31 NIGHTS OF HALLOWEEN – 26 – Fan-Casting a Dream Project – John Dies at the End

Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.

For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…

This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. 

So, this is going to be something I might make a regular thing out of, but since I’m working on being a successful filmmaker alongside my other jobs and this blog (by way of a for instance, I am currently in the middle of two more short films and one of them should hopefully be posted by Halloween. As well as the videos I am haphazardly making for this blog), I have dream projects.

Several of them. Without any real regard usually to how they have been treated before.

John Dies at the End and its sequel novel This Book Is Full of Spiders, Seriously, Dude Don’t Touch It, both written by Cracked editor-in-chief David Wong, have been at the top of this list of dream projects that are adapted from other works forever (since the majority of my dream projects are original treatments and original scripts that I personally drafted). It has already been adapted by Don Coscarelli in 2012 and my feelings for that movie have already been half-laid out (I feel a re-review is in store), but let me briefly recap: I don’t just think it is a terrible adaptation, I think it’s a terrible fucking movie and the only Coscarelli work I dislike other than Phantasm III (I have not seen his pre-Phantasm movies though).

However, I do feel like the casting is one of the few things done right for that movie and that could have probably made it work. But since I read the book, I already had my own personal vision of the characters and in making my own adaptation, I’d do best to adhere to my vision, rather than Coscarelli’s.

To briefly go over the book before I dig into my fan-cast, it is like so: Two good-for-nothings in the middle of the most ghetto town in America, David Wong (our author surrogate) and John Cheese (it is explicitly stated that these are not their real names) have an unfortunate encounter with a drug labeled “soy sauce” that unfortunately allows them to be able to see, interact, and experience an invisible-to-the-naked-eye and completely real hellish dimension to the world they live in. As a result, they are thrust into roles that involve addressing and dealing with the Shadow People that threaten to wreck the reality they know. It also feels more like three narratives tied together loosely in a haphazard arc. Because that’s, from what I understand, exactly what it is – three short stories Wong wrote tied together at the last publishing second.

Which is why I would prefer to make it into a miniseries if nothing else.

It is an extremely juvenile book that is easy to read, yet drifts into tangents at points and sometimes loses focus. I’ve heard it described by a friend who hates as if a 14-year-old were forced to recite a whole Stephen King novel. I do not dispute this description at all and understand why people would hate the book for it, but that’s actually a hefty amount of what gives the novel the charm I find in it. The fact that it’s unreliable narrator is so impotent that he can’t even tell a complete story, making us doubt that he and his constant party-headed friend could possibly be able to deal with real life, even before they have to walk up to the task of being this world’s heroes. It at once makes the story darker, funnier and, honestly, scarier to know that the fate of what happens to us without even knowing rests on the hands of these failures and how doomed and deserving of eradication we all are. It is like if a nihilist to the degree of Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle from True Detective decided he had just read… say… something by Douglas Adams or, I’d even daresay Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and decided he wanted to write something really funny like that, but his ideology just gets in the way (and the fact that he’s not much of a writer, like he’s not Herman Melville – it shows that the writer of the book is in charge of Cracked now).

And it’s descriptions of the horrors that Wong and Cheese encounter really really touch on me as a deliberate, pointed parody of H.P. Lovecraft’s writing style, using these flourishes and very intimate details under simple and descriptive language to talk about stupid ass shit like a flying mustache or a monster made out of meat. There is no fucking way Wong has never read a book by Clive Barker or at least Lovecraft and if I ever hear him deny that, I will call bullshit on him.

So, yeah, it’s easy to see the book and its sequel (which actually is a lot neater as a narrative and also one of the most depressing fiction reads I’ve ever dealt with and that puts it alongside Les Miserables and Kafka’s works, for Odinsake, I read a lot) are among my favorites. And I am so involved in it that I have such ideas on how to adapt it and make it an active living, breathing work of cinema, that I am prepared to go to the most extraordinary lengths to prove to David Wong that this is my fucking style of story and that I can make it in the best way possible.

