For what I believe to be the first time, ZMN featured two films that were released the year we watched them. It just goes to show that the zombie revolution is not a fad. Dead people wanting to kill you and eat your guts will always be in style.
First up was Infected, starring Michael Madsen and William Forsythe as old army buddies meeting up for a hunting trip as a chance to bond with their adult children. But a blood virus passed from ticks to deer to humans has other plans for the weekend. Zombie plans.
This film’s biggest problem is its disjointed narrative. It opens with a big zombie attack scene and then quickly flashes back to “12 hours earlier” so we can see how we got there. Which is fine, in theory. Why it doesn’t work all that well here is because the back story doesn’t really give us any new information except for character names and relationships. (And it doesn’t even do a great job with the latter. It gets distracting wondering which son belongs to which dad… and is that guy also a son… and whose grandma is that… oh it’s that woman’s… but who is that woman… and who is that other woman one of the guys is trying to hook up with?) You basically spend most of the movie waiting to get back to the place where it started just to get things moving along. When you do a set-up like that, you’re supposed to reveal stuff along the way so when the audience meets the dominatrix ninja we can go, “Oh so that’s why that guy had both arms chopped off and a ball gag in his mouth at the beginning!” (Disclaimer: I made that up.) Then once we finally catch up to the opening scene, there’s a few more minutes of action followed by an epilogue where basically everyone has died off camera. Madsen narrates while his son scavenges and this goes on for so long that it feels like the beginning of a new movie. Really, compared to this ending, Lord of the Rings Part 3 could be praised for its brevity.
Still, the movie is the good kind of bad, elevating it from trash heap to middle of the pack. There’s some fun to be had with characters being psychic by script requirement , gratuitous nudity, as well as characters who seem to react to the film score. Scary music, run! Also, Madsen gets a speech where he growls like Sgt Slaughter and seems to have deluded himself into thinking this will be his Oscar clip. The movie does too, since they show it twice.
This is a bad movie for general audiences but if you’re a zombie fan who loves snarking on things, you probably won’t be disappointed. Grade: B-
Next up was Detention of the Dead, which sets itself up as Breakfast Club with Zombies played as a screwball comedy. It gets better as it goes along, but for the first half, it flails and fails at its own premise.
I have written plenty in general about bad comedy and how much I hate it, but in this case I can pinpoint my exact problem with “Detention.” The apocalypse is serious business and any attempt to not play it straight, even in a comedy, is a grave misstep because it requires too great of a disconnect from reality. Simon Pegg deciding what part of his vinyl collection he can fling at the undead lands as a gag because it’s an absurdity drawn from character. A high school kid cracking wise about how his classmates are eating each other rings false because no one would react like that. An apocalyptic comedy works when the characters are funny within the scenario, not when the characters are being funny AT the scenario. Characters in “This is the End” arguing over the rationing of a candy bar- yes. Girl getting upset over blood on her clothes while her teacher is being eaten alive right in front of her- no.
Fortunately, there comes a point in every apocalypse where shit starts to get really real, and once the survivng group of high school cliches starts acting scared and contemplating their own mortality, the film upgrades itself from unwatchable screwball comedy to slightly more watchable zombie movie. It hits all the usual zombie beats: hiding a bite, stay put or run for it?, sacrifice, etc. It’s unoriginal, sure, but at least it’s treating the zombies and the end of the world with the respect they deserve. It’s weird for a comedy to get better when it stops being a comedy, but that’s the case with “Detention.”
I have to add that the best part of the production is that they paid the money for a real soundtrack and have that Golden Zombey pretty well locked up. It seems like they made an apocalypse playlist of alternative/indie songs and then went out and got it. Matt & Kim’s ‘Good Ol Fashioned Nightmare’, a cover of Pixies’ ‘Where is My Mind?’ and ‘George Romero’ by Sprites all contribute to making the music better than the movie deserves.