The wackiest sci-fi flick at Sundance: Paul Giamatti and filmmaker Don Coscarelli on JOHN DIES AT THE END
JOHN DIES AT THE END, the latest bizarro sci-fi flick from genre filmmaker Don Coscarelli (of BUBBA HO-TEP fame), opens with a bang.
A designer drug called “soy sauce” grants users a paranormal, out-of-body experience, but also transforms them into disgusting, insect-filled zombie creatures. John (Rob Mayes) is frantic. He calls his best friend—and fellow slacker—Dave (Chase Williamson), who rushes over to his house. They soon encounter a cute, unassuming girl with a scar on her face. Before the two guys can say “soy sauce,” she explodes into hundreds of snakes that bite and tear at the two pals. John runs up the stairs to try and escape, but the door handle turns into a penis, which he refuses to turn. Then, various meats from the basement freezer—sausages, steaks, chickens, etc.—begin shooting across the floor, forming a “meat monster” with a turkey for a head who addresses the boys in a demonic voice.
With the world, unbeknownst to its people, in shambles, Dave enlists the help of a skeptical journalist, played by Paul Giamatti, in order to blow the lid off this crazy story.
Based on David Wong’s book of the same name, JOHN DIES AT THE END is the wackiest sci-fi film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The movie’s director, Don Coscarelli, and star/executive producer, Paul Giamatti, chat about their gonzo film, the BUBBA HO-TEP sequel they’re planning, whether they’ve ever gone crazy on drugs, and Robert Pattinson’s acting chops.
How’s your Sundance experience going so far?
Dan Coscarelli: It’s the one place in the world where film lovers are focused directly on your movie. When you’re a small, independent film with no resources really, it’s just what the doctor ordered!
Paul Giamatti: I’ve almost been more excited about this than anything. It’s an odd picture to have here and it’s great that it’s here and there’s room for it. I played a small part in helping Don get it made, so that’s been nice.
Have either of you guys ever had a crazy, out-of-body experience on drugs?
Coscarelli: If you’ve ever watched my movie PHANTASM, I think you can see that there were some influences there.
Giamatti: And if you’ve seen my taste in movies, you’d maybe see that some things like that have happened. [Laughs] We were at the standby line beforehand just talking to people, and some kid said to me, “Dude, I just really want to smoke a J with you sometime.” And I was like, “We should do that right now, before the movie starts!”
Coscarelli: Some other kid came by and said, “That could be the best drug movie of the decade!” So I guess we’ll have to take that as a compliment.
Paul—is the beard for a role?
Giamatti: I grew a beard and then I let it grow because I’m going to do this ROMEO AND JULIET movie in Italy where I play a monk—a friar—in it, so I just let it keep growing. I may even shave my head into a Tonsure for the full effect. [Laughs]
I heard you guys were trying to make a sequel to BUBBA HO-TEP called BUBBA NOSFERATU.
Coscarelli: Well, we spent two years working on it. I learned that Paul was a fan of the original BUBBA HO-TEP so we met for coffee one day. He didn’t know it but my intent was to have him join in on the next BUBBA project. I was always fascinated by this very bizarre relationship Elvis had with his manager, Colonel Parker, because Col. Parker was this Svengali-like vampire, in a way. So Paul was going to play Colonel Parker as a vampire.
So this was before the whole TWILIGHT vampire craze?
Giamatti: This was back in 2005 or 2006, so it must have been, yeah. That’s interesting. Vampires weren’t really “a thing” back then. I’d still love to play Col. Parker.
Coscarelli: Ours was so way out there. Col. Parker was a master negotiator and he’s trying to work his way out of a problem with a coven of vampires, and Elvis is sort of his bait because the vampires really want Elvis.
How did JOHN DIES AT THE END come to fruition?
Coscarelli: One of my guilty pleasures at the time is reading zombie fiction from this company called Permuted Press, so I bought a couple and one day in my inbox, I get this Amazon spam email that says, “If you like these, you’ll love JOHN DIES AT THE END.” So I read the logline and I was like, “Wow, this sounds like the plot of a movie.” And I got the book and it was so much more than that.
Giamatti: It was the fact that it didn’t stop getting crazier and crazier. I thought that if someone could sustain this and pull this off, it would be fantastic. I thought it was hilarious, too.
How did you pull off the movie’s infamous “meat monster?”
Coscarelli: One of my collaborators did a drawing of a potential meat monster, and I thought, “If we could get a really thin guy, we could do this as a guy in a suit.” Then we went low-tech. All the meat coming together on the floor to form the monster was two full days of six guys on the floor pulling fishing lines. It’s very choreographed so you have a sausage coming this way, a steak coming this way, and a turkey head coming that way.
What was the most difficult or strangest scene for you to shoot?
Coscarelli: The scene that John calls “EYES WIDE SHUT World.” I had never shot any scenes with multiple nude women in it. I’ve never spent time with dozens of nude women, let alone talk with them and direct them.
Giamatti: Oh, so this is what was difficult about it? [Laughs] I see. OK. You wanted to be very professional about it?
Coscarelli: I wanted to look everybody in the eyes… [Laughs]
Paul, I’m excited about David Cronenberg’s COSMOPOLIS.
Giamatti: That’s an equally bizarre movie. There’s weird similarities to this one. It’s a tough movie to talk about. Robert Pattinson plays this hugely wealthy guy and it follows this dark day in his life, and I’m someone who he meets at the end of the movie who is very important in his life and who you didn’t know was out there.
Were you impressed by Pattinson? He’s gotten some slack for the TWILIGHT movies.
Giamatti: I thought he was great. I’ve honestly never seen any of the TWILIGHT movies.
So when can we expect BUBBA HO-TEP 2?
Coscarelli: Paul and I are kicking around some really fun ideas in general. Some of them are genre films and some aren’t. We might have to make some changes—I don’t know if it will have to be the vampires. The funny thing is you can make a new BUBBA film by just sticking in a new monster. ‘The Bubba Blob.’ One I always wanted to do is ‘Bubba Sasquatch.’
Giamatti: [Laughs] ‘Bubba Sasquatch’ is so hilarious to me. That’s awesome, I love it.
Presented by Sundance Channel and The Daily Beast. Check out all of The Daily Beast's dispatches from the Sundance Film Festival.