Friday, February 28, 2014

John Dies at the End (book and film)

I've had an Audible subscription for a few months now, and when my monthly credit came up I was trying to decide what to spend it on.  Browsing the suggestions for me, I saw someone call David Wong's John Dies at the End a mix between Stephen King and Douglas Adams, and that certainly got my attention.  Having now gotten through the book, I wouldn't call that entirely accurate.  Of course, those are really lofty comparisons that would be very difficult to match, so it's not really fair.  But if you've been enjoying some of the recent mixes between horror and comedy we've been getting lately, this book is for you.

The book started as a webserial, and while I didn't know that will listening it makes a lot of sense in retrospect.  It isn't so much a clear narrative as a series of episodes in the life of the fictional version of David.  The name is a pseudonym for the author, but it also makes the book feel more personal having the author narrate to you that way, and I liked it. The book just feels a bit unfocused as he jumps through time periods and tries to make these events connect to each other.  Some events feel like they need to be expanded, and others are probably dwelt on a little too long.  The mythology is also not well explained, but I was okay with that, as being from the first person perspective, it makes sense that he's not going to always fully understand what is happening around him.

What is more important is the humor and the horror, and both of those work very well.  The humor probably a little more so than the horror, but that's probably what you would expect from the editor of Cracked.com. The characters also feel real, and I liked that this is a story very much grounded in reality despite the insane things happening.  The book takes a turn toward the end that was very much unexpected and entertaining.  It worked well keeping me in suspense and wanting to reach the end of the book.  Of course that title also keeps you in suspense the whole time too, waiting for the shoe to drop.

With the narrative unfocused as it is, it makes sense that a film adaptation would make some changes and try to make something a little more cohesive.  That's exactly what Don Coscarelli did, essentially melding two of the main events of the book into one story and keeping in a few of the wilder smaller events for the sake of humor and strangeness.  The film isn't as clever as Cabin in the Woods or as funny as Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, but it does make for an entertaining film with some legitimate scares and gross out moments.  A lot of the humor from the book is left intact, though Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes are not the strongest of leads.  Doug Jones and Clancy Brown are perfect in their supporting roles, but sadly underused.

Sometimes, going from book to film can be a bad thing, or at least spoil a film for you.  In this case, my main complaint revolves around the character of Amy Sullivan.  I became quite fond of her in the book, from her introduction when David can only remember her by her nickname "Cucumber" until her proper role in the story is revealed.  She's sweet and timid but smart and sure of herself and just a wonderful character.  But in the film all of that is lost, merging her with Jennifer Lopez (not the celebrity, just a girl with the same name) and keeping her around because she's needed for one moment and that's it.  They also give her a large over-sized hand to cover her amputated one, and since it is completely nonfunctional and doesn't look remotely real, I can only assume this was meant to be a joke that falls really flat.

Personal bias aside, it's still a film worth watching for horror fans.  I also highly recommend the book, flawed though it may be.  There's a second novel in the series titled This Book is Full of Spiders, and that title alone makes me want to check it out.

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