The body-horror genre is a niche within a niche, but the challenge of filming icky critters crawling from human bodies attracts ambitious directors.
While Sam Raimi and David Cronenberg have graduated from creature features to prestige films, director Don Coscarelli continues to plow a pulpy terrain outside the Hollywood mainstream. Like his breakthrough "Phantasm" more than 30 years ago, "John Dies at the End" is a marvel of midpriced special effects, but the gore is leavened with a soupçon of sinister wit and a bucket full of brains.
The clever script, adapted from a novel, is about a Midwestern slacker named Dave Wong (Chase Williamson) who is telling a fantastical tale to reporter Arnie (Paul Giamatti).
Chase has learned firsthand about a new street drug called Soy Sauce. It enables users to read minds and predict the future, but it can also turn them into insectoid mutants.
David's friend John (Rob Mayes) was infected with the drug and died at the police station where a local detective (Glynn Turman) was investigating the grisly demise of a drug dealer.
But then John rose from the dead to help Dave travel to an alternate reality, where humanoids are plotting a takeover of the Earth.
As with most fantasy films, the story is secondary to inventive images and speculative ideas. And more than most, this one adheres to its own logic in ways that are continually entertaining.
The wrinkles of time travel and telepathy produce some loopy humor, like John calling Dave from another dimension via a hot-dog phone and a loyal canine driving a truck to rescue Dave from a house fire.
Some of the themes and the hallucinatory special effects are reminiscent of Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch," and there are cheeky allusions to "Dawn of the Dead" and even "Eyes Wide Shut," but a viewer with an open mind might say this movie is more enjoyable than any of them.
John Dies at the End
• Rated: R with bloody violence, strong language, drug references and some nudity.
• Director: Don Coscarelli.
• Cast: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Clancy Brown, Glynn Turman.
• Running time: 99 minutes.