Juan Of The Dead (2011) – or – Get my paddle.

The Toronto After Dark summer screenings started yesterday with the fantastic and hilarious Juan Of The Dead, Cuba’s answer to the zombie craze. This is actually the first zombie film to come out of Cuba, and if it’s any indication of where they can go with the genre, I’m completely willing to see more.

The film opens with Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas) and his friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) floating on the water, waiting to catch anything they can sell for a profit. What they end up finding is a dead body. At least it was dead until they go to poke it. Now it’s a snapping zombie which they dispatch quickly. It isn’t long before zombies overrun the city and Juan decides there’s money to be made. Gathering a group of thieves and hoodlums, Juan starts up a zombie killing business. As the living start to dwindle, Juan realizes the only left to do is escape, but it may be to late for that.

The idea that this is the first zombie film from Cuba starts to set off red flags. Just how good can a film like this be when it’s the very first try? Rest assured that this is a spectacular film. This is Shaun of the Dead, but in Cuba. I’m starting to think that every country should get on this bandwagon. Honestly, who wouldn’t want to watch Canuck of the Dead! The film manages to be consistently funny from start to finish, full of characters that you’re rooting for, even when they’re doing things they shouldn’t, and has some of the most creative zombie kills ever. It’s those characters that makes this film what it is. They’re all very unique, avoiding genre cliches, and their survival is all you care about. Too often, the zombies take the spotlight, leaving viewers with characters they don’t care about. That’s great, a good zombie helps, but to make a truly successful film, it’s nice that we actually care about what’s going to happen to the survivors.

Juan and his friends quickly learn that the dead have come back to life.

Now, those great characters certainly make a fantastic film, but we can’t forget the zombies. They’re not the most gruesome, and there isn’t an excessive amount of blood, but the moments where a zombie gets killed are some of the best around. Closer to the end, there is a scene that involves what is probably the best zombie death ever. It’s not even one zombie that meets their end, it’s a group of zombies, and it’s outrageous. The choice of weapons adds to the madness as well. Forget about guns, weapons of choice include hammers, a paddle, and a slingshot. You don’t run out of ammo with a hammer. Effects are also very well done. There are plenty of shots of the city falling apart and burning around everyone. It looks very convincing and there are some impressive scenes with the characters in the middle of the destruction.

Nothing can stop Juan from saving his friends.

Obviously the comedy is top notch here. You can’t have a title that’s so close to Shaun of the Dead without making sure that it’s hilarious. While it’s very funny throughout the film, it was the last third of the movie where I couldn’t stop laughing. There are a few scenes towards the end that had the audience howling so loud that you couldn’t hear what was going on anymore. Thankfully the film is subtitled or I never would have been able to keep up. That same moment that was so funny is also a moment that shows how well done the characters are. I wouldn’t want to ruin it, but it’s a scene where you can really see how much the characters care about each other, even if it is in a very strange way.

Right now, you won’t be able to find this one out there, and that’s a shame. I’d suggest that everybody start demanding this one right away. Whoever can snap up distribution for this is sure to be pleased with the result. Juan Of The Dead is an instant zombie classic, saving us from the typical zombie flicks that fans are usually given.

Under the marquee – Will

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