Zombies are one of modern culture’s most popular tropes with dozens of movies featuring our undead chums turning up every year – our own kind of cinematic plague. But while George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead set the template for the genre, it was Pegg and Frost’s Shaun Of The Dead which established similar for modern Zombie Horror Comedy. Juan Of The Dead, follows in the same mould but this time it’s the island of Cuba that’s under attack by hordes of shambling corpses hungry for brains.
40 year old slacker Juan (Alexis Dias de Villegas) and his best buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina), who usually make their living fleecing American and Spanish tourists, are quick to turn the disaster into a money making enterprise, establishing a company that specialises in killing people’s recently zombified loved ones – a sort of grislier Ghostbusters.
As their business grows, they attract a motley group of eccentric companions including flamboyant transvestite La China, blood-shy man-mountain El Primo as well as Lazaro’s son Vladi and Juan’s estranged daughter Camila. But when it becomes clear that they won’t survive for very long, they start to look for a way to get off the island.
Filmed on a modest budget of $3million, Juan Of The Dead never looks spectacular although there is the prerequisite amount of gore. The focus here is on humour not horror and the physical gags do for the most part deliver – a recurring joke involving a harpoon gun, a mass decapitation in Revolution Square, scavengers that abandon an old man to his fate so they can use his wheelchair to ferry crates of beer – all hit the right spots.
It’s clearly a film that’s been made by a director passionate about cult movies. So, here you’ll find Terminator references (“come with me if you want to live”) rubbing shoulders with Bruce Lee homage – Juan’s nunchucks and zombie foot stomp are straight out of Enter The Dragon.
Like the Romero films that preceded it, it uses the zombie infestation as a vehicle for a surprisingly pointed stab at the administration. News channels initially pin the plague on the Americans sowing seeds of dissent amongst the populace; there are a number of references to Cuba’s 50-year socialist regime and the native populace take quite a long time to notice that anything is actually amiss (“looks the same to me” comments one old lady looking out her window). Lazaro even quips at one point, “It’s impossible to live in this country” – with no reference to the zombie menace intended.
As a horror movie it’s passable but it’s made more enjoyable by its likable leads (Juan in particular, who looks like a Hispanic John Tuturro), playful attitude and rather more biting satire.