Contrary to popular belief, I do not watch every zombie movie that comes out. If I did that, I wouldn’t have time to do much of anything seeing how the genre has become somewhat super-saturated to point of imminent backlash… if it hasn’t already occurred. Plus… let’s face it… much of the genre is pure shit… but every so often, something special happens… and this time around, it’s Cuba turn to shine in one of the odder entries I’ve seen, Juan of the Dead.
I had avoided this movie when it was in it’s limited release last year, even though I had read a few positive things about it… just the name alone turned me off a bit. Yes, we get it… another twist on Dawn of the Dead… I thought Shaun of the Dead had put that concept to rest. But after reading something else recently, and seeing that it was currently on OnDemand for a nominal charge, Mrs. Blahg and I figured, why not.
Set in Cuba, Juan (Alexis Dias di Villegas) is a lazy slacker with a laconic style that makes you think he is either a genius or a complete idiot (I was leaning towards idiot much of the time). He and his best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) encounter a zombie while fishing just off the coast of Havana… but don’t make much of it, other than promising that they won’t tell anyone about having just shot a man through the head with a harpoon. That is simply the beginning.
Juan of the Dead brings political messaging back to the genre by showing a society that does it’s best to hide the reality of what is going on (dead rising and eating people) and covers it up by claiming that dissidents are uprising in order to overthrow the government. With Cuba as the backdrop, we are able to get a glimpse of a system that would allow such a silly concept to flourish, as well as introducing us to a wonderful assortment of ridiculous characters.
Once the dead begin rising, Juan gets an idea… why not make some money dispatching your loved ones who are now trying to eat you. He enlists the help of; Lazaro’s son, California (Andros Perugorria), a laid back guy who would fit in immediately in Southern California; La China (Jazz Vila), a transvestite; and El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez), La China’s giant bodyguard who will pass out at the slightest hint of blood, therefore he can only kill with a blindfold on. The cast is completely insane… yet, it works to great effect.
Juan is a completely unlikable Lothario… but by the end, you will be rooting for him. Something about this character makes you both disgusted by and sympathetic to him… he may be a horrible person, but he is the man with the plans… and more often than not, those plans work in this new world. The woman who he seems to be trying to woo in the beginning turns out to be his daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro). He wasn’t wooing her in a traditional sense… he was trying to woo his way back into her life as her father, a shocking amount of sweetness. Fortunately, she happens to kick some serious ass.
I’m not doing a great job of relaying the absolute weirdness of this movie… and just how much I enjoyed it. The gore is fantastic, albeit a bit low budget, and the story itself is clever and original. The characters are largely unsympathetic and horrible, but you will be cheering for them every step along the way… and the simple fact that they continue to refer to the zombies as dissidents throughout every bloody encounter is wonderful. Plus, I forgot to mention… it’s hilarious.
Juan of the Dead… a welcome new member of the zombie genre family. If you can deal with one more “insert noun here” of the Dead movie, I would highly recommend this one.
No Castros were harmed in the making of this film,
Cornelius J. Blahg