DETENTION OF THE DEAD (OCTOBER 6TH)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
It wouldn’t be a Halloween marathon without some ever-loving undead goodness, so here’s a comedy-horror from 2012. Directed and written by Alex Craig Mann, and unlike any other walking dead opus it was actually based on a play (?!) written by Rob Rinow. Basically it’s a view of the zombie apocalypse as experienced by High-School students at the end of a seemingly normal day. As promos are keen to remind, it’s a sort-of mash-up between “The Breakfast Club” and …. Well, any other zombie film that you might care to mention in the last half-a-century or so. It focuses on the usual grouping of high-school (intentionally) stereotypical characters, and features a couple of semi-familiar faces. Alexa Nikolas played Hayley, one of the Governor’s Woodbury Army recruits in “The Walking Dead” (before getting shot in the guts by Maggie), and Justin Chon was a regular in the “Twilight” films. Christa B. Allen is best known for her part in the “Revenge” TV series and the film “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”. But we’re mostly here for the blood, guts, and yocks of course…
An eclectic bunch of high-school students are on their way to detention, which includes all the usual suspects you might expect in this scenario. Nerdy bespectacled geek Eddie (Jacob Zachar), gothy chick Willow (Nikolas), vacuous Cheerleader Janet (B. Allen), douchey school jock Brad (Jayson Blair), stoner skater-boy Ash (Chon), etc. A few students seem to be dragging their feet though, and oozing pus and lacking a heart-beat. Yup, the apocalypse is just starting … right at the end of the school day. Bummer. It doesn’t take long for one of the detention attendees to play (un)dead and put the bite on the teacher. As the surviving group escape the classroom, they realise that the infection has already spread and the whole school is surrounded, with the corridors packed full of shambling ex-students, all eager for their flesh. They decide to re-group in the library and hatch a plan to get out of school before they all turn into the class of the living dead.
Whilst the benchmark for successful zombie-horror has always been “Shaun of the Dead” in the UK (of course it is, check our damn website name out!) and “Zombieland” in the US, there have always been plenty of low and high-budget films having a stab at a new variation on it. In terms of tone, “Detention” falls somewhere between the (surprisingly good) “Dance of the Dead” from 2008, and the bad-taste shenanigans of “Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” (which I actually quite enjoyed for all its faults … don’t shoot me). The budget does show at various times, but it has a good stab at the sub-genre and is actually quite incisive for brief moments.
The love for past horror offerings is obvious. You’ve only got to look at the character’s names for that (Ash! Willow!). And if those influences don’t clue you in, the library is called “Savini Library”, and George Romero and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are name-checked. Amusingly one character berates horror movies for having “Conservative Right-Wing propaganda” because drug-takers and fornicating-couples never survive them. Another conversation muses on the regular argument as to why some of the undead are sprinting and some shambling, whilst two characters throw possibly origin theories at each other at a quick pace. (NB: The cause for the outbreak is intentionally never revealed, but then again it doesn’t really matter.)
Whilst there are plenty of gory run-ins and battles with the ambulatory corpses, there are actually some brief moments of eyebrow-raising maturity. One character was seriously contemplating suicide, and is intelligently berated by another for his reasoning, whilst Willow muses on the fact that they’re all so caught up in cliques and stereotypes that they were zombies before the infection started.
Some noticeable mis-fires occur though, particularly when the film goes for cheap laughs. There’s a face-palm moment that involves a severed-arm and a certain human organ, that is incredibly unfunny and goes on for far too laugh. There’s also one of the worst zombie animals you’ll ever see on film that’s a (very) small step up from a sock-puppet with googly eyes, and a romantic interlude between two of the cast that goes on for so long that it just becomes tiresome and annoying. And whilst they try their best with the FX, some intestines are very rubbery and the ambitious severed-head sequences don’t convince. Having said that, there is a “piece of ass” gag that might be incredibly puerile, but did make me spit my coffee out with an un-intended guffaw… Pity the poor extra who was involved in that sequence.
But even with those downsides – and for being one of THOSE movies where characters are trapped in a definitely fatal situation … only to reappear in the next scene with a bit of blood spatter and absolutely no injuries or explanations – the film is still pretty entertaining. It doesn’t bring anything particular new to the table and the “Breakfast Club” comparisons are a bit too obviously shoe-horned in, but it’s a nice little romp that certainly doesn’t stint on the gore and has its heart in the right place. The movie does get some credit for the wonderfully gruesome wounds (all dripping goo and pulsating with undead microbes), and some of the better gore gags (the clarinet in the head gets a special mention). You can tell it’s made by people who love the genre, and sometimes you wish that they’d been given a bigger budget to play with at the time.
With high-school zombie invasion movies, I’ll probably still plump for “Dance of the Dead”, with its sick make-out scene and the phenomenal breakneck sequence where the undead literally burst from their graves already sprinting. (NB: I know it’s “running zombies” rather than the slow Romero ones, but … man, I love that scene!). But as far as Halloween viewing goes, it’s a divertingly silly-but-knowing exercise in low-budget student vs. zombie comic shenanigans, which isn’t half-bad and there’s some definite likeability to it. Roll call for the next film…