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’ storyline metaphorically against the plight of the Cuban people … but, creatively, is that all ya got?
Juan (played by Alexis Diaz de Villegas) is a bit of a slacker/loser/nitwit. Down on his luck in a land that has little to offer, he’s taken to doing odd jobs in order to make the occasional buck. However, when he seeks to reconnect with his young daughter, wouldn’t you know it that the island would suddenly be overrun by zombies? Now, he’s found a new career – “taking out the undead” (meaning “disposing of zombies for a price”) – and he finds he’s finally good at something in life. But will he allow his little girl to grow up in a land overrun by the Undead, or will he become a better person and see to it that she’s given escape from the danger? And … will he go with her now that he’s finally found his calling?
Quite a bit of JUAN OF DEAD humorously mirrors much territory already covered by SHAUN OF THE DEAD (not necessarily a bad thing), but the film is held back by its independent budget. A few of the special effects are almost laughably bad (maybe that’s what the producers intended, or was it all they could afford?), but the zombie make-up and splatter-gore is probably as good as anything else done inside or outside Hollywood or any major studio these days. As I said above, my chief complaint is that, independently, the film just didn’t plumb any new ground. The social commentary was interesting, but it’s hardly enough to sustain a picture at 96 minutes.
Still, Mr. de Villegas does an awfully nice job attacking the simple material, and he gleans quite a bit of mileage out of some wonderfully deadpan delivery. Plus, he’s surrounded here by an impressive assortment of nitwits and oddballs that serve up a handful of respectable laughs. As a zombie picture, it’s clearly flawed, but as a comedy it’s probably worth the chuckles. There’s nothing wrong with being a middle-of-the-road horror comedy, and, on that level alone, JUAN won’t win accolades but may win over its share of fans.
JUAN OF THE DEAD is produced by La Zanfona Producciones and Producciones de la 5ta Avenida. DVD distribution is being handled through EntertainmentOne. The film is written and directed by Alejandro Brugues, and I’d certainly be inclined to watch how his career develops. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the film served as an Official Selection to the Toronto International Film Festival. It all looks and sounds pretty spiffy, though I did have to crank up the volume on this one as compared to other discs in order to hear the center (dialogue) track. Special features? Well, they’re acceptable; there’s a brief behind-the-scenes featurette along with a few deleted scenes (nothing all that grand, frankly).
RECOMMENDED for fans of zombie flicks and, certainly, anyone who likes their horror with more than a few laughs. While JUAN OF THE DEAD certainly isn’t bloody brilliant, it’s passable fair, especially given the fact that it’s an import here. I’d imagine Cuban had a lot of fun with this homegrown zombie comedy, but, for all its gore, it left me only wanting more.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at EntertainmentOne (EOne) provided me with a DVD screener copy of JUAN OF THE DEAD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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 … more