Monday, August 27, 2012

REVIEW: Juan of the Dead

Juan of the Dead
Director: Alejandro Brugues
Year 2011
Juan of the Dead is a fantastically entertaining Cuban zombie film that has more than enough character and charisma to satisfy even the most jaded of genre viewers. With a fresh location, unique style, and an interesting cultural twist, the movie saturates its audience in a world that has rarely been showcased in its native land, let alone in a horror/comedy hybrid form. The end result is an outstanding tongue and cheek zombie flick that oozes with personality and pays enough homages to the originators and prolific filmmakers of the genre to garner it a respectable place among its flesh-eating predecessors. Juan of the Dead is truly a gem of a movie, so let’s get this review train rolling and introduce the new badass of horror cinema, Juan!
The film follows a man by the name of Juan, a despicable and opportunistic slacker who slowly comes to realize that his hometown of Havana is being taken over by a zombie uprising. Taking every opportunity that he can in benefiting from this new world order, Juan enlists a motley crew of neighbors to form a “for hire” zombie killing squad, one that advertises that they will kill infected loved ones for you, but for a price. As business begins to boom, the crew quickly comes to realize that in a world where everything has turned to shit, nothing goes exactly as planned. Job after job, the group finds out that even though they are good at taking out zombies, they seem to have a serious problem in keeping their employers alive long enough to be paid. With the numbers of walking corpses steadily rising within the city limits and the sightings of survivors dwindling with each passing day, Juan and company must make a brash decision. Should they stay in a country that is in their blood even though it is now overrun with hordes of undead, or should they make for the ocean and chance the world outside? Juan of the Dead is profoundly riveting and substantially ridiculous, making for an interesting balance that entertains with exceptional quality. Go Juan, Go!

Alexis Diaz de Villegas plays the titular character of Juan, the wily zombie killer who has a soft spot for conning people, saving children, and hooking up with loose women. Juan is unlike any character that has been depicted on the screen, because even though he is presented as the stereotypical slacker with no direction in life, he still manages to come up with some rather elaborate schemes and a plethora of inventive plans in order to bring in the green and live out a fulfilled life in his mind. Alexis does a great job with the character as he makes this despicable human being into a sympathetic and heartfelt lead. His charisma is also noteworthy, because it is not of the stereotypical ilk that we’re used to. Instead, Alexis allows the quirky tendencies of his character to define his charismatic nature. In replace of the cocky sure-headed and attractive hero, we get a man who is simply a survivor. He is neither swashbuckling nor notable in appearance, but rather down trotted, odd, and highly natural in his presentation. The humble representation by Alexis allows for both Juan and Cuba to really shine, making for an intimate portrayal of one man struggling to find his place within a country that he both clashes with but inherently is apart of and deep down loves despite its flaws and problems.
The rest of the cast is filled out by an outrageous ensemble of obscure characters that really inject a healthy dose of life into the proceedings. Jorge Molina takes on the role of Juan’s best friend Lazaro, an equally despicable miscreant who wears his pervert heart on his sleeve. The relationship that he and Juan share is rather heartwarming, though highly dysfunctional, and the concept of them being partners through thick and thin is highly effective through all the wacky adventures they get themselves in. Andrea Duro and Andros Perugorria take on the roles of Juan and Lazaro’s children, Camila being Juan’s only daughter and Vladi California being Lazaro’s only son. The chemistry that Andrea and Andros have with their parents and each other is another heartwarming aspect of the film. Though Andrea is estranged from her father, she still has a soft spot for his antics and mischievous scheming, while California on the other hand looks to follow in his father’s footsteps just more smoothly. Both actors do a superb job with their characters, giving an extra layer to the film’s narrative that really keeps the larger than life aspects of the movie in check and grounded.
Lastly another set of key players within this wacky group of zombie fighters is La China and El Primo, performed by Jazz Vila and Eliecer Ramirez. La China’s character is the local drag queen who doesn’t take shit from anybody while El Primo is the meat-head muscle of their duo. The dynamics between the two characters are ridiculously entertaining; with the highlight being that El Primo must be blindfolded during most of the zombie killing because he faints at the slightest sight of blood. All in all, the entire cast does an amazing job with the individual nuances of their characters and the interactions between the diverse cast is priceless and full of outstanding moments.

