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Detention of the Dead (2012)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/23/2013

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/19/2013

It's become a cliche, but the standard thought is that when a writer is "pitching" (presenting) a movie idea to a producer that they always say that the film in question is "______ meets ______". This is never meant to be taken literally, as this example is given in order to be a short-hand so that the producer can get an idea of what the tone of the film may be. Having said that, there are some true hybrid films which play just like two movies combined. This can work to the movie's advantage, especially if it's two things which work well and allow the audience immediate access to the movie. Or, it can be like Detention of the Dead, where the odd combination never gels.

Detention of the Dead opens at the end of the school day, as high-schoolers Eddie (Jacob Zachar), Willow (Alexa Nikolas), Janet (Christa B. Allen), Brad (Jayson Blair), Ash (Justin Chon), Jimmy (Max Adler), and Mark (Joseph Porter) shuffle into after-school detention under the somewhat watchful eye of Mrs. Rumblethorp (Michele Messmer). The group represents a cross-section of high school -- Eddie is a studious nerd, Willow is goth, Janet is a stuck-up cheerleader, Brad is a bully, Ash is a stoner, and Jimmy is a meat-head football player. Once they enter the class, Mark reports that he doesn't feel well and he then attacks Mrs. Rumblethorp. The group then realizes that the hallways are filled with zombies, so they retreat to the library, barricade themselves inside, and attempt to find a way to safely leave the school, despite the fact that more and more zombies are congregating outside.

Just in case you haven't already guessed from reading the synopsis, Detention of the Dead is "The Breakfast Club meets any generic zombie movie". The film doesn't try to hide its John Hughes influences, as the core characters are definitely based on The Breakfast Club, and there are scenes which pay homage (ie: are lifted from) that movie, such as when Eddie makes his tearful confession as to why he's in detention. As noted above, the group starts off in a classroom, but they then move to the library (specifically the Savini Library) so that the movie can contain yet another reference. The only significant way in which the script departs from The Breakfast Club framework is that the romance doesn't go in the same direction.

So, when you watched The Breakfast Club did you think, "Hey, I wonder what this would be like if the school was overrun with zombies?" No, neither did anyone else save for playwright Rob Rinow and Screenwriter/Director Alex Craig Mann. Do you know why you didn't think that? Because it's not a very good idea. Well, I take that back, it possibly could be a good idea if it had been done another way. But, as presented by Mann, we simply have a movie which is clearly apeing The Breakfast Club while also inserting every zombie movie and Die Hard cliche possible. Think of every zombie movie staple and it's in here. We get the character who gets bitten and then hides it. The character who gets bitten just as everyone is about to get away. Zombie hands coming through doors and windows. And just for you John McClane fans, the characters crawl through air ducts.

The bottom-line is that there is very little in Detention of the Dead is new or interesting. This wants to be a high-school version of Shaun of the Dead, but instead of spoofing the genre, it wallows in it and it's never scary or funny. The young actors seem game and Alexa Nikolas shows promise (and having just watched the first season of Revenge, seeing Christa B. Allen in this was a hoot), but the material is simply to lackluster. Detention of the Dead deserves to be expelled.

Detention of the Dead throws in a weird rat creature for some reason on DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source material. Once interesting thing which Mann has done is that he's shot the film in a fairly natural style, as opposed to being a dark horror film, so the colors look good here. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, but the depth is only average for a DVD. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track makes good use of the zombies attempting to invade the library, so we get some nicely placed sounds in the front and rear channels. Action sequences provide notable, but not overly powerful subwoofer effects. The in-film songs sound fine.

The Detention of the Dead DVD contains only one extra feature. "Behind the Scenes" (42 minutes) offers comments from the filmmakers and cast, as well as on-set footage. There is a discussion of the movie's origins (where John Hughes' name is invoked over and over) and a talk of how the production came about. From there, we get an overview of the cast and characters and then an in-depth look at the shooting of the movie, including the special effects. (This appears to be several little featurettes edited together.)

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.