Chase Williamson) experiencing the most frightening head-trip of his life. When we first meet the young man, he’s going about his everyday business, which includes severing the head of a zombie in his backyard.

We soon learn that David and his buddy John (Rob Mayes) have a special talent for dealing with supernatural intruders from the underworld. Nothing appears as it seems for the two paranoid fighters: a young girl’s head explodes into snakes; a doorknob turns into a penis; and pounds of beef and a turkey in a meat locker combine to form a nefarious monster. (Much of the film has a sickly yellow-greenish pallor, which heightens the surreal feel).

Sitting in a Chinese restaurant, David recounts his story to a skeptical reporter, Arnie (Paul Giamatti, who may be out of place here, but commits entirely to the world). David narrates his incredible adventure, which begins with his accidental injection of “soy sauce,” a liquid black drug that gives the user special intuitive powers and puts them face to face with an evil parallel universe.

Much of John Dies At The End operates by way of a series of jump-out-of-your seat sequences: giant spiders lurk on ceilings; hands come out of nowhere from a car’s backseat; an arm comes off a man’s body, only to strangle poor David, who can’t keep his hallucinatory reality straight.

Coscarelli, a contemporary of George Romero, clearly enjoys some of the same torn apart flesh, blown-up heads and empty malls as the Night Of The Living Dead horror maestro.

But he also never takes the proceedings too seriously. One genuine funny bit involves David’s communications with his seemingly dead friend John; it doesn’t matter whether he puts a broken cellphone or a bratwurst to his ear.

Coscarelli’s shtick also involves the way his characters quickly adapt to their increasingly disturbing surroundings. When things get even more outrageous, and the action climax tips into apocalyptic nonsense, David and John seem to take it in relative stride.

But shrewd audiences aren’t likely to accept John Dies At The End with such a willful suspense of disbelief.

Additionally, a tacked on twist ending involving Giamatti’s reporter falls flat, as does a post-credit epilogue that intimates a potential sequel that few people will be waiting for.

Production companies: Silver Sphere, M3 Creative

International sales: Magnolia Pictures, www.magpictures.com

Producers: Brad Baruh, Don Coscarelli, Andy Meyers, Roman Perez

Executive Producers: Paul Giamatti, Dan Carey, Dac Coscarelli

Cinematography: Michael Gioulakis

Production designer: Todd Jeffery

Editor: Donald Milne, Don Coscarelli

Music: Brian Tyler

Sound: Paul Ratajczak, Paul Menichini

Main cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Fabianne Therese, Jonny Weston, Paul Giamatti, Daniel Roebuck