Aside from the actors bringing the film to life, Juan of the Dead is also vividly depicted by the visual splendor of the city of Havana and the Cuban landscape, which are both idyllic in their beautiful coastal vistas and devastating their raw and decaying urban environments. The film also takes a great deal of pride in showcasing the good and bad of the region, while at the same time allowing the personality of the countries people and heritage to engross the film’s narrative in a seamless progression that exudes a unique atmosphere for this cinematic gem. The humble locales and the variety of its denizens brings a fresh take on the genre, one that gives the story told within this movie a pulse and life of its own. It’s both unsettling and fascinating to be able to somewhat explore the nooks and crannies of this secluded nation amidst a fictional zombie apocalypse, and the metaphorical parallels that the filmmakers have set up with the advent of fusing societal collapse with the state of the country is genuinely felt and wholly appreciated by this cinema fan.
Of course it’s not just all impressive scope and artistic merit with this film. There is also a heavy dose of fun to be had in the form of outstanding comedic moments, throngs of walking ravenous corpses, and a slew of imaginative ways to kill these undead bastards. The tongue and cheek nature of this film thrives during these instances, where we really get to see how the zombie killers do their massacring. Each member of the team has their unique way of dealing out death, and each is as impressively outrageous as the next. My favorite weapon of choice has to be Juan’s oversized boat oar which seems to fit his personality to perfection. When it comes to actually displaying these bloody kills, the film doesn’t shy away from the goriness of the moment but relishes in them, often in absurd and entertaining ways. The name of the game in this movie is fun, and that’s what you get with the overwhelming combination of creative kills, inspired weapons, a gung-ho cast, and a rather impressive array of zombie effects for the size of the production’s budget. For being something of a first for Cuban genre cinema, Juan of the Dead really packs a punch and delivers the goods.

Juan of the Dead goes above and beyond the call of duty for a low budget production, as it brings a great deal of heart into its character driven story. Not only that, but the filmmakers were obviously quite confident in the obscure energy of its cast of characters, seeing as they are the lifeblood that keeps this narrative steaming along at a tremendous pace. Alexis Diaz de Villegas turns out a life-changing performance as Juan, while the rest of the cast gives it their all in making this post-apocalyptic world as alive and outrageous as humanly possible. Every interaction that the cast shares with each other is bursting with energy and busting at the seams with an unexpected flair that just jolts the narrative like a defibrillator to the heart.
Juxtaposed against the wacky nature of the film is the somber presentation of a society which has begun to decay from the inside out as its citizens quickly succumb to devouring each other within its fallen state. The added depth to which Alejandro Brugues decides to tell his zombie tale harkens back to the originator of the thinking man’s zombie film George A. Romero and his metaphorical laced series of dead-centric films. Brugues takes this concept and rolls with it, adding his own flavor and comedic sensibility which morphs this formula into a stylistic beast that has so much to say and says it magnificently. As for the visuals of this low budget wonder, they are outstandingly conceptualized and highly satisfying as they depict the ethereal atmosphere of Havana against the blood drenched savagery of each and every zombie kill. If you’re looking for a zombie movie that spices up the tried and true zombie formula, while emphatically making a name for itself within the genre, then look no further because Juan of the Dead is your man. This movie is…..

Who you gonna call? Zombie Busters!

Check out these cool cats.

Well this is awkward.

Back you demon! BACK!

Dude... What the shit?!?! America sucks!

Despite all his rage Juan is still just a rat in a cage.

In the words of Army of Darkness' skeleton soldier, "Let's get the hell out of here!"

It's like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean, but creepier.

Juan's about to knock this dude's head clear off.

California, you're just too cool for school.

It's just another one of those lazy days..... lazy zombie days.

How come everyone else got cool new clothes, but I'm stuck in this shitty wife beater?

Well that's one hell of a gaggle of zombies.


The cricket game quickly went to shit.

Who wants to do some extreme row boating?!?!?! With nunchucks?!?!?!

Where we're going we don't need roads.



  1. Thanks for this review---I had totally forgotten about this film--sadly, it didn't get any distribution here in the Midwest that I know of,so I still have yet to see it. I'm gonna hunt it down on DVD,though. I love zombie flicks,so the idea of a Marxist-Communist zombie film sounded great---I even recommended to a friend of mine who's a horror-movie-loving Communist,who would really appreciate this!

  2. Glad you liked the review and that I was able to remind you of this awesome gem of a movie! The film is simply great and I suggest you hunt it down as soon as possible. You're friend should get a kick out of it too, because the Communist angle and centralization of the story taking place in a zombie infested Cuba is an interesting combination that really works. Again, thanks for checking out the review!

  3. Finally saw Juan of the Dead---and yes, it's funny, crazy, and adds a fresh new cultural twist to the zombie genre! It really didn't get the hype it should have gotten when it first came out, plus it didn't even play in my city---I only regret talking so long to see it, but it was kind of worth it.