Synopsis: Comedy and Horror unite in this “The Breakfast Club” meets “Shaun of the Dead” tale about a group of oddball high school students who find themselves trapped in detention with their classmates having turned into a horde of Zombies. Can they put their differences aside and work together to survive the night? Fat chance! This is High School after all.
Release Date: June 28, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Comedy, Horror
In a way, the new zombie trend is a shame. Not because zombies are bad, mind you; they are actually quite cool, and there are many worse things that could be in vogue right now. The shame is that the zombie market is so saturated with bad movies like Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies that no one pays attention to good ones such as Warm Bodies. Detention of the Dead is one of these good zombie movies that may fall along the wayside because of the general abundance of films that claim the genre.
Set on an average day in a stereotypical high school, Detention of the Dead starts, predictably enough, in detention. Supervised by Mrs. Rumblethorp (Conviction‘s Michele Messmer), the classroom includes a typical mix of students; there’s a sweetheart couple named Brad (Jayson Blair from “The New Normal”) and Janet (Christa B. Allen from “Revenge”), a nerd named Eddie (Little Big Top‘s Jacob Zachar), a goth girl named Willow (Red State‘s Alexa Nikolas), a drug dealer named Ash (Justin Chon from the Twilight movies), a jock named Jimmy (Max Adler from “Glee”), and a plain old average guy named Mark (Joseph Porter from Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust). Mark complains about being bitten by a bum before detention and, before he can be sent to the nurse, he freaks out and bites Mrs. Rumblethorp on the neck. The kids quickly subdue him, but the damage is done. It is only as the kids try to get Mrs. Rumblethorp to a hospital that they realize that the whole school is overrun by zombies. They decide to make their way to safety, a place where nobody – living or dead – would go: the library. The group has to try and fight off the zombies while they make their way across campus to safety where they can wait for help.
Detention of the Dead is the perfect combination of Dawn of the Dead and The Breakfast Club. Written and directed by Alex Craig Mann (better known as an actor, with roles in Mall Cop and Festival in Cannes) from a play by Rob Rinow (The Cell 2), it is cut from the same cloth as Shaun of the Dead; a horror comedy that is more comedy than horror. Although it’s much more focused and streamlined, Detention of the Dead is similar in feel to the Scary Movie franchise, making it a successful spoof of both zombie movies and teen comedies.
Allusions to other films are all over Detention of the Dead. The detention classroom and characters are obvious nods to The Breakfast Club, right down to the Jock/Outsider/Nerd/Weirdo/Beauty dichotomy of the principal personalities. Detention of the Dead even contains scenes that specifically recall The Breakfast Club, most notably a segment where Eddie runs up and down the halls of the school as a distraction while the others escape, and another segment taking place within the air vents above the hallways of the school. The layout and isolation of the school is reminiscent of the mall scenario in Dawn of the Dead. The references do not stop with just those obvious influences, either. Three of the main characters are named Brad, Janet, and Eddie, which happen to be three of the main characters in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Characters are also named Willow, seemingly after the high school cutie in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and Ash, after everyone’s favorite deadite from the Evil Dead films. Film buffs will have a field day spotting all the fun little things that are snuck into Detention of the Dead.
Subtle name checks and tribute paying scenes are not the only aspects that Detention of the Dead has inherited from its predecessors; like Romero’s zombie films, there is subtext. The zombies are a great metaphor for public school students in the same way that the zombies in Dawn of the Dead are representative of materialistic consumers. Just as Romero’s zombies wander aimlessly around the mall, the zombies in Detention of the Dead mindlessly roam around the halls of their school, bumping and tripping around without any conscious thought. Alex Craig Mann appears to be a fan of both John Hughes and George Romero, and his influences make Detention of the Dead a fun movie for both horror freaks and comedy fans.
Created by Daniel Phillips (Oz the Great and Powerful), the special makeup effects in Detention of the Dead are fairly run-of-the-mill for a zombie movie. They’re well done, but with the exception of a pulsating hand wound and a clever intestine-disemboweling, there’s nothing groundbreaking. The most obvious shortcoming in the effects is the lack of blood; there are some cool things going on, but the effects appear amateurish with the lack of bloodshed, making the whole film look dry. With the notable exception of a composited scene with Mrs. Rumblethorp’s severed living head, the effects appear to all be practically done, with little or no CGI intervention (and the decapitated head motif even resorts to the old The Brain that Wouldn’t Die head-on-the-table trick in a later scene). The ambition is there, and the film should be applauded for taking the old-school approach to gore. However, food coloring and karo syrup are inexpensive, and the special effects in Detention of the Dead would be much more convincing if they were drenched in much more blood.
The humor in Detention of the Dead is very primitive and low-brow. The film’s comedy has very little subtlety, instead opting for a more American Pie type of humor. That’s not to say it isn’t funny; on the contrary, the film is very funny. But there is nothing especially clever about it – it’s all penis jokes and potty humor. In one scene, for example, a severed zombie arm grabs Eddie’s crotch. Ash tries to help him free himself, and the phallic arm spews blood in Janet’s face while both try to yank it off. The hijinks are hilarious, but it’s the kind of gag that is embarrassing; it’s funny, but viewers don’t want anyone to notice that they’re laughing too hard.
Detention of the Dead is much more successful as a comedy film than it is as a horror film. As far as actual scares go, it’s pretty light. The zombies are Romero-esque in their presentation, slow moving wanderers as opposed to swift, athletic beings. Because of this, nothing in the film is shocking or startling. The humor distracts from the suspense, so the film does not come off as frightening at all. That’s okay, though; the point of the movie is not to scare people. As pure entertainment, Detention of the Dead is a hit.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Alex Craig Mann
- Screenwriter(s): Alex Craig Mann
- Cast: Jacob Zachar (Eddie)Alexa Nikolas (Willow) Christa B. Allen (Janet)Jayson Blair (Brad)Justin Chon (Ash)Max Adler (Jimmy)Joseph Porter (Mark)
- Cinematographer: Noah Rosenthal
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Cody Westheimer
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA