|DVD Review: Juan of the Dead|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 04 June 2012 08:18|
Director: Alejandro Brugués
Living dead. Infected. Re-animated. Flesh eaters. Cinema has come up with a lot of words for zombies over the years. Now Cuba has given us a new one: dissidents. It’s a perfect fit for Alejandro Brugués’ Juan of the Dead, a horror-comedy that mixes satirical bite with sloshy goo – and comes out the other side wielding an oar.
Taking its cue from Shaun of the Dead as much as Dawn, Juan (de Villegas) is an everyday Cuban who takes a while to cotton on to the country’s new neck-munching revolution. Once he does, his response is logical: “We should help them?” suggests his lazy best friend Lazaro (Molina). Juan scoffs: “No, we should charge them."
A few hours later and they’re in business. “Juan of the Dead: We kill your loved ones!” they cry, answering telephone calls from across the panic-ridden city. “A cow? No, we don’t do that.”
Free markets, capitalism AND the undead? It’s a neat take on a tired genre, which sees initial outbursts labelled as America-sponsored uprisings to disturb the peace. The satirical vein runs all the way to the film’s final reel, but Brugués has the most fun laughing at his home town of Havana. Wandering the streets strewn with burning buildings and bodies, our clueless troupe of slobs is unfazed by the city’s crumbling decay. “It all looks the same to me,” says one. You couldn't get further away from the decadence of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, making this the perfect antidote to the royal Bank Holiday.
There are a lot of self-aware nods to other zombie classics, from Romero's work to Edgar Wright’s Shaun (complete with alienated father and rom-com themes). The ambitious flick even manages to fit in a reference to trashy favourite Braindead. Peter Jackson’s early oeuvre is perhaps the closest in tone to Juan’s juvenile antics, with more emphasis placed on the hit-and-miss gags and messy carnage than straight-out horror. It’s an entertaining balance, with enough low-budget splatters to keep a smile on your face for 90 minutes.
Our heroes may not always be the most well-defined bunch of characters – unless you include the occasional bout of unwelcome homophobia – but their working class complaints about Castro’s legacy and cash-laden tourists are rather endearing. And the finale is as epic and ridiculous as you could wish for: one superb mass decapitation scene will have you chomping at the cigar for more.