Here we go again with another “zomedy”. Quite frankly, I have grown quite tired of this genre, but sometimes, I find something worthwhile to watch that I can keep my exhaustion of ‘zomedies’ in check for an hour or two. Well, I guess if I was going to go for another ‘zomedy’, I may as well try something from Spanish-Cuban filmmakers with director/writer Alejandro Brugues’ “Juan of the Dead” (Juan De Los Muertos). The film may carry the same bits of horror cliché, and the film is as goofy and silly as it is gory and bloody, but for some reason, there is something that resembles charm in the film‘s low-budget execution that I found it very entertaining.
As with any zombie movie, the screenplay begins with some light background with the title character. Juan (Alexis Diaz) is a slacker who spends most of his time trying to make the most of everything with his old friend, Lazaro (Jorge Molina). Juan is also trying to patch things up with his estranged daughter, Camila (Andrea Duro). Ok, so then there lies the zombie outbreak and this results in massive panic. Juan and Lazaro then sees this as an opportunity to make money, as they open a ‘make do’ business to kill zombies in exchange for a fee. Together with Lazaro’s son, Vladi (Andros Ferugorria) and a transvestite named “La China” (Jazz Villa) and her muscled boyfriend, Primo (Eliecer Ramirez), the group sets out to kill as many zombies as they can, that is, if they don’t get overrun.
Being a film from a Cuban-Spanish production, it would be a surprise if the script did not make some attempt at political satire, poke some fun at capitalism, the U.S. (it even has a radio show say that the U.S. is behind the zombie outbreak) and a strong commentary on Cuban pride set behind the backdrop of Havana. The direction seems to connect the beauty of the city with some tragedy in the past, as the area obviously has seen better times. The visuals strike a contrast between what could’ve been and what it is now, and having the zombies (Juan calls them “dissidents”) around felt like a intentioned commentary that such mindless creatures whose main goal is to feed feels a lot more at home in such a place with dilapidated tenements and neighborhood slums.
It does not dwell too much on such morbid commentary though, the film takes Juan as its central focus as the title suggests. There is something familiar and yet something amusing with the way the comedy is executed in the film. Yes, it is riddled with horror movie cliché, and the goofiness of the slapstick humor feels rather familiar. But there is something to be said for the film’s timing of the humor; it just works. The performances and the chemistry between Alexis Diaz and Jorge Molina would either make or break the film. The two do connect with little effort, their exchanges were funny and it was easy to buy into the fact that they are indeed good friends. Villegas and Molina manages to pull it off, despite the stereotypes of the supporting characters (ok, La China and Primo were also funny), the cast was able to come together to pull off the film’s intended comedic scenes.
That said, despite the ridiculous slapstick comedy and jokes, the film does also work in the delivery of the zombie encounters. For a film with a modest budget, the make up effects were good. The gore and the blood were done with old-fashioned prosthetics and red ink. There was some fake-looking CGI involved in some minor scenes, but they weren’t significant enough to define the film’s tempo. It also manages to deliver with some creative death scenes that stood out and even pokes a tribute for Dead Alive”. To enjoy and appreciate “Juan of the Dead”, you’ll have to like low-budget horror movies.
Yes, it would be easy to compare this movie to “Shaun of the Dead”, “SARS WARS:Bangkok Zombie Crisis” and the Japanese zombie flick “Wild Zero” but this film can stand on its own. Let’s be honest here, originality is one thing that feels scarce when it comes to zombie movies, and I can excuse cliché, as long as the end product is done right. “Juan” has an abundance of quirky characters, enough gore and blood to keep me interested, and the jokes while familiar at times were really funny. It isn’t ambitious when it comes to characterization, but it sure is a fun film that embraces exactly what it is. It is a formula film that relies on what has been tested, and added some fresh new twists as in cultural idiosyncrasies which made it succeed. I guess “Juan of the Dead” is one of the better zombie-comedies in recent years.
I really wanted to find something exceptional to say about JUAN OF THE DEAD, mostly because I’m a pretty big fan of zombie flicks – even those with ample doses of humor, but the best I can say is that it wasn’t a bad film. It just wasn’t all that particularly entertaining. I think the central problem I had with it was that it was a comedy, and, as a comedy, it just didn’t bring anything all that new to the picture. Granted, it was novel using the ‘zombie’ … more