Let’s play a word association game. When I say “Cuba,” what do you think of? Cigars? Fidel Castro? Zombie comedy film? What? You don’t mentally associate Cuba with zom-coms like Shaun of the Dead? Guess what? After Juan of the Dead, I think you might.
When I first heard about Juan of the Dead, it was announced as one of the films to be shown in the 29th Annual International Film Festival of Miami Dade College. And my ears perked up. They perked up even more when I heard it won the Lexus Audience Award at the festival after being shown to a sold-out crowd at the Olympia Theater, so I knew I had to check it out if it came to a theater near me in its limited theatrical release. Unfortunately that did not happen, but was able to find an opportunity to review the DVD.
Director Alejandro Brugués (Personal Belongings) tells the story of two friends, on the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, who find themselves in the middle of a zombie uprising in Havana. Of course, as they deal with this new kind of revolution, Juan (Alexis Días de Villegas) and Lázardo (Jorge Molina) may have to work out a few personal issues along the way. That doesn’t stop them from using their myriad skills into hard cash by killing zombies for a living however!
Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect from Juan of the Dead, but with a minimal budget and plenty of extras filling out the horde I think they did a great job with the flick. It’s fun, unexpectedly touching in spots, and absolutely wacky from beginning to end.
Keep in mind this film is in Spanish with English subtitles, so if you’re not a fan of subtitles, you may want to skip it. And as with all subtitled films I wonder what was lost in translation. However, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film in the least.
Also, if you’re averse to nudity, I’ll warn you ahead of time that the film contains more than a little, but I don’t think it was gratuitous at all. When you see a breast or a butt it serves the story. There’s a scene where Juan’s zombie hit squad is detained by a couple of soldiers and told to strip that manages to be both hilarious and disturbing as they get loaded into the back of a truck.
As the first movie shot in post-revolution Cuba without financial backing from the Cuban government, I have to say Juan of the Dead is a monumental achievement. Brugués has done an amazing job of rallying the creative community of Cuba to create a film I never thought I’d see. Zombies? In Cuba? The United States? Sure. Europe? Sure. Perhaps the isolation of Cuba is wearing thin enough we’ll see more creative pursuits like this in the near future!
There are a only few features on the DVD – a trailer, a few deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes featurette. The featurette really brings out the enthusiasm and trepidation of the cast and crew during filming. But it was that infectious enthusiasm that carried them through the film. And when you see them get the final shot, you can tell the emotions are genuine. As far as the deleted scenes went, there were a couple I would have liked to have seen in the film itself, but it was interesting to see a bit of commentary from the director and cast members.
If you like zombies and comedy, you’re going to want to check out Juan of the Dead. It’s fun and hopefully is but the first of many Cuban films we’ll be seeing in the future!
For more about the film, be sure to check out JuanOfTheDeadMovie.com