When I know that I can. Which is not now, I don’t think I’m quite capable of the task, but when I finally feel I am ready, he will need to either allow me the rights or get a restraining order to shut me up.

In the meantime, here is the cast (short of some actor friends I work with – they have been replaced with my ideal public persona) in my mind when adapting it, with some explanation, description and a few minor spoilers of the book (many of which don’t feature in the movie).

“My name is David, by the way. Um, hi. I once saw a man’s kidneys grow tentacles, tear itself out of a ragged hole in his back and go slapping across my kitchen floor.”

DAVID WONG, our dark untrustworthy idiot narrator is kind of a character that I pictured a certain friend of mine I don’t feel right to namedrop for the role. But in the case of a demanded brand name rather than an unknown, I’d go with DANE DEHAAN (The Place Beyond the Pines), for the simple reason that he is easily the most darkly intense actor we have these days at the same age area.

“You don’t even exist. We’re all just figments of my cock’s imagination.”

JOHN CHEESE, the oblivious eager center of energy for the entire story has been and will always be ANDREW WK in my mind. Because no fucking way does anybody party harder than WK does and I also have serious doubts that anybody would be as open to the possibility of fighting shadow monsters on a fucking hangover in Vegas.

AMY SULLIVAN, the just-as-wrecked redheaded girl whose missing hand shows her apparent damage matches David and John’s hidden damage, deserves not only an actor who knows who can tune into the dark scenario of the story but also an ability to become as homely as possible for a love interest with David, so it’s not so much “she’s hot, she’s obviously gonna get it with David/John” as it is “David and Amy deserve each other”. I think JANE LEVY is absolutely beautiful, but since seeing Evil Dead, am certain she can pull Hilary Swank-esque task.

“ARNIE BLONDESTONE” is just a working stiff trying to get his stories done when he figures he will indulge David for the frame narrative of the story. It needs a reporter vibe, but I also think BRUCE CAMPBELL (The Evil Dead trilogy) hasn’t been given truly enough stuff to do and it’s kind of the stock character that he could definitely add gracious flavor to. And The Hudsucker Proxy proved playing reporters is nothing new to him.

Without elaborating hugely, I think I’d also like to add a cameo by a certain Afro-American horror titan into the role for the latter moments of Arnie’s appearance and so I come to mind TONY TODD (Candyman) or KEN FOREE (Dawn of the Dead) in the role. Not much acting to be asked of though.

“Do you dream, mon? I interpret dreams for beer.”

BRUCE “ROBERT MARLEY” MATTHEWS is easy-peasy as fuck. TAI BENNETT‘s performance in the Coscarelli film is my single favorite moment of a movie I didn’t like and that’s not faint praise, I promise. He did the role exactly how I imagined it, with the perfect hint of con artistry and frightening intuition. I would not hesitate in casting him again. I’d maybe turn his bullshit artist up a notch to let the audience’s guard down when he really gets into David’s head, but that’s it… he was perfect.

FATHER ALBERT MARCONI needs to be a figure of obscure stature and the one true sense of grounding in a world with madness, even though the main reason that he can deal with these supernatural things is probably because he is able to embrace his own madness with it. For that, two fucking words: WERNER HERZOG (though I also consider OTTO JESPERSEN – based on his hilarious performance in Troll Hunter – or if the producers demand a brand name, JAVIER BARDEM).

For “BIG JIM” SULLIVAN, Amy’s Bible-dependent large and protective older brother, I really don’t have much to say beyond the fact that, while I think he’s too old and too far-gone now, the picture for the character was of the 90s COREY TAYLOR (of Slipknot and Stone Sour) back when he was a bit more chubby, but still imposing, and had long hair (with those Iowa sideburns). So I can’t say beyond that type of actor…

DETECTIVE LAWRENCE “MORGAN FREEMAN” APPLETON is just the easiest typecast for DANNY GLOVER to the point that I almost feel sorry for just making Glover a role he pretty much played in the Lethal Weapon movies and Saw. I’d almost not cast Glover just out of sympathy, until I realize Wong would be hilariously (possibly racistly) referring to Appleton as “Morgan Freeman” for the duration of the film and realize there is no way I am not taking this chance.

