Sunday, October 09, 2011

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #1: Detention

Welcome to this year’s 13 for Halloween. What say we kick off with some teenagers getting offed gruesomely in the very high school they’re generically emblematic of? Yeah? Cool.

‘Detention’ is an uber-low-budget outing by James D.R. Hickox, son of Douglas (‘Theatre of Blood’) Hickox and brother of Anthony (‘Waxwork’) Hickox. Keeping it in the family is all well and good, but JDR hasn’t yet demonstrated the surefootedness of his forebears. His output ranges from ‘Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest’ to the comedy thriller ‘Girls Gone Psycho’, whose tagline (“hell hath no fury like a woman porn’d”) is easily the best thing about it.

‘Detention’ is his most recent outing and, despite a couple of belly-laughs and a cast who are at least game in going along with the nonsense that’s asked of them, I can’t in all honesty pen a review of it without mentioning the small but important fact that, by even the loosest set of critical perameters, it’s hugely derivative and pretty dire. But it’s reasonably entertaining in a stumble-home-from-the-pub/watch-any-old-shit/laugh-it-up kind of way. It also features one of David Carradine’s last performances (the film is dedicated to him).

Many of its flaws – particularly the dodgy CGI and the we-broke-in-and-filmed-this-after-everyone-had-gone-for-the-night production values – can be blamed on the budget. The acting is variable. Carradine, sad to say, phones it in. Alexa Jago – whose biggest deal was a bit part in ‘Waterworld’ – confuses being co-producer with having a license to overact. The kids, however, aren’t bad at all. In fact, to say I watched this purely for the promise of obnoxious student types buying the farm, it almost pains me to admit that the kids are alright.

Let’s meet the little buggers. Paul (Preston Jones) is the sporty type with the hot blonde girlfriend. Lisa (Maitland McConnell) is said hottie. Jack (Billy Aaron Brown), Paul’s best bud, is a stoner who insists on calling everyone “mon” in a really bad Jamaican accent for most of the movie. Then we’ve got rich bitch princess Mimi (Rachel Stirling) and her nerdy wannabe boyfriend Sam (Michael Mitchell). Rounding out the ensemble are goth Sarah (Zelda Williams) and token black guy who turns in the best performance but gets killed off arbitrarily anyway because racism still calls the fucking shots even in this day and age T-Loc (Jonathan McDaniel). For various reasons, the septet end up in – you got it – detention (much to Paul’s chagrin as he’s missing a football game) under the less-than-watchful eye of Coach Littich (Thomas Calabro). There’s even some expository dialogue around why the motherfucking coach is overseeing the detention class instead of being at the game, but it was so tortuously and laboriously arrived at that my brain died part way through and for the life of me I can’t wrestle it into any semblance of coherent sense.

Anyway, Coach Littick is more interested in the MILF-like Miss Cipher (Jago) – if the name doesn’t give it away, then the film’s final act revelation will come as a genuine surprise and I’m very happy for you – who has taken to wandering the corridors by torchlight after a surprise storm knocks the power out. Clichés, much?

Let’s cut to the chase. Those selfsame corridors are the playground of bad CGI ghosts that swoop and dissipate and rematerialize and make you yearn for the old days of superimpositions or stop-motion. The student body (or at least its detention-doomed contingent) start dying graphically. Everything turns out to be connected to an incident back in the 70s where a kid died as the result of a nasty prank and a surprise storm.

I don’t need to labour the point: ‘Detention’ is a patchwork quilt of homages, mostly to equally no-budget but still way better 70s B-movies. In fact, ‘Detention’ is most noteworthy as a good point of comparison between horror back then and horror now. Crucial differences being that your average 70s high school horror would have an 18-certificate, the kill scenes would be infinitely more gruesome and the obligatory have-sex-and-die moment would feature actual nudity. No much to ask, you’d think. But ‘Detention’ fails to deliver in these areas, just as it fails to generate any actual scares.

Not so much bad as terminally indifferent, ‘Detention’ earns its eponymous spell after school.

No comments: