Juan de los Muertos aka Juan of the Dead
In honor of Juan of the Dead finally making it to blu-ray on October 14, I’m reposting a review I did for Zombie Training when the film was first released.
Juan of the Dead has almost reached cult status with zombiephiles based solely on the fact that it is the first zombie film to be shot in Havana and the first independent film to be shot in Cuba in over fifty years. Most impressively this Spanish/Cuban co-produced zombedy written and directed by Cuban native Alejandro Brugués lives up to the hype. It has a uniquely fresh take on the zombie horror-comedy with its satirical bite on both the zombie sub-genre and Cuban society.
Our hero is Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas), a forty-something, rum loving and womanizing slacker who, with his good-hearted but not-too-bright-sidekick Lazaro (Jorge Molina), spends most of his time searching for discarded trash to sell.
When Juan and Lazaro first encounter the living dead, while relaxing atop their raft, they’re bewildered when a drifting body suddenly comes back to life, the shock of which causes Lazaro to accidentally harpoon the undead man through the head—a gag that will re-occur throughout the film. It’s not long before Juan and Lazaro start to encounter more of the undead, and soon the streets of Havana are filled with people attacking one another.
The government declares the social disorder is being caused by American-funded dissidents out to topple the regime. But as the chaos on the streets escalates, Juan and his friends discover that the attackers are not normal humans and that killing them is not an easy task. Never quite comprehending they are the undead; they do discover that the only way to kill them is to destroy their brains.
Juan realizes there is money to be made from the mayhem. For a small fee he will kill your unwanted loved ones for you, and for a little more he’ll dispose of the bodies: “Juan of the Dead. We kill your loved ones. How may I help you?” And with the help from his friends, including his estranged daughter Camila (Andrea Duro) and Lazaro’s son Vladi California (Andros Perugorría), they attempt to rid Havana of the undead.
Unfortunately, after a month has passed and the government has fallen, our anti-heroes realize that they can’t kill them all and they need to flee. Juan reluctantly concedes to go to Miami if necessary; a city where he’s not to keen on going (“Why would I want to go to Miami? I have to work there”). This finds them in some zany escape antics, which makes up the climax of the film.
The Shaun Of The Dead comparison is apparent, especially when it comes to the slacker-turned-hero Juan and his slovenly sidekick Lazaro. There is also much homage to some of director Brugués’s favorite films, some through dialog (“I kick ass for the lord.” and “Come with me if you want to live.”) and others (Lee’s Enter the Dragon and Fulci’s Zombi 2) overtly re-enacted, all of which adds charm to the film.
Juan of the Dead is filled with satirical gore and violence with loveable characters that never quiet grasp that those they are battling are zombies. It is laconically clever and hilariously irreverent, this screwball Cuban zombie satire is as engaging as it is funny.
Juan of the Dead
Directed by Alejandro Brugués
Screenplay by Alejandro Brugués
Cast: Alexis Díaz de Villegas, Jorge Molina, Andros Perugorría, Andrea Duro, Jazz Vilá, Eliecer Ramírez and Blanca Rosa Blanco
Run Time: 92 minutes
Release Date: Blu-ray out October 14, 2014.