Most filmmakers, after reading David Wongs Internet-serialized novel John Dies at the End, would likely think it impossible to make into a movie. Its a strange book, told from the point of view of a snarky protagonist. But Don Coscarelli, the director behind the Phantasm franchise and the cult hits Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep, isnt most filmmakers.
Look, Im an optimist, he tells CityBeat. I saw a path when I read the book.
That path led to the big-screen horror-comedy adaptation, which opens at Hillcrest Cinemas on Friday, Feb. 15. The movie is about two slackers, Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes), who have a business saving clients from the supernatural. When the movie opens, Dave is sitting at a diner with reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), telling him about the duos experience with Soy Sauce, a new street drug that kills almost everyone who comes in contact with it and seems to be opening a portal to another dimension, whose inhabitants are determined to take over this one.
Thats a lot to take on without much of a budget, so you might find it odd that a Hollywood star like Giamatti is appearing in the independently financed effort, especially in a supporting role. But Giamattis more than just an actor here— he also produced the film, along with Coscarelli, and was one of the driving forces in making it happen.
We met through Eli Roth, Giamatti says, referring to the horror director behind the Hostel movies. Im not a huge fan of those super-violent torture films, but I actually like Elis torture movies. He got the two of us together, and we tried to make a sequel to Bubba Ho-Tep. It nearly happened, and then didnt, but Don said, Lets just make this one. I think I can actually do this one without a studio helping us out. That seemed insane to me, that he was going to do this with me without any support, but thats how he does things.
The movie is at times clever and funny, and seriously bloody, even if the ending doesnt quite live up to the promise of the beginning. Putting it together was a challenge, since there was no studio funding, but, Giamatti says, plenty of people want to work with Coscarelli.
He can call in favors, and there are people who just really love him and really love what he does, he says. Hes got some of the top guys, some of the best prosthetic guys in Hollywood, and they did it for free because they love his stuff, they love what hes doing and they love the fact that hes an old-school, handson eccentric maverick out there doing his own thing.
One of the biggest changes for Coscarelli is the way John Dies at the End will get to audiences. Though its having a small theatrical release, its been available since late 2012 in other ways, like video on demand, iTunes, Xbox and Amazon Instant Video. Thats kind of ironic, because Coscarellis movies have usually gained notoriety after theyve left theaters and been discovered on DVD or at midnight screenings. The distribution switcheroo is new to him.
Some of my later Phantasm films, like Phantasm 3 and Phantasm 4, received the curse of going direct to video, he says. When a title went straight to video back in the day, it was perceived as being junk. We worked very hard on those movies, and Im still very proud of them, but the nature of the distribution informed how people perceived them. Now folks are accepting this completely. Its weird, but its an entirely new generation thats used to getting their media where they want and when they want it. Having it available on iPad or iPhone or on their TV right away is preferable to them, so well see how it works out. Its still in theaters, which is good, but its definitely a new world out there.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.