Juan of the Dead: The Ultimate Political Zom-Com

Para la versión en español, cliquea aquí


Juan of the Dead (2011) starts when zombies take over Havana. The government claims that they are US dissidents, but Juan and his friends don’t buy it. Juan decides to capitalize on the moment and create a company that kills the loved ones of Havana residents. Near the end, their task seems impossible and he and his group try to escape but realize at the end that they have to stay and fight.

Cuba Entering the 20th Century

Raul Castro

After the 90s, the government started to rein in the free market capitalism that had recently become a part of their economy. Raul Castro labeled these reforms as part of “la estrategia de perfeccionamiento” or the perfecting strategy as he did not think this era would be marked by dramatic changes. This is only somewhat true as there were many big changes in this era. In 2006, Fidel Castro announced he would cede the presidency temporarily, and in 2008, he retired from government. New economic restrictions were put in place as the government de-dollarized the economy and in 2003, the convertible peso was introduced.

In 2005, tourism sector workers were banned from receiving gifts from foreigners and new restrictions and taxes were placed on paladars. Culturally, the Cuban government declared this era to be a return to ideology especially since they had a new ally in Venezuela. Part of their battle of ideas was the 2006 Energy Revolution which called on all citizens to aid the country in turning Cuba’s energy green and it has drawn comparisons with the 1961 Literacy Campaign. The Catholic Church and other NGOs have also experienced more freedom in this era. Raul Castro’s economic reforms have created a confusing hybrid private-public system. While there is an effort to return to socialism, Cuba has recently legalized the sale of real estate to residents. 

The Cuban Five

On the international front, tensions still remain with the United States. Since the 1960s, terrorist groups formed by CIA-trained Cuban-Americans have been actively trying to take down the state. Since the 90s, many boats carrying weapons have been hijacked on their way to Cuba and 75 people have been arrested. The 2011 Wikileaks revealed that some of the groups sought funds from the US. Then in 1998, spies who had infiltrated Cuban American groups and were known as the Cuban Five were arrested. Throughout the 2000s, the US refused to acknowledge Cuba’s key demands that they release them. In 2009, Cuba arrested a USAID official, Alan Gross for allegedly distributing covert satellite communications equipment to Jewish groups on the island. USAID’s social media activity has also been condemned by the Cuban government for spreading dissent. Bush continued to tighten the embargo so Alan Gross and the Cuban Five were only released in 2014 when Obama was president.

Whatever You Call This Era

At the beginning of the film, the protagonist, Juan, remarks that he has survived Angola, the Special Period, and whatever you call this decade. It’s true that in this decade in Cuba’s history, it is hard to see where the country stands. Is it socialist? Is it going to be capitalist? Everything is up in the air so it is apt that in the film it takes Juan and his friends quite a while to somewhat understand what is going on. After witnessing the first zombie attack, the state declares it was a US dissident. He and his friends are left shocked and confused. When Juan encounters another zombie who happens to be the husband of his elderly neighbor, they are both confused. First, they assume he has simply died, when he gets up from his wheelchair however, his wife believes it is a miracle. Then Juan thinks he must be sick. 

Juan of the Dead

However, when he continues to attack and Juan’s friend stabs him in self-defense, he doesn’t die. Then they think he is a vampire and try to stab a stake through his heart, but he does not stop until they hit him in the head with a cross. This man went from dead to miracle to sick to vampire to unknown in a matter of minutes. Even when Havana becomes overrun with zombies, Juan’s friend, Vladi, keeps an American flag with him in case they are US dissidents. They come close to understanding what is happening when they are saved by an English-speaking preacher who reveals he has a plan. Unfortunately, Juan has only picked up a few English sentences related to tourism, and his friend Lazaro accidentally shoots him. In this era of confusing alliances, economic policies, and cultural changes it’s hard to understand who the real enemy is so any horror film should reflect that.

Standing by Cuba

Juan of the Dead

Though Juan of the Dead takes significant jabs at the Cuban government, Juan and his friends don’t side with the Miami Cubans. At one point Juan remarks “Why would I go to miami? I have to work there?” and later when they talk about the possibility of escaping on a raft, Juan lists Miami as a last resort. Throughout the film, foreign tourists are made fun of. At one point, Juan and his friends are enlisted to kill Spanish tourists in a casa particular (Cuban rental) who have turned into zombies. The owner of the house tells them to be careful because as they know, Spaniards are never without companions. Juan and his friends eventually kill several half-naked Spaniard men and Cuban women. Their allegiance to today’s Cuba is made more clear in their escape attempts. When Juan and his friends try to escape in a car, the first one barely runs and Juan curses the Russians who sent it over. The vehicle that finally gets them off the island is an old Cuban car that they attached Venezuelan oil drums to. This vehicle represents the new albeit confusing era of the Cuban and Venezuelan alliance. Though they succeed in getting out, Juan turns back. He declares again that he has survived Angola, the Special Period, whatever this era is and that he is a fighter. Even though Cuba is going through a zombie attack, it’s better to be in Havana than Miami.

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