Detention of the Dead is another zombie movie, but this time it’s also a comedy so that makes it different! The premise is Breakfast Club meets Dawn of the Dead where a group of high school stereotypes are trapped by flesh-eating zombies in their school. Going in I was expecting more of a spoof on the tired genre like Shaun of the Dead, but with the undead acting as a metaphor for high school; instead it ends up being just a high school comedy flick punctuated by unoriginal scenes of zombie horror. Unfortunately, Detention of the Dead makes neither a good horror film or comedy.
One of the movie’s biggest flaws is its predictability; horror flicks and high school comedies are two genres that are incredibly reliant on formula so Detention of the Dead needed to do something original in order to succeed. As a horror film, many of the death scenes should come as no surprise. Two of the characters, the nerd named Eddie (Jacob Zachar) and the goth chick Willow (Alexa Nikolas) are familiar with the tropes of the zombie-genre, thus opening the possibility of the movie taking a different turn, somewhere, or becoming a parody, but the movie drops any of that pretense early on in favor of focusing on typical teenage drama midst zombies.
The violence and gore is sometimes satisfying. Some might say the poor special effects (and they are very poor) might detract but they’re probably the funniest part of the movie (remember, this is supposed to be a comedy.) The bad effects might have worked even better if this movie was more of a spoof of bad horror films.
Another major problem comes with the characters and their arcs. I don’t know what compelled writer and director Alex Craig Mann (or maybe the blame should be laid at Rob Rinow whose play the movie is based-off of) to give such unnecessary attention to the cliched characterizations and conflict between the high-schoolers. The first thirty or so minutes were a decent start to a throwaway comedy-horror film, but then it begins to devolve when Eddie is romantically torn between Willow or the hot cheerleader Janet (Christa B. Allen). We get Breakfast Club scenes of the characters revealing the frustrations of having to conform to stereotypes, and later on Janet reveals that she doesn’t want to die a virgin so she goes after Eddie when her meathead boyfriend Brad (Jayson Blair) isn’t around and Willow is upset that Eddie would chose the cheerleader over her. This all culminates toward the end when Eddie tells Willow that he was “wrong,” and later on when Willow and Janet are together and Janet’s just been bitten.
The commentary on high school life is trite and the banal character dramas seem to only be there so that we can “care” about the characters before they are eaten. But no one wants to watch that fucking shit. Why couldn’t the movie had just mocked teenage dramas instead? And what better way to do this when showing how insignificant such things are in the face of the real conflict of flesh-eating zombies? The scene with Willow and Janet near the end could have worked if there were more to their characters.
There are scarcely a funny scene or moment in this movie. One scene that is almost funny is when their English teacher Mrs. Rumblethorp (Michele Messmer) who they were serving detention under turns into a zombie and the consequences of such involving the stoner character Ash (Justin Chon). But there are some “jokes” that are painfully unfunny. After Janet gives Eddie a hug for saving her life he looks down at his crotch and sees a zombie hand squeezing tightly. And then Ash tries to help Eddie pull the arm off his junk. The way it’s framed it’s supposed to be an attempt at a sexual joke, but it comes out of nowhere and is pathetically weak. There are also some lines that are supposed to be “witty” or “clever” that come out of Willow’s mouth but just make you root for the zombies to tear her apart first.
Despite the number of flaws and missed opportunities, it’s at least watchable, most of the time. I wasn’t particularly bored by it yet wasn’t exactly filled with satisfaction neither. It’s just funny how a movie whose purpose, I think, was to poke fun at formula ended up being so middle-of-the-road and predictable.