5 / 5 stars
It’s tough to make an original zombie movie these days. The genre has been so overly produced in recent years that it’s a frustrating endeavor to find something new. That’s why this month’s Quirky Queue pick is just what the mad doctor ordered. 2011’s Juan of the Dead gives us a new view of the walking dead, this time from the socialist perspective, with the action set in the heart of Cuba. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
Happy-go-lucky Havana native and all-around slacker-scoundrel Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is content with life. He has no desire to float to Miami, where, as he states, he “would have to work for a living.” He and his cronies already do well through underhanded deals and thievery, but their life of Riley is about to come to an end, interrupted by the spread of zombies — labeled by the government-controlled media as “dissidents.” But clever Juan sees the crisis as a money-making opportunity and quickly trains his troop to become a zombie-killing and removal service.
Juan of the Dead plays somewhere between a Marx Brothers film and A Three Stooges short, with a sprinkling of Porky’s-like sexual humor. With a combination of wacky characters, witty dialogue, and surprisingly keen slapstick, writer/director Alejandro Brugués has created a wildly fun farce.
Juan’s ragtag gang includes his best friend, the slightly perverse, not-too-bright Lazaro (Jorge Molina), Lazaro’s son (Andros Perugorría), Juan’s estranged daughter Camila (Andrea Duro), a transvestite (Jazz Vilá) and a muscular bodyguard named El Primo (Eliecer Ramirez), a guy who must be blindfolded while fighting the hordes since he faints at the sight of blood. This ensemble, with good performances by all, leads us through the zombie horrors in the most fanciful and uncommon ways, always putting a smile on our faces through their bumbling efforts and sheer good luck.
Although Juan of the Dead is reminiscent of much of the zombie genre, the film includes a number of details and sequences never before seen. Juan fights off the undead with his trusty oar and nunchucks (of course). He finds himself handcuffed to a zombie, the pair performing a dance as Juan tries to avoid getting bitten, a fine homage to silent-era comedies.
The most unique aspect of the film is its point of view: For Cuban natives like Juan and his friends, the zombie invasion is just another crisis they must survive in order to set their homeland straight and regain their individual freedoms. They aren’t even sure what they’re fighting, as the monsters are referred to as imperialists, dissidents, or capitalists, all code names for any Cuban undesirables. Juan and Lazaro are just trying to survive and give their kids a life better than their own. Dictators, food shortages, war, zombies, its all the same to them.
There’s even mention of the gang running to the mountains to start a revolution, making Juan of the Dead the only film of its kind: A Communist Zombie Apocalypse. This is certainly one of the more enjoyable zombie adventures since Shawn of the Dead and, if you’re a true zombie devotee, you’ll definitely want this one under your belt.