Juan of the Dead Alejandro Brugues
Published Sep 23, 2011Much more than a knock-off or parody of Shaun of the Dead, this Cuban descendant of Romero has a casual mean streak and obvious political bent to separate it from its British cousin. Juan is of a similar ilk to Shaun, a winking, gory comedic homage familiar with the many forms the undead have taken in cinema, but is a buddy comedy at its core.
Heading a band of petty criminals, Juan and his buddy, Lazaro, live a life of self-interest, trying to scrounge cash and score pussy through often dubious means. On the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, scattered incidents of peculiar violence (Juan and Lazaro reel in a zombie while fishing in the film's opening scene) come to a head with the large gathering of people providing the perfect opportunity for the virus to take hold.
We've already gotten to know a vibrant and quirky community by this point, full of transient morality, frank sexuality (Lazaro throttles the porpoise on a rooftop, watching a couple fuck through a nearby window) and opportunism, so it fits the bill when Juan decides a little zombie apocalypse could be good for business. After all, he's already survived everything else his country has been through. He and Lazaro enlist a gang of oddball criminals ― a slingshot wielding tranny, a Mike Tyson-looking man-beast who faints at the sight of blood, Lazaro's smooth talking son and Juan's estranged daughter ― to aid in their "beloved ones" extermination service.
The news reports the epidemic as "American dissidents" trying to undermine Castro's regime, but in the thick of it, our anti-heroes just want to know why the biters differ in speed. Lazaro also has a habit of killing other survivors just as readily as the undead, lending to an irreverent shock-factor that'll delight the morbid-minded.
Cleanly and clearly shot, with quality makeup, energetically and humorously choreographed kills, and populated by honestly flawed characters that treat zombies as just another fucked-up thing to deal with about living in Havana, Juan of the Dead is among the liveliest and most pointed comedy horrors I've seen. (La Zanfona)