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John Dies at the End
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that John Dies at the End is a horror/fantasy movie from cult director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) that's based on a 2007 cult novel by David Wong. It's an endlessly trippy, oddball experience about a fictitious street drug called "soy sauce" that lets users "see" things. Side effects and withdrawal from the drug are discussed. Bloody, gory fantasy violence is a major issue, with severed limbs, exploding eyes, strange creatures, guns and shooting, and ripped-up body parts (victims include children). Language is also very strong, with occasional torrents of "f--k" and "s--t," as well as other offensive terms. During one climactic sequence, the movie shows a huge group of topless (masked) women, lingering on them for several minutes. This is the kind of underground movie that certain teens won't be able to resist.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
After a prologue in which a zombie is beheaded and an axe is repaired, David Wong (Chase Williamson) speaks to a reporter (Paul Giamatti) in a Chinese restaurant, documenting his strange story. David's friend John (Rob Mayes) has taken a new street drug called "soy sauce" that lets users see and know things -- but they also experience fearsome side effects like creepy monsters. John frantically calls David for help, and David accidentally takes the drug, too. This sends them both on a crazy adventure that involves a professional magician (Clancy Brown), a lost dog, and a giant creature from another dimension that may be looking to take over the Earth. Are David and John up to the challenge? And will John really die at the end?
Is it any good?
Viewers who can give up all their preconceived notions and go along for this wild ride will have a fun, memorable time -- as long as they're ready for the extremely mature content. Cult director Don Coscarelli -- maker of the Phantasm series and Bubba Ho-Tep -- usually brings unhinged imagination and bizarre humor to his horror movies, which probably leads viewers into not taking him very seriously. JOHN DIES AT THE END doesn't change that at all. It's a loony, oddball, trippy, clumsy, illogical, outlandish, gory slice of "what the heck is going on?" with distant echoes of Brazil, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Naked Lunch, and other films of that ilk.
The movie's detractors so far have focused on the approach to adapting of the novel, the sub-par visual effects, and the idea that the film fails to keep up its level of craziness: It's either too crazy or not crazy enough, according to different critics. But all of this misses what's actually there in the movie; it establishes during the "riddle" of the first two minutes that nothing can be nailed down or relied upon.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about John Dies at the End's bloody, gory, over-the-top violence. What effect does it have? Does the movie cross the line? If so, where/how?
What does it mean to be a "cult" movie or novel? What's the appeal of this strange, off-kilter style of writing and filmmaking?
How much does it matter if John Dies at the End has a "logical" plot that can be easily followed? Can it be enjoyable otherwise?