To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of parody films. There are some exceptions, like the first Scary Movie, Shaun of the Dead or Spaceballs, but those films generally had some brains behind the humour, and didn’t come across as a bad live-action episode of Family Guy. With Detention of the Dead, actor-turned-director Alex Craig Mann has taken pieces of Edgar Wright’s zom-com and thrown in 80s classic The Breakfast Club and put the mixture to film. What’s there is a parody, but is it one worth laughing about?
Things start out simple enough. A group of stereotypical teens at Lincoln High are stuck gather in detention. There’s your lovestruck nerd (Jacob Zachar), your goth-chick (Alexa Nikolas of The Walking Dead), a snotty cheerleader with her doofus boyfriend (Christa B. Allen and Jayson Blair), a stoner (Justin Chon) and your dumb jock (Max Adler). All them are under the supervision of English teacher Mrs. Rumblethorp (Michele Messmer). Also joining the group is a student who’s coincidentally been bitten by a zombie. After the guy croaks and rises up as a member of the living dead, he proceeds to snack on Mrs. Rumblethorp. Seems that there’s a zombie plague going around, and so the group now has to come up with a plan to escape.
Right away, the film earns points to the actors involved. Rather than being content with the paper-thin stereotypes, the actors add personality to their respective roles. We eventually get your predictable yet welcome evolutions of these characters once things start to get heavy and they’re forced to band together. We still get the quick quips and yammering between the characters, so it’s not all exposition. Gorehounds will be pleased with the amount of plasma being spilt, thanks to effects designers Daniel Aaron Phillips and Troy Holbrook. It’s nice to see a paper cutter being put to more sinister uses. As for the zombies themselves, we don’t get the rotten types, but they still look pretty good as the fresh pasty types. There’s even a little person zombie! How often do you get those?
On the other side of things, the negatives creep up on this film quickly. From the get-go, Mann directs this film akin to Shaun of the Dead (which has been referenced numerous times in the film’s marketing), with the above stereotypes being played against the gory efforts of the zombie horde in an attempt to mimic Edgar Wright’s balancing act of humour and horror. It’s not the most successful attempt, and it doesn’t help that the film knowingly treads where Shaun has already gone, with character names and places referencing other horror movies and personalities being sprinkled throughout the film. It’s a distraction more than a cute send-up.
Mann’s difficulty in the zom-com balancing act reaches the tipping point once the group makes it to the library. The Savini Library, to be exact. It’s in the library where the film lurches to a halt thanks to misplaced character exposition and development. In amongst recreating the library confessional scene from The Breakfast Club, we get hit with straight-laced Eddie’s reveal as to why he was sent to detention, which is heavy all by itself, but then the other characters mention they were worried that he was going to “Columbine” them. Yeah. I know that there were heavy moments in Shaun, but they weren’t offensive.
Despite being made with good intentions, Detention of the Dead falls flat. Recycling the formula that Shaun of the Dead used with balancing funny and the zombie menace and messing it up is one thing, but to make a plethora of painful self-aware gags is aggravating. It’s a shame, since you can tell that everyone involved was into the project, and wanted to make something that was enjoyable. And true, there were parts that did elicit a few chuckles and had my attention with their gory efforts. Nevertheless, the film was more derivative than anything, and is really just something you’d have on while you’re doing your homework. Think extended detention rather than expulsion.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture looks about as good as you’d expect from a low-budget title such as this. Colours are consistent, with no edge enhancement or contrast issues. The picture shows a good amount of detail for a DVD. Overall, it doesn’t blow you away, but it works.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is about the same in terms of quality as the picture: nothing that you could use for a benchmark for your system, but given the budget, does an acceptable job. Dialogue is clear and free of distortion, and isn’t overpowered by any of the other effects.
For starters, we get an audio commentary with Executive Producer/Writer/Director Alex Craig Mann. Mann keeps things moving, covering various aspects of the production, while also dropping nuggets of trivia. Mann comes across as being very enthused and relaxed while looking back on the film.
The other extra is Detention of the Dead: Behind The Scenes. This 42-minute piece is a mix of production footage with interviews with cast and crew. Topics include all aspects of the production, including special effects. While it would’ve been nice to have heard from more of the cast (including the little person zombie!), shortcomings from the film aside, it’s still a great companion piece, and shows how much enthusiasm was put into the film.