Remember those bygone days when you would actually have to spend a modicum of effort seeking out a cool book or movie you heard about? As opposed to now, where from the comfort of my bed on a late Sunday night when all the physical stores were closed I not only instantly accessed and watched a HD copy of Don Coscarelli's adaptation of David Wong's John Dies at the End, but also downloaded the book? Which also happened to have links taking me to the website for the book, the film, and a 50-page excerpt of the just released sequel?
Ah, technology. Spoon feeding our desires since 2006 with no end in sight (thank goodness).
Anyway, John Dies at the End was my first and most likely last time reversing my standard practice of always read the book first. Chalk it up to being sick and wanting a couple of hours to pass the time, as well as the fact I was still about 100 pages from finishing the book I was currently reading. So watch the film I did (it was great in that twisted, gleefully sick and ridiculous way that only Don Coscarelli can do), and then sat down just after the New Year to read the book.
Not a lot of self examination required in divining what drew me to the material: John Dies at the End (hilariously shortened to JDATE) is the story of two directionless best friends, John and David (as in David Wong, the author), caught up in an inter-dimensional invasion involving horrific Lovecraftian beasties, shadow men, ghostly jelly fish, and a ridiculous amount of dick jokes. It's up to John and David to save the world, but besides a dog named Molly who can seemingly drive a car and survive exploding into tiny dog chumps, their only real asset is the fact that they're able to ingest the mysterious black drug known as the Soy Sauce, an alien chemical granting strange visions and powers to those who survive its ingestion. Told from David's perspective, JDATE traces their initial exposure to the drug, the bizarre occurrences in their small Midwestern town of [Undisclosed], and the events that led to two losers saving the entire world.
Having watched the film right before starting the book, it's surprising how much of the book was transferred directly to the screen, and how much of it worked in both mediums. What the books really allows is for a closer look at David and John, and Wong the author shines at allowing his characters to look stupid, make bad decisions, and generally screw up in ways that make them more endearing and fully realized than they could ever be in a movie. What starts feeling fairly episodic (the book has 3 distinct story lines, 4 if you count the epilogue) slowly begins to build a rhythm until everything rushes together in a way that by the book's end not only are you surprised everything help together but that it held together well enough that it could continue in future books.
The hardest thing to pull off in horror, whether it's a film or a book is humor, and not the witty "oh isn't that clever" humor but actually belly laugh humor. So it's no surprise to learn that David Wong is actually the pen name of Jason Pargin, senior editor of Cracked.com. Having plenty of experience in figuring out what makes people laugh, he posted JDATE in chunks on his blog for free prior to getting a book deal, and that experience of fine tuning a joke works great here. John's ability to discuss the grandness of his penis at length (ha!) is so over the top it becomes endearing, and his friendship with the much more troubled Dave feels sincere without ever going overboard into schmaltz. It all balances nicely with the other-worldly horror, allows for some pointed criticisms at video games and teenage violence, and feels very much a book written for the horror fans of the 21st century, while at the same time providing enough meat for those of us who grew up before the time you could download every H.P. Lovecraft story on your phone in a matter of minutes.