Mmmmm...well now that the weather has died down and I’m no longer in danger of blowing away, it’s time for this Catgirl to get back to business with yet another new goofy movie review for you all. OK, so here’s a new one, Cuba’s first entry into the Zombie film genre, the 2011 Horror/ Comedy “Juan of the Dead”. So…. ever wonder what the dreaded “Zombie Apocalypse” might be like seen through the eyes of the communist inhabitants of Castro’s Cuba? Well… wonder no more.
Our synopsis? How’s this then: “Juan is a 40-year-old slacker, an ordinary Cuban just living day-to-day doing absolutely nothing. Juan and his sidekick/best friend, Lazaro spend their days aimlessly fishing, drinking, and coming up with their next scam to finance their layabout existence. Juan’s only real ambition in life is to somehow restore ties to his estranged daughter, Camila, a beautiful young girl who doesn’t want anything to do with a worthless father who’s only talent seems to be womanizing and getting into trouble. Suddenly strange things start to happen, people begin to turn violent and start attacking one another. At first convinced it’s merely just another stage of the “Revolution”, Juan and his friends soon start to realize that the dreaded “zombie apocalypse” has arrived in their “socialist paradise” bringing with it the first real change in Cuban society since the Revolution, not to mention real opportunities for a man not afraid to get his hands a little dirty….”
A Cuban/ Spanish co-production, this is just the weird sort of goofy film yours truly likes to enjoy and it wasn’t difficult for me to want to grab a copy as soon as the Region 2 UK release popped up…. after all, with the US’s continuing rather silly stance on Cuba even since the fall of the Soviet Union, who knew if it would ever get released here? Nope…. wasn’t gonna take a chance on that….
So… if Zombies are your thing too, Gentle Visitor…. and somehow Neko just knows they are 😉…. then what are you waitin’ for? Let’s “Read On” and find out all about this one, shall we?
Ok…. Right from the start, it isn’t difficult to get the feeling that this time out, the “Zombie Apocalypse” is again being used as a metaphor for other things that the filmmakers want to explore…. things they want to say without ruffling feathers (or maybe getting sent to “re-education camp or whatever, Hehehe…) and do it in a way that’s both safe and entertaining. Naturally our old friends, the Zombies, don’t care… they just want to do what it is they do best….. and that’s mostly just shambling about eating people. Thank goodness. Nice to see somebody who understands their place in the Universe…. 😉
Like most Americans, I have to say I’m pretty ignorant about things in Cuba overall…. luckily for us, that’s not really a problem here. Even though much of the story involves Juan and friends trying to make sense of the Apocalypse as part of the ongoing “Cuban Experience”, both political and social, we as “outsiders” don’t really have to be well versed in that to understand what’s going on. And just what would that story be?
Well, our hero Juan is basically a 40-something wastrel, Lothario and general layabout, who along with his best buddy and perennial sidekick, Lazaro, are ordinary Cubans living a meaningless day-to-day existence in the stagnancy that is modern day Cuba. From the economic emptiness surrounding them in Havana to the 1950’s looking cars on the street it seems nothing ever changes.Not that any of that matters to Juan… his greatest ambition seems to be caught between seducing a string of women while trying to bridge the gap between himself and his 20-something estranged daughter Camila. Both his main pastimes seem doomed to failure until one day…. something different finally happens to shake things up. While fishing with Lazaro, zombies arise from the deep like a scene out of the old Euro trash classic “Zombie Flesheaters”. That’s when things start to get interesting as Juan realizes that there’s money to be made in the new opportunities presented by the situation.
Money? Why certainly…. Why deal with your own loved ones, reduced to shambling cannibals, when you can hire someone to take care of those unpleasant details for you? Here “Juan” takes a page from the Japanese zombie film “Stacy” by becoming Havana’s premier “Zombie Exterminator” par excellence. It’s a bold step… but one calculated to earn him the cash he figures he needs to impress his daughter Camila winning her over with his new found success. Ummmm… yeah…. well at least it’s a plan, right?
The Cuban authorities… now they aren’t about to admit the rather horrific possibility that all is not right in their “Socialist Paradise”… and for the majority of our film, the flesh eating dead are referred to as “dissident factions in the pay of the Imperialist Americans”. Nobody buys that story of course… but it’s accepted in the whole tongue-in-cheek way that most things coming from the Regime seem to be. This is where our film is at it’s best… and is also it’s most funny, although it’s fair to say that Juan (played by Alexis Díaz de Villegas) and his slacker bud Lazaro (played by Jorge Molina) are nowhere near the comedy team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They do have their moments…. perhaps the best having to do with a zombie bitten Lazaro’s last request of his longtime friend before…. well…. you know what happens to zombie bite victims, right? It’s a rude, raunchy, and downright funny bit between men who are the kind of close friends who do anything…. and I do mean anything… for each other, no questions asked. 😉
The other really well done idea is the look of Havana…. a classic city frozen in time…. that slowly succumbs to the “Zombie Apocalypse” much in the way a human being would, progressively losing it as our story moves along… till at some point… it’s easy to see that it’s somehow stopped being a place for the living and become as dead as those walking it’s streets. Eventually that becomes all too evident… even to Juan…. although his pride…. as well as his apathy… resist the idea of leaving his home no matter what.
All in all, I wish I could say that “Juan of the Dead” pulls all this off with the success of it’s inspiration, “Shawn of the Dead”, but that’s not really the case. If anything, the similarities of the two films is only superficial at best, “Shawn” being perhaps the better comedy of the two, while “Juan” shines in it’s wry and subtle parody of the social conditions in Cuba that seem to have that nation stumbling along much like one of the Zombies in the film. In this, “Juan” really makes it’s mark, with criticism of the failures of the Castro regime to make communism work while at the same time, showing the strength and resilience of the Cuban people through it all even in the face of the strangest of obstacles.
Thankfully, this is all done in a surprisingly well made film with top notch cinematography and camera work, something I hadn’t expected. The acting is good, although the characters are a bit cardboard at times, and our zombies… well, they aren’t too badly done either. I’ve honestly seen worse….. 😉
So with all that said, your Favorite Catgirl can give “Juan of the Dead” a hearty 3 “Meows” out of 5. It’s not amazing… but it’s not disappointing either, and it’s odd mix of social satire and comedy/ horror are easily digestible by any audience, even a non-Cuban one. Always a good thing. The UK Region 2 DVD is adequate…. presented in letterboxed widescreen PAL format. The only quibble I have is that the subtitles were presented as hardsubbed directly on the film print itself….. a let-down given that it makes them small and a bit hard to read at times. Hopefully someone will address this minor fault at some point, perhaps in the soon to be released Region 2 Spanish release. If zombies are your thing too…. you’ll probably want to see this one…. Neko’s just got that feeling. 😉
Yep…. there’s a Trailer, complete with English subtitles on board, Embargo be damned, Hehehehe!!