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Originally published February 21, 2013 at 3:14 PM | Page modified February 21, 2013 at 3:14 PM

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‘John Dies at the End’: a loopy horror-comedy ride across time

A movie review of “John Dies at the End,” an unhinged and unpredictable horror-comedy by Don Coscarelli (“Bubba Ho-Tep”) that crosses parallel universes and more in a quest to find the relationship between a powerful hallucinogenic and an apparent invasion of fluttering creat

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie Review 3 stars

“John Dies at the End,” with Chase Williamson, Paul Giamatti, Rob Mayes, Clancy Brown, Fabianne Therese, Glynn Turman. Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, based on a book by David Wong. 100 minutes. Rated R for language, violence, gore, drug use. Varsity.

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Don’t fret over the title of this loopy horror-
comedy. In a movie full of ruptured realities, alternative timelines, parallel universes and projected nightmares, spoilers are pretty much beside the point.

In other words, if John (Rob Mayes) is ever really dead in “John Dies at the End,” he is also forever alive and talking from the future to his friend Dave (Chase Williamson) via, among other things, a hot dog that functions like a telephone because, well ... because.

There’s no easy way to grab onto this peculiarly engaging (if occasionally nauseating) fantasy based on a popular novel by David Wong (the pseudonym of Jason Pargin) and adapted for the screen by director Don Coscarelli. The latter’s 1979 “Phantasm” and its sequels are similarly memorable for leaving a viewer with no clear sense of what is up or down, while his 2002 “Bubba Ho-Tep,” which finds an aging Elvis Presley in a nursing home, justifiably retains a cult following.

If the opening minutes of “John Dies at the End” are frustrating for their incoherent narrative, random grisliness and an abundance of squiggly creatures suggesting warmed-over Cronenberg, the rest of the film eventually finds its own rhythm and meaningful chaos.

It helps to have recurring scenes in which Dave meets with a bemused journalist (Paul Giamatti) at a Chinese restaurant, explaining how a powerful hallucinogenic drug called Soy Sauce fits with a space invasion of fluttering white creatures, a prophetic Jamaican, a girl (Fabianne Therese) with a prosthetic hand, a rogue detective (Glynn Turman), exploding body parts and hidden dimensions in which slackers Dave and John are treated as heroes.

At some point, a viewer is encouraged to just let go and take the ride. The risk is worth it. The film’s final act achieves its own lilting, through-the-looking-glass thrill in the tension between Coscarelli’s sharp-edged rigorousness and the material’s unhinged, pulpy poetry.

Tom Keogh:

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