Published Oct 30, 2013Influence is a tricky thing. Every instance of creativity is predicated upon something that came before it. Inherently, there's nothing wrong with copping to those inspirational predecessors, but the line between paying homage and being an insubstantial copycat is a thin one.
Alex Craig Mann's directorial debut is the work of what Scott Mosier's character in Chasing Amy would scornfully call "a tracer." There isn't an original bone in Detention of the Dead's brittle screenplay skeleton, but at least Mann is appropriating quality material. As he repeats ad nauseam in both the "Behind the Scenes" special feature and his director's commentary, this project is meant to be a mash up of Shaun of the Dead and the Breakfast Club. What he doesn't state as directly is how much of an influence Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer had. The resident Wiccan (Alexa Nikolas) is named Willow — subtle.
This talky horror comedy crams those influences together for the story of a group of geeks and jocks forced to cooperate during a zombie outbreak at their school. Sequestered in the detention centre, our clique-clashing teenagers survive the initial wave of shambling brain gluttons, only to fall apart over hormonal tensions. You see, in truly pathetic fashion, Willow is pining for her zombie enthusiast buddy, Eddie (Jacob Zachar), while Eddie is pinning for Janet (Christa B. Allen), the hot cheerleader. Normally, the vapid blonde wouldn't give him the time of day, but everyone is sexier to a virgin facing almost certain death, hence a sloppy lust triangle. The rub is how eager Willow is to forgive Eddie his hormone-fuelled urges as long as he ends up wanting her. It's ugly male wish fulfillment that doesn't fit the spirit of what the film purports to be about.
Detention of the Dead plays like an extra long, extremely lacklustre episode of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil. The slightly delusional and exceptionally lengthy "Behind the Scenes" doesn't make this package any more appealing, nor does the self-congratulatory director's commentary. Though this film is obviously a labour of love, it's not a very good one. (Anchor Bay)