HorrorFest 2009: 'John Dies At The End'
Welcome to HorrorFest 2009.
It's been a long strange journey so far for John Dies At The End and its author, "David Wong," and there's still plenty of journey ahead. I'm late to the party, but now that I've read the book, I'm onboard, and I am ready to recruit others this horror world equivalent to The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
Jason Pargin is editor-in-chief of the very funny Cracked.com, and it should come as no surprise that he was able to write a very funny supernatural novel, using the internet to self-publish starting back in 2001. It's impressive, though, that he was able to create a novel that feels organically scary without sacrificing any of the absurdist attitude, and that the book continues to have a life above and beyond that original online publication. Don "Phantasm" Coscarelli is set to turn the book into a film, and is hard at work on the script right now. And now, St. Martin's Press has just issued the book as a hardcover edition that collects and refines the online version of the novel, and which they sent to me for review.
David Wong is not just Pargin's pseudonym, he's also the narrator and main character in the book. He goes from being a normal midwestern dude working a crappy job to being a supernatural warrior trying to head off an invasion of our dimension with only his best friend John to help him. Their adventure brings them in contact with all sorts of crazy monsters, alternate worlds, a mysterious drug called "soy sauce," Shadow Men, Molly the Dog, demons, and a bad guy named Korrock who exists in all worlds at once. If there's any negative I'd offer up about the book, its origins as a serial show a bit in the way it sort of keeps lurching forward breathlessly with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter and with a sort of barrage of ideas that isn't paced in any traditional narrative manner.
No matter. Wong has a real knack for both the persuasive horror detail and the devastatingly dry one-liner. There's a moment early on in the book where John and David are trying to get out of a house that has revealed itself to be massively haunted, and this happens:
I reached for the knob. At the same moment it began to melt and transform, turning pink and finally taking the shape of a flaccid penis. It flopped softly against the door, like a man was cramming it through the knob hole from the other side.
I turned back to John and said, "That door cannot be opened."
Yeah, right about there is where I fell in love with this book and with this writer. I can absolutely see the appeal for Coscarelli. He's got the right sensibility to bring this to the screen, and I love that it's not a giant studio deal where they just snapped it up and then went looking for a director. Coscarelli is the guy who made this deal happen. It's a passion project. And if he gets the right support, this could easily turn out to be his biggest mainstream moment so far.
By the end of the book, much of the humor has taken a secondary position, and the sheer magnitude of the horror has had a real effect on the characters. Wong never shortsells the underlying reality, and so there is a cumulative impact. He's talked about writing a sequel, even publishing an excerpt of it online, but so far, he hasn't set a date for that one. Right now, if you're one of the people who didn't read this online, run out and grab yourself a copy. It's a great read, entertaining and insane, and I sincerely hope it's not the last we hear from David Wong.
HorrorFest 2009 runs every day of October 2009. Except when it doesn't.
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