No, that’s not actually the title of a new horror movie, but it is a clue. Juan Of The Dead is Cuban first . Confused? Read on for the disturbing details.
Out this week on DVD, Jaun Of The Dead is reportedly the first film shot in Communist Cuba since the revolution without the financial support of the Cuban government, and we find it hard to imagine that the Castro regime would sign off on it anyway. Part slapstick comedy, part horror film and part political satire, the movie follows the exploits of Juan (Alexis Dias de Villegas), a middle-aged layabout, and his oddball friends as they grapple with a zombie plague invading their island homeland. Seeing this as his shot at some good old capitalism, Juan sets up a business in which he offers to put down your reanimated family members and clean up the bodies for a fee, but he and his crew prove less than competent at the job.
Written and directed by Alejandro Brugues, Juan Of The Dead is something rare: a take on the done-to-death zombie genre that somehow feels fresh. The location certainly has something to do with it, as do the political subtext and sly digs at authority: The government at first warns the populace that the zombies are actually American dissidents trying to stir up trouble against the regime. It’s touches like this, along with the attention to character detail by Brugues’ troupe of dedicated actors, that make this one of the better zombie films in years. At the heart of the story is Juan’s transformation from wastrel to a man fighting to reclaim his country, while also re-establishing his relationship with estranged, America-bound daughter Camila (Andrea Duro).
Of course, every zombie film these days shares certain conventions, and “Juan” doesn’t shy away from wearing its influences proudly, with Shaun Of The Dead and the Romero films the most obvious ones. The movie’s clearly low-budget production values are in evidence as well, mainly thanks to some sketchy CG, but Brugues still manages to pull off plenty of gore and some inventive ways to slaughter humans living and dead alike. If you’re looking for a variation on the post-apocalyptic zombie tale that captures the genre’s much-vaunted political/social subtexts as well as its inclination for black humor, check out this festival favorite on disc now.
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