Detention of the Dead (2012)
Directed by Alex Craig Mann
What happens when you take a movie like The Breakfast Club and add in a healthy heaping of Shaun of the Dead? You get Alex Craig Mann's new zombie opus, Detention of the Dead. So does the formula work? For the most part, yes, but there are some mixed results that taint the brew.
Things start off rather cookie-cutter. A group of teens (who look way older than they should) including a geek, a hot Goth chick, a cheerleader, a muscle-headed football player, a pothead, and of course the hot jock gather in detention to pay for whatever stupidity landed them there in the first place, when unbeknownst to them a zombie plague is running wild outside of the room they're doing time in. Of course they eventually become aware of the fact, and from there it's a knock-down, drag-out fight for survival.
In a nutshell that's about all of the plot there is, but honestly? For this kind of flick that's all there needs to be. Now let's talk about what the flick does right. First off, even though the characters are as cliche as they come, the actors portraying them have a good time exploiting their respective stereotypes and end up delivering some solid and witty performances. This makes for some true fun, as do the film's many zombie/gore effects. For a small budget film these cats really went for it, using mainly practical effects with a touch of CGI when needed. The zombies themselves, even though they're of the fresh variety, look pretty cool and aren't just pasty people that are splashed with stage blood. What we have here are some good old fashioned shamblers, and it's wonderful to see that a lot went into making them memorable. Hats off!
But then there's the bad. Not awful, mind you, but certainly not good. Detention of the Dead is very aware of itself, and there was just a bit too many wink-wink sight gags and quips for my liking. We've seen every possible homage already played to perfection with the aforementioned Shaun of the Dead. If you're going to tread that kind of ground, you need to come up with something a bit more clever than having the main area our heroes hole up in called The Savini Library. It's just so distracting. During the second act all the fun energy the film was coasting by on is brought to a halt thanks to some ill placed character development and expository moments. Way too much time is spent with the kids jabbering with each other in the library, and it leaves the viewer wondering what more interesting things could be transpiring beyond the four book-laden walls. Then there's the fact that we've pretty much seen this all before in films like Dance of the Dead or even the High School of the Dead anime series. Given the mayhem going on at times, though, these missteps can be forgiven.
However, one thing that cannot be pardoned is the lack of screen time given to the "little person" who was playing a zombie. I'm not saying that the filmmakers should have gone for something exploitative with the actor, but come on! How do you not use this wondrous tool for something more than having him just stand around like everyone else? We don't get little zombies very often. Please, if there's a sequel, bring him back! Do him justice!
Despite these shortcomings Detention of the Dead does entertain and its heart is without question in the right place. It hits way more than it misses, and there are some truly shining moments strewn throughout the flick to keep even the hungriest of gorehounds satisfied. Recommended for those of us out there who are always looking for a quick undead fix!
3 out of 5