Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) is a chancer, a man always on the look out for an opportunity to make money no matter what the circumstances, even if those circumstances happen to be a zombie apocalypse breaking out on his very doorstep.
As the news insists the incidents of flesh eating are only dissidents paid by the US government, Juan and his best buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) crack onto a business idea perfectly suited to the chaos. Acting as paid killers hired by the survivors to dispatch zombies by any means necessary, they operate under the catchy slogan “Juan of the Dead, we kill your beloved ones.”
But as his beloved Havana slips further out of control, Juan starts to think that maybe he might have to stop thinking about himself for once in his life in order to save his friends and family and escape the zombie hordes that threaten to overrun their existence.
Serving up a titular twist on the British zom-com, Juan of the Dead follows in the footsteps of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s movie as a black comedy horror, detailing a very real set of characters dealing with a very unreal and scary situation resulting in some side splitting set pieces.
With riots, famine, mass killings and martial law all part of being Cuban, Alexis Díaz de Villegas Juan much like Zombieland’s Tallahassee (played by Woody Harrelson), finds his true calling as a zombie killer. he takes the current undead cannibal climate calmly in his stride after having survived everything else that has happened in the politically turbulent home country.
In fact it is in its political commentary that Juan of the Dead finds its true voice, with constant references to Havana’s history of horrors and upheaval thrown in against the zombie outbreak as barbed lines which cause you to chuckle and think at the same time.
Although nothing is taken seriously in Juan of the Dead, with even the death of a main character turned into a twisted tango, it is the underlying current and commentary on the countries past that is deadly serious. Writer/director Alejandro Brugués uses the horror genre much like Romero did in his original zombie movies to cleverly put across his views and opinions hiding within the horror and here the humour.
And thankfully Juan of the Dead has bucket loads of both horror and humour, from sick slapstick to puerile pot shots, to horror pastiche and references. It also contains enough guts gore and slo-mo, zombie mutilating action sequences to keep any horror head happy.
Brugués script and story formulaically follow horror convention, taking the odd entertaining diversion along the way to keep us interested. The cast is excellent, playing a host of dysfunctional characters some more ridiculous than others but all somehow likable and loopily believable.
Although relatively low budget, and looking so at first, the special effects are very well done and some of the larger bloody battle scenes set on the streets of Havana are very well realised, showing that although it may be a small scale film it still has big ideas.
It would be easy to pass Juan of the Dead off as simply the Havana set Shaun of the Dead. It would not be entirely incorrect as both are hilarious zom-coms combining laughs, action and gore in equal measures.
However to write this imaginative and highly enjoyable film off as merely a Cuban copy betrays the movies many achievements, not least the great direction, excellent characters and the deeply political core which not only lies here driving Juan of the Dead forward but also at the undead heart of many of the very best zombie movies.