“See Mom? You can’t be too mad at me for going to detention, it could possibly save me from the zombie apocalypse!” said every troublemaking kid who caught Alex Craig Mann’s newest zom-com, Detention Of The Dead. Playing in a much simpler fashion than last year’s Detention, Mann’s film (which is based on a play by Rob Rinow) feels like a cross between an 80s style high school dramedy and some good old self-aware zombie horror. Basically, if George A. Romero and John Hughes did the nasty, Mann’s film would be the demented product. And yes, I know how babies are made, but that’s just a hypothetical – you get what I’m saying here.
Following a group of stereotypical high school cliches, Detention Of The Dead starts when our group all gather for their after school prison sentence. Unaware of the horrors sweeping across their school, another classmate in detention starts complaining of a wound caused by a particularly bitey hobo outside, and before you can say zombification, the classmate goes “rabid” and takes a chunk out of the poor teacher watching over the kids. As details start to click, our group comes to terms with the apocalyptic scenario unfolding around them, barricading themselves in the one place no student would be caught dead – the library. There’s the nerd (Jacob Zachar), the goth (Alexa Nikolas), the jock (Max Adler), the cheerleader (Christa B. Allen), the bully (Jayson Blair), and the stoner (Justin Chon). Despite all their different cliques, today they have one thing in common – they’re all f#cked.
In terms of zombie flicks, this is another interpretation of the genre that plays off the mentality that every zombie film fan thinks he/she would be able to survive the onslaught of walkers with their vast undead knowledge. This isn’t one of those zombie flicks that has characters screaming “WHAT IS GOING ON” as if not a single zombie movie had ever been created in their film universe. Detention Of The Dead is jam-packed with genre references (Savini Library?), zombie rules, reflections on legendary films, but it also makes sure to leave its own mark. A few unique moments that have never been address before for zombie fans, or have been completely ignored by other films, make their way into Mann’s film for certain experiences which individualize this specific project. Trust me, there’s a hilarious surprise awaiting horror fans lurking in the air vents of our blood-splattered high school.
While mixing the comedy and drama that is awkward teenage angst with true horror elements, Mann’s film definitely favors comedy over scares. That isn’t a bad thing by any means, but some viewers think that in order to be classified as horror, a film has to be only scary. Truthfully, this is not one of them, so if you’re looking for a zombie film worth a blood-curdling scream or two, you’re going to be let down. Instead, Detention Of The Dead has honest fun exploiting the hierarchical system of high school, even during the end of days. The nerd is helplessly in love with the cheerleader, but she’s dating the bully who torments him. Meanwhile, the goth chick is in love with the nerd, yet he’s essentially friendzoned her and would rather dream about his unattainable cheerleader. The stoner laughs at the atrocities going on around him, the bully proves his dickish reputation as often as possible, and our jock passes the time by doing dips. It’s like if Glee turned into a horror comedy and instead of singing, they fought for their lives – but still focused on their now meaningless “problems.”
As for our young actors, each one hammed up their character persona to really play up each cliche, but no one had more fun doing so than Justin Chon’s stoner character Ash. He’s the heavy-hitting comedic relief who finds the zombie invasion hilarious, taking nothing serious – which is exemplified by his prioritizing bathroom needs over actual survival. Jacob Zachar, playing geek Eddie, plays a likable main character for our struggling group, while Alexa Nikolas is equally as enjoyable as his sidekick of sorts. Nikolas gets to play the horror obsessed zombie encyclopedia though, which is relatable for a horror movie lover like me. C’mon, I guarantee there isn’t a horror fan out there that hasn’t thought at least once about surviving a zombie attack. Nikolas’ character shows exactly why.
With all that said, Detention Of The Dead isn’t going to be for everyone. Mann’s film is undeniably goofy, doesn’t exactly utilize the most ferocious zombies, carries a maturity level equal to the hormone-driven high school characters, and might be better suited for younger zombie fans. While I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of detailed gore our zombies create, I can see certain viewers growing tired of the high-as-a-kite druggie repeatedly telling characters to “chillax.” If you don’t like light-hearted jabs, coming-of-age quirks, zero atmospheric darkness, societal commentary, and plot material succeeding that probably shouldn’t, then this film might feel like you’re actually stuck in detention, forced to sit silently until the credits roll.
Luckily, I’m not one of those people who can’t stand the above mentioned type of film. Personally, I love horror comedies, I love zombies, and I love high school atmospheres being ravaged by both scenarios. It’s always a blast to see how directors interpret that special period in our lives when every day is a struggle not to make an ass of yourself – except now you’re trying to stay alive as well. Detention Of The Dead sits in the same category as Dance Of The Dead for me, making typically annoying high school stereotypes funny by injecting a little undead danger into the mix. You can only do so much with high school stories, but setting them durning the apocalypse opens doors straight comedies will never know. Professor Mann, this is one class I wouldn’t mind repeating over and over again.