Monday 28 May 2012

#42 Juan of the Dead: Cuban Shaun of the Dead, No Really

First, a disclaimer. Reviewers are really, really lazy people. This is why we spend our time, as it’s often been observed, criticising the work’s of others rather than doing anything productive ourselves. This is why you will so often read reviews that include the phases “An action-packed thrill ride!” or “Fun for the whole family!” And those phrases will always include an exclamation mark, not because the review is particularly enthusiastic about what they’re saying, but because the full stop is smaller and thus slightly harder to find on the keyboard.

This is why when you read the quote “A cross between Indiana Jones, Blade Runner & Star Wars” you should expect not the most mind-blowingly awesome film ever made, but Super Mario Bros, the movie.
A lot of geeks first became disillusioned with the world when they saw The Phantom Menace. For me it was when I was 10 years old and saw this on video for the first time.
I wanted to acknowledge that, because in the face of Juan of the Dead a lot of people have been using the phrase “A Cuban Shaun of the Dead”. On reading that phrase you most probably made the assumption “So it’s a zombie film with jokes in, and it’s set in Cuba, and the reviewer was writing this before knocking off to the pub early”. Firstly- yes, you’re right, every single one of those things is true. It is a zombie film, it is set in Cuba and the reviewer is gasping for a pint, it’s got to be, what? Three PM already?
It's their own fault for using a vaguely similar font.
But aside from that, it’s also true. Juan of the Dead is exactly a Cuban Shaun of the Dead. I’m going to explain how in a second, but first I just want to put our their some of my ideas for “Things that rhyme with ‘Dawn’ Of The Dead” movie ideas.

Prawn of the Dead- Finding Nemo but with zombies.

Porn of the Dead- Obvious.

Pawn of the Dead- The lowly Pawns finally realise they have more in common with each other than the aristocratic chess pieces on either side of the board, and rise up against them.

Gorn of the Dead- The giant lizard aliens seen in the original Star Trek episode “Arena” get infected by a zombie virus.

Juan of the Dead stars a likeable but essentially deadbeat guy with a loveable, chubby and bromantic sidekick. They learn about the zombie apocalypse through the TV and respond in apathetically, not really realising that the world has gone to hell until far too late. Over the course of the film Juan has to overcome his slacker-ish nature to win back an estranged loved one (in this case a daughter, rather than a girlfriend).

And to be clear, none of this is meant as a criticism of Juan of the Dead. As I love mentioning, writers are thieving bastards, and if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. But more than that, Juan of the Dead steals blatantly from Shaun, and then makes it its own.

Ooh, wait, I’ve got some more!

Quorn of the Dead- Vegetarian zombies.

Faun of the Dead- Getting bitten by the infected inexplicably gives you the legs of a goat.

Lawn of the Dead- Zombie grass. More frightening than it sounds.

Forn(ication) of the Dead- See Porn of the Dead.

Corn of the Dead- Sequel to Lawn of the Dead. Zombie ears of corn can only be defeated with hot oil, resulting in weirdly disgusting scenes of them popping on the spot.

Bjorn of the Dead- An outbreak during a production of Mama Mia with terrifying consequences.

Juan of the Dead owns the Cuban Shaun of the Dead label by making the most of the Cuban part of it. Just as Shaun of the Dead makes the most of its London setting, every scene of Juan of the Dead is firmly grounded in Cuba, from the relationships between the neighbours in Juan’s block of flats, to the news’ original description of the zombies as “dissidents” (and in keeping with the “Don’t call them zombies” rule, the survivors refer to zombies as dissidents for the rest of the film).

Even in cases where jokes were lifted entirely wholesale from Shaun of the Dead, Juan pushes them further and puts its own twist on them.

Juan of the Dead is also willing go further and darker with its jokes than Shaun of the Dead. While Shaun was very much set in the version of Britain seen in our sitcoms and romcoms, where you can be a bit of an arsehole but must essentially be an alright guy, in Juan of the Dead there are characters who really don’t think too much about using a zombie apocalypse as a chance to off a couple of people they don’t like too much anyway.

Hey, I just realised something! Rhyming dictionaries!

Yawn of the Dead- Sleepy people rise up and bite people. They people they bite become sleepy. The people they bite become sleepy, until soon nobody can be bothered to get out of bed.

Fawn of the Dead- Bambi’s dad is back from the grave, and he’s pissed off.

Spawn of the Dead- Zombie tadpoles will fuck you up.

Drawn of the Dead- Zombie stick-men.

Awn of the Dead- Hair or bristle-like appendages on plants spread a deadly zombie virus.

Bourne of the Dead- Matt Damon has amnesia and fights zombies.

Horn of the Dead- An adaptation of Eugène Ionesco’s absurdist play Rhinoceros, only done accurately in a way that’s nothing like its previous movie adaptation, Zombie Strippers (true story).

In the end, Juan of the Dead reminded me why I keep coming back to zombie movies over and over again, and it’s not just because I’ve set myself up to have to keep a blog about them updated on a semi-regular basis.

Even when you can tell, really obviously, where a zombie film is getting its inspiration room, that comes side by side with seeing what new things they’re bringing to the table, and how they’re interpreting the things they steal. In an age of remakes and reboots zombie movies are telling the same story over and over again, and every time there’s something new to say. I think there’s something kind of brilliant in that.

Have I already done “Porn of the Dead”?

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