Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: Juan of the Dead

Film: Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos)
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

What happens when you make a parody of a parody? Sometimes you can get something that works well enough. The Tick—both the comic and the television shows—were started as a parody of Dave Sim’s Roach character in Cerberus, who was himself a parody of a number of comic book characters (like his Wolver-roach incarnation). Juan of the Dead is very much a new take on Shaun of the Dead. While there are some real differences, too much of this movie appears to be drawn directly from the other for it to be a coincidence. Take Shaun and Ed, rename them Juan and Lazaro, set it in Cuba, and roll the cameras.

Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) and his friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) are 40-ish slackers living in Havana. They don’t have jobs as much as they survive by fishing and petty crime. At the opening of the film, they are out on a raft and snag what they think is a corpse. When it sits up out of the water and starts to attack, and is immediately put down by Lazaro’s reflexive firing of a small speargun he uses to hunt, they decide not to tell anyone and return back to land.

Of course, this is actually the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. It starts slowly, with the dead returning to life and trying to eat people and with the people around not really understanding what is going on. Wanting to try to keep the peace, the Cuban government announces not that these are people returned from the dead, but instead claims that they are political dissidents being paid for by America to sow chaos and confusion around Cuba.

After surviving a few encounters, Juan, Lazaro, and their friends Vladi California (Andros Perugorría), drag queen La China (Jazz Vila), La China’s lover El Primo (Eliecer Ramírez), and Juan’s daughter Camila (Andrea Duro) to form a disposal company of sorts. The print up flyers and advertise themselves as coming to dispose of people’s loved ones who have turned into zombies. However, this lasts only so long, as soon Cuba is completely overrun with the “dissidents,” forcing Juan and his friends, who are naturally whittled down by the zombies, to consider looking for a way off of the island.

One of the best parts of Juan of the Dead is the sense that this is much how a true apocalypse of any time will be addressed by the average person, as evidenced by how so many people ended up dealing with COVID 19. While the world is going to hell around us, we still have to go to work and do what our bosses are telling us—we still need to find a way to make a living. I have not a single doubt that if the dead started returning to life, I’d still get daily emails from my students wondering where their returned papers are and asking for help getting connected to Microsoft Teams.

There’s also a sense of pseudonormality while everything is falling apart. Frequently, our characters are simply walking down the street while around them zombies are attacking other people or wandering around. I think that makes some sense as well. After all, the zombies are slow, and people need to do things like eat, so being down on the ground and staying ahead of the walking dead simply becomes a fact of life.

Where Juan of the Dead falls down is in just how much it feels like Shaun of the Dead in so many ways. Both movies feature a character who is essentially a slacker at the center who is not immediately aware of what is happening around him. He has a slacker friend who is heavier and played for a lot of comic relief. While Shaun tries to rescue his girlfriend, Juan tries to rescue his daughter. And on and on. Even their weapons are similar. Shaun uses a cricket bat; Juan uses a boat oar. Even many of the in-group deaths have similarities.

Juan of the Dead is sadly derivative in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t stop it from being pretty funny in a lot of places as well. There’s a lot here that is worth seeing, even if it’s not entirely perfect. And, to be fair, lots of movies have aspects of other movies in them. It’s just not always the case that one movie is this directly taken from another.

This is worth watching, but it could really use some tweaks to be much more its own movie than this, essentially a lower-rent, Spanish language version of a modern classic.

Why to watch Juan of the Dead: There’s some clear moments that I think reflect what a real zombie apocalypse would look like.
Why not to watch: A parody of a parody borders on being unoriginal.


  1. I have seen this film. This was awesome. This is what a zombie film should be and it was also fucking hilarious.

    1. It is pretty funny. The fact that it's a parody of a parody is strange, but it ultimately works.