JENNIFER LOPEZ (Not THE Jennifer Lopez) is just pretty much supposed to be the ideal perfect girl David so desperately wants to be with, with just enough character that she doesn’t become a meat puppet. ALEXANDRA DADDARIO is the closest realistic match I can make for the character and while I’m not a fan of her as an actor, I don’t think he failing in this role would demolish the story as a whole.

John’s police detective uncle, UNCLE FRANK, is just another role to be snug for ENRICO COLANTONI (Veronica Mars). A shamus, a semi-concerned relative, and suspicious man. Basically a less involved Keith Mars.

Man, for those of you have seen The Place Beyond the Pines, didn’t any of you get as much of a fucking twerp wannabe gangster vibe from EMORY COHEN in his role (which I think he did brilliantly making me dislike him). If nothing else is perfect in this fancast (and I honestly don’t think it is), I really really really think Cohen is the damned possession monster SHITLOAD aka JUSTIN WHITE.

I’ve seen KATRINA BOWDEN in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil which gives me enough understanding that she’d be tuned in enough to such a genre picture as John Dies at the End to provide an emotional source for the second third of the tale and becoming among the major clients of David and John, the heavy-handed Christian KRISSY LOVELACE, in search of her close friend (possibly more than friends)…

… DANNY WEXLER, tv weatherman, who should be a recognizable enough face without being too notable. For that reason, when I had conceptualized this cast last November, I had thought of CHRIS PRATT who is personable enough and well known enough… Except that now, he’s become too much of a star as of recent and I need someone more downplayed. I consider it a curse that JOEL MCHALE has not reached the stardom Pratt has, but in this case, I’ll take its advantage.

For the rest, which I won’t describe as much, but will at least elaborate…

FRED CHU Steven Yeun (Definite unfortunate victim man in a situation he never asked for)

“SHELLY MORRIS” – Well not to bag two Walking Dead actors in one, but Lauren Cohen. Because Supernatural shows well enough she can give the creeps and she can probably handle the more unearthly beauty of the role.

ROGER NORTH – I have no problem with using DOUG JONES again (I’d do more with him than Coscarelli did), but I honestly pictured a thinner STEPHEN FRY (I’d hate to be the guy to tell him to lose weight, but he’d be great for it).

“FRED DURST”/MOLLY – For this very brief yet notorious scene in the book, I’m going to beg on the good will of FRED DURST himself (frontman of Limp Bizkit) and hope he has a sense of humor regardless of my not liking his music… or really liking him (or David Wong liking Durst from what it seems). If not him, we always VANILLA ICE proving he has one.

If you know me… you know I have a huge musical crush on MIKE PATTON. And if you know Mike Patton, you know he can do so many creepy and crawly and eerie voices (just check out his work on the Darkness games or Left 4 Dead or for the vampires in I Am Legend or just his music in general). Hence, it should come as no surprise to anyone at all that I’d be dying to have him do the VOICE OF KORROK, THE MEAT MONSTER AND ANY POSSESSED BY KORROK for the source of real sonic terror in the film.

And that’s pretty much the most of it, except for addressing one thing I want to add about the story being adapted to film (among a few cool things I want to try when I go ahead with this project)….

SPOILERS

I want to use a very relatively unknown actor to portray Todd Brinkmeyer, who is doomed from the climax of the first third of the miniseries, to be rendered out of existence from his ill fate at the hands of the Shadow People (referred in the books as simply “Them”). He’ll be uncredited. He’ll be appearing in only select shots and sometimes for a blink (this will be a collaboration between the actor, editor, cinematographer and I) – akin to the Fight Club effect. He won’t be acknowledged until the reveal in the diner scene after the Luxor battle. So that when David is going over the Luxor incident with Arnie, the audience will get that same feeling of knowing somebody who doesn’t exist anymore. It needs to be precise to work well.

END OF SPOILERS

And that’s for the most part it. All the ones I’ve been thinking about for a film adaptation of John Dies at the End. Maybe later on, I can continue to address other facets of dream projects or any fancasts or what not. We’ll see.

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