TADFF 2012 Summer Screenings – Juan of the Dead

This year TADFF (the Toronto After Dark Film Fest) is starting the action a little early with a pair of double feature summer screenings at the newly renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Last night I had the privilege of enjoying the first film of the first duo, Juan of the Dead (2011).

As per usual, prior to the main feature Adam Lopez brought the audience an amazing short, a delightful Australian claymation piece titled Ward 13 (2003), directed by Peter Cornwell. Definitely one of the most impressive claymation films I’ve ever seen, this thrilling and surprisingly action-packed short focused on a nameless and silent victim’s attempt to escape a nightmarish hospital. Besides very well put-together animation, what stood out about this short was how much it managed to achieve without dialogue or narration. There were authentic scares, lots of laughs and a very impressive end fight/chase scene. Ward 13 is an apparently well-known and old short that has played at many festivals, but if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend trying to track it down. Well worth a watch, more info here.

I love zombie films. They are an endlessly entertaining genre onto themselves with so much potential for horror, comedy and action. Yet somehow the vast majority of zombie films from the last decade or so have been cheap, uninspired and forgettable failures in what should be among the simplest formulas for a good time. Leave it to TADFF, though, to restore my faith in the genre, as Juan of the Dead is honestly one of the best zombie films in a loooooong time. It’s an authentic, heart warming, hilarious and just down right awesome use of the genre, all while being Cuba’s first zombie film!

The premise is great. Our protagonist Juan is a slacker trying to rekindle his relationship with his estranged daughter when a zombie apocalypse hits Cuba. Rather than focus on survival, Juan decides there is profit to be made and enlists a rag tag group of friends and thieves to help him start up a slaughter service with the tagline “Juan of the Dead: we kill your loved ones!”. From there the film is a montage of hands down some of the most impressive zombie kills you’ll ever see and what is probably the funniest dialogue since Shaun of the Dead (an obvious influence). In addition, rather than the usual obvious antagonists and paint by numbers character list, Juan of the Dead’s heroes are crazy, hilarious and immediately loveable. Sure, there’s a fat fumbling friend and a young couple full of sexual tension, but the very chill Cuban reaction they all bring to the end of the world breathes new life into these old tropes.

Aesthetically, the film is hit and miss. Most of the scenes look great, featuring stunning vistas of a destroyed Havana, and the sheer number of zombies on screen is sometimes very impressive (giant crowds of zombied extras are always a welcomed sight). On the other hand, some of the effects are cheap and distracting and there is some obvious green screen work. While usually these are the things which are expected (and often loved) about these types of movies, the rest of the experience is so amazing that they feel like blemishes on an otherwise perfect film.

All that said, Juan of the Dead is easily a new classic in the genre and I can’t recommend it enough. It had its premiere at TIFF last year and has begun circulating at festivals. Here’s hoping for an international release soon. You can check out more info and a trailer for the movie here.

Unfortunately, I missed the 2nd film of the night, Nicholas McCarthy’s The Pact (2012), though I’ve heard mixed reviews of it. You can find more info about it on the TADFF page for it here. The second set of TADFF Summer Screenings will be shown on July 11th, with the sci-fi slasher film Detention and the compilation found footage horror film V/H/S. So if you missed the first two, or are a fan everything cult and awesome, I highly recommend heading over to torontoafterdark.com and grabbing some tickets. And of course, check back shortly after the 11th for TdotComics’ very own coverage!


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