Horrorfied!: JUAN OF THE DEAD (JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS)
The Urban Dictionary defines the word horrorfied as, “A term used to describe someone who is in the mood to watch horror movies.” Yep, that’s me, pretty much all the time. Horrorfied! is a new feature I am introducing out of my love of the horror genre. Anything and everything is fair game. I will be reviewing, commenting on and asking for your feedback on a different horror film each week. Every month the films will fit a theme to be selected by you, dear readers on the Screen Invasion Facebook page. I am really excited about this feature and to start a conversation in the horror loving community on Screen Invasion!
Juan of the Dead breathes new life into the zombie genre. Of course the name is a nod to Shaun of the Dead, and as it is an homage to all films zombie, there are other similarities to this and other movies in the genre as well. That is not to say that this film rips anyone off, to the contrary, Director Alejandro Brugués comes up with his own unique take on the zombie horror flick and how his survivors handle their impending doom. No doubt this film is made by a zombiephile like myself, and to see that it is made by someone in Cuba who loves zombie films makes the fan connection that much more magical. I get the same warm fuzzies and kumbaya feelings from this as I get passing another car on the road when they flash their lights to warn me of a speed trap ahead. There is still hope for humanity! It was no small feat to have this caliber of film made in Cuba either. There is relatively little chance of getting a feature film, particularly one that takes Castro less than seriously and deals with zombies greenlit by the government. Props to Brugués and team for this impressive feat.
This Spanish-language zom-com, aside from being a horror farce, is also part political tribute. This is cleverly woven into the plot and finds a way to make Cuba, along with it’s colorful past, characters. The outbreak occurs on the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in the capital city of Havana. Of course there are protests afoot, because really, when are there not protests afoot in a capital? This is one of the main reasons that the zombie outbreak is much more slowly realized than it might have been on a typical day. With all the upheaval and the hundreds of people milling in the streets, it’s difficult for the general population to recognize the few flesh-eating dissidents around. The characters do revert to calling the zombies dissidents for lack of a better term, as they are not sure what they are dealing with just yet.
Initially I didn’t have high hopes for Juan of the Dead. Though the filmmakers scored with funding from Cuba, it still wasn’t anywhere near a blockbuster budget and nothing like this had been attempted there before. The look of the film started out feeling substandard and the effects were definitely lacking, but my opinion turned in one pivotal moment in the first act when the three main characters find themselves working to puzzle out what they are being confronted with. I went from my “oh well” attitude to “that was awesome” in an instant.
Juan, the title character played by Alexis Díaz de Villegas, his friend Lazaro, played by Jorge Molina, and their third cohort, the pretty boy Vladi California, played by Andros Perugorría, spend their time not doing much at all. They are quite obviously something of ne’er do wells and like to lounge on the rooftop of their building watching people around town through their telescope, when they aren’t philandering or extorting their neighbors. Juan has a daughter that he hasn’t been there for and at the outset of the film he is lamenting his life and the lack of what he has done with himself. He feels he has no ambition, but is flanked by men who have no need of ambition and definitely aren’t interested in that kind of talk. We see them in their every day lives to give a sense of what they are about and what we should expect from them. This holds true throughout the film.
The men are caught in two separate zombie confrontations early on that they don’t seem to realize are related. Once while two of them are spear fishing and kill a zombie dressed in a Guantanamo Bay jumper with a spear gun. Then they are attacked by an elderly neighbor who they can’t seem to dispatch. Lazaro tries to use a spear gun to take down said neighbor but it has no effect as the shot is poorly placed through his torso and straight on into his wife who has not yet been afflicted, but is now an acceptable casualty. Lazaro’s cavalier and careless use of his spear gun is a theme throughout the film, not to mention inspiration for his character’s wardrobe, to hilarious result. When the spear doesn’t stop the undead man the three men try to determine what exactly they are dealing with. They quickly rule out vampires with several wooden stakes and garlic, then assume possession and attempt to perform their own exorcism to no avail. The process of elimination is fun and gave me my first real laugh of the film. This was that turning point that made me cock my head to the side and say, huh, maybe there is something here.
From that point on in the film I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It takes the characters a while to realize that the neighbor and the prisoner were not isolated incidents. When they run into a hoard of zombies at a protest, Juan’s first truly memorable line of the film is “I have a feeling this requires a plan of some kind, but I don’t know what that is”. The true nature of the characters doesn’t change with the outbreak. The sub-par effects and poorly choreographed fight scenes take away from the film at certain moments and pull the viewer out of the moment. The twist to this film lies in the way the group handles the outbreak by turning it into a profitable experience. They bring on a crack team of characters from the neighborhood with cross-dressing, attitude-having La China (Jazz Vila), the musclebound, blood-aversed El Primo (Eliecer Ramírez) and more to round out quite the cast of characters. What follows are some great zombie deaths and hilarious moments, ending with a lesson in family, self discovery and love of country.
In the end, Juan of the Dead is a clever socio-political commentary wrapped up in a comedy wrapped up in a zombie film. It is evident it is made by someone who has loved the genre for a long time and wants to pay tribute to the cream of the crop. If not for budgetary limitations I believe this film would be spectacular. It shows a zombie film doesn’t have to be a gore-fest and can go beyond survival to be about something that really matters, something with substance. As is, Juan of the Dead is a fantastic example of what a zombie film can be; clever, funny and full of heart.
¡Viva la Zombie Revolución!
Trailers: Full of low budget genre films that don’t seem worth mentioning with the major exception of Extraterrestrial directed by the incomparable Nacho Vigalondo, who is responsible for the beautiful, intricate and insane film Timecrimes.
Featurette: This bonus feature shows the true heart that went into making this film. Alejandro Brugués gives great information on what it took to make the film and all the actors seem genuinely excited to be a part of it. We get to see how truly fantastic it is for these actors and this crew that this film was made in Cuba. I have to admit that seeing how excited the actors were about the film and how happy they were to work on it made me love it just a little bit more than I already did.
Deleted Scenes: These are almost an extension of the featurette in that it’s not your standard deleted scenes back to back , but deleted scenes with commentary from the actors and director. A more enjoyable experience than your standard deleted scene feature. Some funny moments that had to be cut from the film appear here.
Juan of the Dead is the first of our new Horrorfied weekly feature. Check back every Friday for my commentary on horror movies of any and all kinds. To see more Screen Invasion Exclusive Features CLICK HERE!
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