As a huge fan of cosmic horror, I am sure it comes to no surprise that I bought and read David Wong’s surreal tale: John Dies At The End. Netflix regularly recommended the movie adaptation to me but I thought it had looked rather silly. Then I received the sequel, This Book Is Full Of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, as part of a book crate and decided it was a sign.
I am always interested to see how companies adapt novels into film so, after reading the novel, I watched the movie and found the two to be wildly different.
A little about the author: David Wong a.k.a Jason Pargin. Wong is a humour writer and executive editor at Cracked.com. He started John Dies At The End as a webserial, publishing a new chapter every Halloween that was free to read and had about 70,000 fans. This webserial was removed in September 2008 and Wong used the feedback he received to help him create the book we now know.
On to the book: John Dies At the End is a pretty wild ride. The 466-page novel starts by throwing the reader into “a riddle” involving murder, axes, and demonic spawn.
“Let’s say you have an ax. Just a cheap one, from Home Depot. On one bitter winter day, you use said ax to behead a man. Don’t worry, the man was already dead. Or maybe you should worry, because you’re the one who shot him.”
After this bizarre beginning, the narrator – David Wong – tells of a call from his friend (and co-protagonist) John demanding that David meet up with him late in the night. This leads to an encounter with a possessed entity made entirely of meat (Thanksgiving turkey, sausages, steak; you name it).
After this jolting introduction to the main characters, as well as the twisted world they live in, the novel skips to David in a Chinese restaurant waiting to meet the reporter he plans to tell his life story to. The novel is laid out as the interview to the journalist, interrupted occasionally by the reporter’s disbelieving questions and attempts to ditch David.
“My name is David Wong. My best friend is John, Those names are fake. You might want to change yours. You may not want to know about the things you’ll read on these pages, about the sauce, about Korrok, about the invasion, and the future. But it’s too late. You touched the book. You’re in the game. You’re under the eye. The only defense is knowledge. You need to read this book, to the end. Even the part with the bratwurst. Why? You just have to trust me.”
The plot plain and simple – John and David take a drug known as “soy sauce”, which had some terrible side effects. It opened their eyes to the things that creep on the outskirts of our reality, hiding in plain sight. These eldritch abominations are invading, guided by the horrible and all-seeing cosmic entity known as Korrok. Thrown into the battle against their wills, John and David fight against Korrok’s wig-monsters, shadow men, and endless horrors.
“This is one of the most entertaining and addictive novels I’ve ever read.” – Jacob Kier, publisher, Permuted Press
I won’t lie, when I first read the part about the possessed meat-man, I questioned my life choices that led me to that point. The book seemed silly, the characters more than a little lame, and the consistent fart, shit, and piss jokes grating. I pushed on, mainly because I’d bought it and also had the sequel waiting on the sidelines.
And the book got so, so much better. Maybe it was me getting used to Wong’s writing style and settling into his world of fart-monsters, lovable awkward characters, and – at times – utterly bizarre events; but I ended up enjoying the story a lot. I could never tell where the novel was going to take me next and I began to love John’s horribly amazing one-liners and puns. The characters round out thoroughly, creating dynamic protagonists that are flawed and conflicted as any real person.
In the end, I really liked the book and look forward to reading the sequel. Even better news, I found out that there is a third novel in the series that was only just released: What The Hell Did I Just Read.
So, John Dies At The End is a book I would recommend. It’s funny, entertaining, and you’ll never predict how it turns out.
The movie on the other hand…
Released in 2012 and written/directed by Don Coscarelli, John Dies At The End has a 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and I am honestly surprised it wasn’t lower.
Critics Consensus: Some will find the darkly funny, genre-bending incoherence of John Dies at the End charming; some will feel its zany antics and gore lead to an unsatisfying payoff. – Rotten Tomatoes.
“Unsatisfying payoff” is putting it mildly. The movie had a run-time of only 99 minutes, not enough time at all to accurately represent the madness that is the novel. The whole movie felt rushed and huge plot points were completely cut out, other elements were forced in without context making it so that, if a viewer hadn’t read the novel, they would have been completely baffled.
The final reveal of Korrok, the eldritch monster God was lackluster, felt pointless, and lacked the momentous atmosphere the novel projected. Overall, I was disappointed and bewildered. On top of that, the characters were one-dimensional and forgettable. What a shame.
The end result? I would definitely recommend John Dies At The End in novel-form. Only watch the movie if you have 99 minutes of your life to waste.
Keep reading everyone and I’ll see you all next Sunday!
x P.L. McMillan