Juan is a 40-year-old slacker we find sunbathing on his raft just off the coast of Havana, blissfully unaware that something is swimming ‘Jaws’-like beneath the sea towards him – and when his best friend Lazaro breaks the surface in that way we’re expected to jump and lose our popcorn, we know we’re in beautifully-photographed-but-seen-it-before territory.

And we are.  But we aren’t.

Soon afterwards, there’s the out-of-doors Cuban equivalent of a neighbourhood watch meeting when a sudden very bad zombie-type thing happens. Soon after that, a TV newscaster declares some kind of terrorist action is taking place, staged by dissidents working for the American government.

It’s a clever subversion of the well-known ‘monster as metaphor for the threat of a real world (usually, communist) invasion’ subtext but, on this occasion, it’s theUSand capitalism that gets to carry the can. And it’s no metaphor this time. The official line is that the US did it and the zombies are described as ‘dissidents’ from that moment on. It’s as political as this movie gets.

Juan argues with his crew – a brilliantly but economically described group that includes his estranged daughter, Lazaro’s son, a transsexual diva and a muscular guy who faints at the sight of blood – that while this unrest is occurring they might as well take advantage of it, charging customers on a sliding scale to destroy the zombies that are threatening their lives. He even answers the phone “Juan of the Dead. We kill your loved ones” – which pretty much rocks as a greeting.

The group work hard to keep their zombie-killing stats high. And they do it to a catchy Latin soundtrack accompanied by a ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ explosion of deadly combat skills as Juan and his team wade into battle, demolishing zombie skulls and separating zombie heads from zombie bodies with a formidable arsenal including boat paddles, sling shots, nunchuks, throwing stars, a harpoon gun ( Lazaro has a bad case of premature harpoon trigger finger) and an impressive display of zombie-killing gymnastics from Juan’s daughter.

Not to mention a pimped-up car looking like some bizarre hybrid of Greased Lightning, the Batmobile and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which is a textbook example of the cavalry arriving just in time. Maybe.

Genre movies – especially horror movies – are by their very nature self-reflexive, conscious of the legacy of films that came before them. They’ve got a heritage to live up to. Sometimes the self consciousness works and sometimes it makes the flaws in the movie seem even greater and the film becomes a lot more irritating because of it.

‘Juan of the Dead’ is in the first category. It’s pretty special. The performances, the screenplay, the direction… it’s a very cool, hyper-kinetic joy from beginning to end. And the zombie effects are pretty nifty as well.

‘Shaun of the Dead’ just got retired.

And in the Havana sunlight, a zombie apocalypse never looked so good.

About The Author

Ian White is an author, screenwriter and journalist. His book ‘Witchcraft and Black Magic in British Cult Cinema’ was recently published by Hemlock and he is a regular contributor to ‘Paranormal Underground’ and ‘Starburst’ magazines. He’s currently writing a new book and screenplay and his embarrassingly out-of-date website can be found at http://ianwhitelondon.wix.com/ian-white