Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Go Juan With Ya’: A Review of Juan of the Dead

Irreverent, cocky and languid, the Cuban zombie flick, Juan of the Dead, is satisfying, funny and crammed with homage. Sure, the protagonist, the deadbeat dad Juan, played by Alexis Díaz de Villega with a masterful laidbackness, is a steretopical Latin man. A womanizer, surely, a drinker, undeniably, this lackadaisical leader nonetheless looks out for his grown daughter, Camila, the radiant Andrea Duro (think Twilight’s Kristen Stewart with a sexier, non-whiney charisma), his best friend Lázaro (Jorge Malina) and his cadre of petty street criminals. Certainly, the film won early points for including La China, a cross-dressing whore, as a main character, portrayed by Jazz Vila with street-smart sassiness and charm. An effete stereotype, surely, but a welcome addition to the horror milieu.

If one were to use the term “extreme homage”, they would not be far off in describing this giddy horror yarn with nods, winks and even, clearly, blown kisses to a plethora of zombie and non-zombie cinematic fare. Such celluloid includes but is not limited to Shaun of the Dead, anything directed by George A. Romero, not to mention Leo Fulci of Zombie film fame, the current T.V.s series, The Walking Dead, but also Bruce Lee, and action fare in general.

Don’t be fooled by my comparison to Shaun; Juan is darker, with a Tarantinoesque sensibility of splatter-shed, and immensely watchable action scenes. Underpinning the whole works is the Malecón, an esplanade, roadway and seawall along the Havana coast, and the echoes of Cuba's own bloody revolutions. Juan's refrains and monologues about Cuba's revolutionary past and himself as a survivor steering though the river of history hold the film upright, keeping it from tipping over the precipice into disrespect.

I watched Juan with my horror film club, (Not The) Masters of Horror. Co-founder, Mr. M. enjoyed it, as did Miss Jay. Mr. M.’s father-in-law was visiting from Cuba, as was his sister-in-law, also orignally from Cuba. Admittedly, my exchange with said father-in-law was limited to something along the lines of "Usted no habla español." (Translation: "He doesn't speak Spanish."). That's literally about all he said to me.

Luckily, Juan of the Dead is in Spanish, with English subtitles. Thus armed to bridge a cultural and linguistic divide, we all sat down and watched Juan.

We laughed at the sight of Lázaro groping himself at the first sign of an attractive female. Here, I should clarify. It turns out that Lázaro is a chronic public masturbator who has trouble keeping more than merely his genitals in his pants once he starts baring firearms. But further to the point, we were entertained and distracted, watching Juan and company dispatch zombies (and sometimes non-zombies!) in various ways. Juan lazily at first, and then with passion (said with a Spanish accent, but spelled the same as in English, incidentally) fights the hordes of the undead invading his Cuba libre.

To summarize, for horror-goers, I cannot recommend Juan highly enough, for its mix of infectious humor, camp, personality and fun. Perhaps even brave non-horror-goers might want to, er, take a bite out of the film.

Vladi California (Lázaro's son, portrayed by Andros Perugorría), Camila, Juan and Lázaro go a walkin' in Juan of the Dead.

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