Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos) (2011)

Juan of the Dead arrived with the first batch of 31FoT-eligible DVDs I got from Netflix this month. It’s been sitting in a drawer for four weeks because the missus and I have been trying to coordinate a movie night with our neighbors, who are incidentally way too fucking cool for us. They do stuff like produce documentaries and paint murals when they get bored. When we get bored we watch Glee. They’re both bilingual in English and Spanish (Of course they are.) so I thought maybe they’d dig a Spanish language movie. Also I was hoping to find out just how hard the global subtitle conspiracy is fucking over unwitting American audiences.

Alas, movie night had to be postponed but Juan waits for no man. It’s too bad because he has this odd catchphrase he uses throughout the movie: “All I need is a chance.” It makes sense, more or less, but the context suggests that’s not quite the connotation he’s trying to convey. I guess I’ll never know what he was really saying because I don’t know the Spanish word for chance. My Spanish is limited to what I remember from high school and Sesame Street. DONDE ESTA EL AUTOBUS? EN LA BIBLIOTECA? POR SUPUESTO! Ay dios mio.

My other raft is a real piece of shit.

The story: Juan and his amigo, Lazaro, have it pretty good. The spend their days spearfishing and drinking on a makeshift raft off the coast of Cuba. They also work as part of an informal ring of petty crooks, stealing radios and such to avoid the need for legit jobs. Then there’s a zombie outbreak.

Biggest letdown: Ironically, the title Juan of the Dead, which is what will attract the majority of the people who see this movie, is also the film’s worst promotion.

“How do you feel about the title, Cuban Chris Pontius?” “I don’t much care for it, Cuban John Turturro.”

I’m assuming everyone knows Shaun of the Dead, yes? If not, go watch it immediately and report back. Shaun of the Dead was a play on the title of Dawn of the Dead. So really the joke in Juan of the Dead’s title has already been made. That makes Juan seem like it’s either piling on to a successful gag or possibly just a Spanish language adaptation of Shaun of the Dead. It’s not.

I do not recall this happening to Simon Pegg.

Juan does hit many of the same notes as Shaun, and even goes to the trouble of including reinterpretations of a few of Shaun’s more memorable scenes and artifacts. (My favorite is Juan’s weapon of a choice, an oar, which is shaped exactly like Shaun’s cricket bat, except three times longer. Eso es lo que dijo ella!) But Juan arrives at those points in vastly different ways than Shaun and they are by no means a primary focus. There’s a lot of wonderfully original stuff in between those little tastes of parody, but the title makes you expect a shot-for-shot remake. I think I would have preferred if it was sold in the U.S. under its original title, Juan de los Muertos. It would still be clear that the movie is paying homage to Shaun (and Dawn). But by requiring just that extra half second of thought to get the joke, it would also be clear that Juan’s merit goes a little deeper than the same bit of rhyming that made Shaun of the Dead such a funny title. In short, the title Juan of the Dead is funny and makes for eye catching box art, but it does an injustice to the quality movie inside.

Hm, who should we send in first?

Why you should watch: This is one of those rare horror comedies in which the ending fully delivers on the promise of its amusing concept. There were points in the second act where I was all meh, but from there it got sharper and more interesting, right up to a surprisingly excellent scene between Juan and Lazaro that actually surpasses its analogue in Shaun of the Dead.

Even one of my biggest complaints – the shocking amorality of Juan’s pals, who kill quite a lot of innocent people both negligently and intentionally – is converted into a strong, if unorthodox asset when Juan finally digs deep enough in his soul to hit a pocket of altruism. There’s a directing or editing error that waters down what should be an exciting reveal in an otherwise nifty climax, but on the whole the movie ramps up rapidly to a satisfying conclusion. Even the credits have a fun bit of animation that made me smile.

So that’s why so few people make it to Miami.

Is Juan of the Dead as good as Shaun or either of the Dawns? It is not. But it is genuinely funny despite the language barrier (they call the zombies dissidents, nyuck nyuck) and it’s a great look at entertainment produced by a culture that doesn’t get much exposure in the States. Not for nothing, but I thought Cuba was some fascist censorship state. Juan is billed as Cuba’s first horror movie, which I figured had to be bullshit. I thought maybe it was just the first one to escape the totalitarian clutches of El Presidente. Either way, I have to wonder how this movie gets away with criticizing the government so openly. They even crash a helicopter into the capital building for heaven’s sake. Cuba libre!

No soy un doctor, pero…

Memorable Moment: Right as the outbreak starts to take hold, Juan is called to the apartment of a neighbor whose husband appears to have died. When the old man, who has been wheelchair-bound for years, gets up and starts to walk, Juan explains that this is no miracle. He holds off the undead man and instructs his hysterical unwidow to call Lazaro for reinforcements. She does so, but pauses her frenzied explanation long enough to respond to a question about her health (“Well, at my age…”) and nose around about a girl she saw Lazaro’s son talking to. Regardless of culture, language or virulant apocalypse, old ladies love to chat.

Choice quote: “I believe the Lord let me live for a reason. He wants me to be his soldier in this war against the Devil. And if that’s what he wants, I will kick ass…for the Lord!”

About the Rating System

3 Responses to “Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos) (2011)”

  1. […] A terrifying movie terror-thon of terror « Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos) (2011) […]

  2. […] Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: