The word ‘unfilmable’ is a bit of a cliché when it comes to describing novels being adapted into movies. David Mitchell’s ‘Cloud Atlas’ was thought to be unfilmable, although I thought the Wachowskis did a pretty good job; “Ender’s Game” was also described by its author Orson Scott Card as unfilmable (although I wouldn’t recommend giving credence to anything Card says) but if there is a book to which the term unfilmable can be justifieably applied, it’s David Wong’s 2007 novel ‘John Dies At The End’.
A narrative bending, surreal and linearly non-linear novel, it deals with David and John, two friends from an unnamed mid-western town who investigate paranormal activity in their spare time away from working in a local video store. When they encounter a black, viscous drug nicknamed ‘Soy Sauce’, it’s kicks off a chain of (randomly connected) events involving demons, dimensions, death and a dog called Molly.
The novel is a crazy, riotous mishmash of genres, ideas, plot twists and causal non sequiturs but if you’re going to try and make a movie of it, you’d probably choose Don Coscarelli to do it. Veteran genre director Coscarelli (“Phantasm”, “The Beastmaster”, “Bubba Ho-Tep”) brings a semblance of order to proceedings, adapting the thrashing multi-tentacled plot threads of the novel into a slightly more coherent narrative for the screen and although a great deal is sacrificed to get it down to a manageable story, what remains is still a goofy, enjoyable old school splatter fest horror comedy. Paul Giamatti lends the whole affair a touch of class as journalist Arnie Blondestone who is listening to David tell his story in the film (and novel’s) framing device while genre stalwarts Clancy Brown and Doug Jones boost a largely unknown but well assembled cast.
The resultant film, released on DVD/ BluRay in the UK on February 17th 2014, does veer about a bit, though, and despite heavily trimming down the story it retains the source material’s sense of distorted but deliberate incoherence. In the book and film, taking the ‘Soy Sauce’ drug opens your perceptions and allows you to see beyond the mundane, physical world. In a possibly deliberate and fantastical piece of meta-film making, I think maybe reading the book does the same thing and I’m not sure how much you’ll get from seeing the film without having read the book first. As a standalone movie, it’s only partly successful.