When he was just a child, Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, The
Beastmaster, Bubba Ho-Tep) became a fan of old-school horror movies. He used to watch a Saturday night show that would show all the classics. "The babysitter would be there talking to her boyfriend and I'd sneak over and watch the show," he recalls in a phone interview. "They showed amazing movies. It started with the Universal monsters and I was a huge geek for Frankenstein and those types of things."
The love for low-budget horror led Coscarelli to start making his own primitive movies. By age 19, he had already delivered his first feature to a major studio. Now, nearly 40 years later, Coscarelli has another cult classic on his hands. John Who Dies at the End, which opens on Friday at the Capitol Theatre, is a delightfully bizarre film about a couple of slackers (Rob Mayes and Chase Williamson) who encounter a variety of malicious creatures (including a monster made out of frozen refrigerator meat) after they begin using a drug called Soy Sauce. All the while, an incredulous reporter (Paul Giamatti) tries to make sense of their strange story.
Coscarelli came across the source material—a David Wong novel—through an Amazon recommendation based on his previous purchases.
"It's a little scary how those computer algorithms work. They can really identify what you like and it's a little creepy," he says. "The log line they had in the ad for the book hooked me. It talked about these two young slacker college dropout guys who have an experience with this street drug called Soy Sauce that allows users to drift between dimensions. When I ordered the book and read the descriptions, I realized how much magnificent imagery there was. It was great. There's some snappy, crackling, bizarre dialogue between the characters. There was a lot going on in this. And it had a great sense of humor, too."
While the special effects in the movie won't result in any award nominations, they're good enough for the purposes of the film. Coscarelli worked with Robert Kurtzman, an Ohio native who's one of the founding creators of the infamous K.N.B. EFX Group, to create some of the movie's scary monsters.
"I would consult with anybody that I knew who had experience," explains Coscarelli. "A director friend of mine had done a small budget film where he did all the visual effects himself. I consulted with him again and again. I had another friend who had created visual effects himself and created computer programs. Both of these guys gave me guidance in that respect. In many cases, you're creating something new that no one has ever done. No one has ever done a flying mustache, for example."
The film even includes a bit of time travel, too, making it bizarre even by B-movie standards. But Coscarelli says he knows his place in the world cinema and he's content to be an outsider.
"I have a wide variety of interests but I have to be realistic about my plight," says Coscarelli. "I have learned that if you have some success in the horror genre, you tend to get stuck there. I love the horror genre and I enjoy the movies. In these last couple of movies, I've tried to push the envelope a little bit. This movie defies categorization because there's so much comedy and weird-ass philosophy in it. I've tried to do select projects that can be sold as horror movies but can reach a broader audience."
Coscarelli says "it's hard to say" why his films have connected so well with the cult classic crowd, but he's happy to offer fans something that's a bit unusual.
"I like to think that I make movies that are bizarre with unexpected elements so when people see them they know they'll see something different than the traditional thing," he says. "My movies are out there conceptually. I feel like I'm on the fringe of horror where folks can enjoy it but can also experience something a little different than what the studios feed them."