Monday, 12 March 2012

Zombie Holocaust in Havana - Juan of the Dead

There are probably thousands of zombie films, but "Juan of the Dead" - a Latino version of "Shaun of the Dead" - is the first movie on flesh eaters set in Havana.

So what? You might wonder. Well, in case you are not familiar with the typical Cuban cultural product, you should know the basis: they make fun of everything, and their subjects rarely have anything to do with promoting a typical Caribbean holiday destination.

In that sense "Juan" is not different. It follows the pattern of these horror subproducts, but it also introduces elements that could only come out of a Cuban mind - i.e. hordes of zombies walking on the bottom of the ocean floor towards Miami, zombies decapitated by a mural with Che Guevara, and Cuban government claiming that the zombies are political dissidents. Pure Cuban wit.

If George A Romero (and Dario Argento) seminal "Dawn of the Dead" was a straightforward satire on consumerism, "Juan" is this and more, and not only attacks American imperialism: Fidel Castro's revolution also takes its share of criticism.

Another typical Cuban twist comes with the new job opportunity Juan (Alex Diaz de Villegas) comes across with after the zombie plague - he starts a lucrative zombie-killing business, which echoes the way Cuban people are used to find the way to survive.

Writer and director Alejandro Brugues told the Miami Herald "The previous generation of Cuban filmmakers were influenced by older movies, and their work reflected that. But I grew up watching 'Star Wars' and 'Jaws' and 'Indiana Jones' and 'Dawn of the Dead' and Peter Jackson movies. Those are the kind of movies that influence my aesthetic."

If we have to find a Cuban referent to "Juan", that would be "Vampires in Havana." The classic 1985 animated film has one of the most surreal plots ever. A group of vampire mafiosi wants to market the "Vampisol" , a formula that negates the usually fatal effects of sunlight on vampires, so their fellow vampires can have their Caribbean holiday and enjoy the daylight after paying. However, Pepito von Dracula and friends will fight the baddies because they want to give Vampisol away for free. A translucent allegory of Cuban revolution against Yankee imperialism.

Juan of the Dead" is one of the main attractions at this year's Miami International Film Festival. It will be screened on Friday 16 March at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

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