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TBTS Reviews: John Dies at the End

July 13, 2010

Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead.

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.

He had been a big, twitchy guy with veiny skin stretched over swollen biceps, a tattoo of a swastika on his tongue. Teeth filed into razor-sharp fangs — you know the type. And you’re chopping off his head because, even with eight bullet holes in him, you’re pretty sure he’s about to spring back to his feet and eat the look of terror right off your face.

On the follow-through of the last swing, though, the handle of the ax snaps in a spray of splinters. You now have a broken ax. So, after a long night of looking for a place to dump the man and his head, you take a trip into town with your ax. You go to the hardware store, explaining away the dark reddish stains on the broken handle as barbecue sauce. You walk out with a brand new handle for your ax.

The repaired ax sits undisturbed in your garage until the Spring when, on one rainy morning, you find in your kitchen a certain creature that appears to be a foot-long slug with a bulging egg sac on its tail. Its jaws bite one of your forks in half with what seems like very little effort. You grab our trusty ax and chop the thing into several pieces. On the last blow, however, the ax strikes a metal leg of the overturned kitchen table and chips out a notch right in the middle of the blade.

Of course, a chipped head means yet another trip to the hardware store. They sell you a brand new head for your ax. As soon as you get home, you meet the reanimated body of the guy you beheaded earlier. He’s also got a new head, stitched on with what looks like plastic weed-trimmer line, and it’s wearing that unique expression of “you’re the man who killed me last Winter” resentment that one so rarely encounters in everyday life.

You brandish your ax. The guy takes a long look at the weapon with his squishy, rotting eyes and in a gargly voice he screams, “That’s the same ax that beheaded me!”


John Dies at the End coverSo begins John Dies at the End by David Wong. Please forgive the use of a long blockquote to start this review, but there really is no better way to describe the tone and sense of humor on display in this book. Wong, an editor at, has written a story that is equal parts Douglas Adams and Clive Barker (with a dash of Lovecraft for flavor). That is to say it is both hilarious and genuinely scary.

John Dies at the End is the story of David (clearly the author’s surrogate) and John, two slacker twentysomething video store employees in a generic American town literally referred to as “Undisclosed.” Through a series of bizarre occurrences, our two antiheroes become experts in the supernatural. They are called upon to solve all manner of unearthly problems. As these problems and events get curiouser and curiouser, John & Dave find themselves at the center of a demonic plot to destroy our world.

There is a love interest, of course. Two, actually: a girl named (I kid you not) Jennifer Lopez, and Amy, a one-armed companion for our heroes who is introduced later in the story. There is an exploding and continually reincarnated dog named Molly. There is a mysterious Jamaican named (again, I kid you not) Robert Marley. There is a cop whose resemblance to a certain African American actor leads David to dub him Morgan Freeman. There is an otherworldly drug, Soy Sauce, that lends its users supernatural vision and the ability to move between dimensions. There is even a wink-wink appearance by none other than Fred Durst.

The bulk of the story is told in flashback, as David describes the events to Arnie Blondestone, an investigative reporter who is understandably skeptical. The narrative often returns to David and Arnie as the latter is continually frustrated by attempts to verify any part of David’s account. Of David and John, David, our narrator, is the straight-man while John is the gung-ho clown whose reliability and common sense are constantly called into question. John always seems to put the cap on any narrow escape by lighting up a cigarette and deadpanning some one-liner. He’s also a fan of shouting not-so-clever quips and puns as he fends off diabolical creatures with shotguns and folding chairs (“We saved a seat for you!” THWACK!). Dave coasts through the story with a shrug and a vague acceptance of the crazy stuff going on around him, while still acknowledging that the stuff is crazy. His experiences with the Soy Sauce are described in vivid detail, including visions of a satanic Ronald McDonald and one actual demonic possession during which he almost kills John and Amy. The whole thing culminates in an inter-dimensional adventure vaguely reminiscent of Phantasm or TV’s Fringe.

It has already been reported on Ain’t It Cool News that the movie rights have been purchased and a script is in development. I’d like to put in my 2 cents and recommend James Franco and Seth Rogen for the roles of Dave and John, respectively. Yeah, it’s that kind of story.

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