Give or take the titular disclosure, “John Dies at the End” is a thoroughly unpredictable horror-comedy — and an immensely entertaining one, too. Thirty-odd years after unleashing “Phantasm,” writer-director Don Coscarelli delivers a gonzo gorefest about college dropouts investigating an E.T. invasion while tripping on “soy sauce,” a drug that makes crystal meth look like cotton candy. Pic gets nuttier as it goes, supported by snappy dialogue, an expert mix of digital and makeup f/x, and indelibly screwy perfs, including Paul Giamatti’s aptly low-affect turn as a jaded reporter. Discerning genre fans will surely bring “End” to a long afterlife in ancillary.Inasmuch as the narrative makes sense at all, it would seem that twentysomething pals Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) are in the ghostbusting biz of solving paranormal “problems,” including that of a woman whose deceased b.f. has been harassing her. Much of the pic takes place in flashback, as soy-sauced Dave doles out barely coherent details to Giamatti’s world-weary scribe. Surreal action scenes are executed with wit and energy, and the tech credits, including Robert Kurtzman’s ornately yucky makeup, are killer. Canine thesp Bark Lee is brilliant.
A Silver Sphere presentation, in association with M3 Creative, Touchy Feely Films. (International sales: M3, Burbank.) Produced by Brad Baruh, Don Coscarelli, Andy Meyers, Roman Perez. Executive producers, Paul Giamatti, Daniel Carey, Dac Coscarelli. Co-producers, Aaron Godfred, Joshua Lewin. Directed, written by Don Coscarelli, from the novel by David Wong.
Camera (color/B&W, HD), Michael Gioulakis; editors, Donald Milne, Coscarelli; music, Brian Tyler; production designer, Todd Jeffery; art director, Patrick W. Muller; set decorator, Dwayne Burgess; costume designer, Shelley Kay. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 26, 2012. Running time: 108 MIN.
Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman, Doug Jones, Bark Lee.