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Definitely a film with its own personality, Strange Behavior can best
be appreciated by those that remember when films didn't require fast
editing to appease the short attention spans of MTV-weened young'ns.
With lines like the one about the "fat ones" delivered by the great
Charles Lane and a vision of a 1950s style small town set in the
"present" (something director Michael Laughlin and writer Bill Condon
again brought us in Strange Invaders), the film was a splendid hybrid
of old fashioned Twilight Zone ambiance and the fun, then-fresh
exuberance of New Wave music and sheer sense of FUN. To top off the
great mix: a Tangerine Dream score.
Mad Scientists, teens partying (but in the pre-MTV, pre-home computer kind of ways), mysterious killings, and....strange behavior! Oh, and the kind of impromptu group dance that was a heck of a lot more fun than the big dance scene in Footloose! Where else would a sudden dance sequence just seem to fit into a film -- the way Strange Behavior smoothly incorporates old-style thrills with humor and wit, having a bunch of teens break out into dance to the song "Lightning Strikes" doesn't seem so unusual, especially since the theme of the party was 1960s TV characters! Disguising the location of New Zealand as an Illinois town was quite a treat as well.
The story could have easily been done a number of times: small midwestern town, teens used as behavioral science subjects, mysterious murders by different killers...but of course the collaboration of Laughlin and Condon assures us this is not going to be typical. the focus is not to scare you out of your wits, but to offer something more mysterious. Add to that a very great choice for the cast (including more seasoned actors the likes of Michael Murphy, Fiona Lewis, Louise Fletcher, Charles Lane and others, plus the ever-smoking Dey Young and Dan Shor bring a likable aspect as well without being pushy teens) and an eye for design, Strange Behavior rises far above the cookie-cutter horror (particularly slasher) films of that time, and even in the present. There are many master shots that go for lengthy takes, and those of us that care more for story and dialogue can savor what's going on. I wouldn't be surprised that younger audiences that are used to fast cuts and one-liners would find this film too slow (and then again youth that are smarter might embrace this as other films from over 20 years ago). The minimal bloodletting works just as well, and the needle-in-the-eye trick can still illicit a good squirm today just as it did in 1981.
It's great to see that Strange Behavior has influenced other films: Fiona Lewis' hairdo inspired the one Sean Young had in Blade Runner, and it's obvious the lackluster film Disturbing Behavior from 1998 was, to put it kindly, "inspired" by Strange Behavior. Joe Dante even wanted Fiona Lewis for Innerspace based on her being seen in this film.
Strange Behavior is a great reminder of how things were so much more based on literal creativity and storytelling. Nowadays, it's all about special effects done digitally and pushing soundtracks from bands or music styles no one's going to care about 10 years from now. Laughlin and Condon were smart enough to give us elements that remain to this day unique, memorable, and never wearing out their welcome. Sure, by today's standards the film may not seem so shocking, but having come from being a "teen" back in 1980, it was refreshing for its time and has well earned its cult status. Sure, even the songs in it are more cool than what's considered a hit these days!
Thank goodness Elite Entertainment has released the DVD in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, which also gives that widescreen feel of the 1950s thrillers in which Strange Behavior resembles so well. It makes my life much more fulfilling knowing such gems as this one are being given the respect and care in their restoration. Ignore the lower IMDb rating that it has at this time (just over a 4), because I feel it's being given a low rating by those who are too familiar with recent "shockers." The general reviews by the press were quite good for Strange Behavior back when it was released, and I for one feel that I do know a bit more about what quality is since I've experienced these kinds of films and their evolution up through to today's more slicker productions. It's also why you're hearing more references to older TV shows and songs in today's advertisements: they just don't make 'em like they used to, and there's just more distinction and personality in things from way back when! Or at least, some of them, since this film definitely was different from anything else when IT was released. Long live Strange Behavior!
In the late 70s/early 80s during the Australian film "renaissance", when historical dramas like 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' and 'Gallipoli' were all the rage, a producer named Antony Ginnane attempted to go against the tide and get some thrillers and horror movies made Down Under. He dreamed of being Australia's Roger Corman. Sadly it wasn't to be but hats off to him for helping movies like 'Patrick', 'Thirst' and 'Turkey Shoot' get to the big screen! 'Dead Kids' (a.k.a. 'Strange Behavior') is another underrated movie from this period that he co-produced. This time Ginnane and friends went to New Zealand instead of Australia, something to do with union hiccups I believe. The movie was actually filmed in Auckland, but set in the US with a mostly American cast, including Dan Shor ('Wise Blood'), Michael Murphy ('Manhattan'), Louise Fletcher ('One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest'), Marc McLure ('Superman'), and Dey Young ('Rock'n'Roll High School'). Also appearing were the British born Fiona Lewis ('The Fury') and Aussie character actor Arthur Dignam ('The Devil's Playground'), who plays the enigmatic Dr Le Sangel, a role originally intended for Klaus Kinski. As well as a great cast this movie is noteworthy because it was directed by Michael Laughlin, the producer of Monte Hellman's 70s road classic 'Two-Lane Blacktop', and co-written by Laughlin and Bill Condon, who went on the write and direct the excellent James Whale biopic 'Gods And Monsters'. There are two outstanding bits in 'Dead Kids' which anyone who watches it will never forget: the syringe-in-the-eyeball scene, and the party sequence with a bunch of kids dancing to the Lou Christie oldie "Lightning Strikes". Music buffs will also appreciate the score from Tangerine Dream, and Aussies will get a kick out of (briefly) hearing The Boys Next Door's post-punk classic "Shivers" on the soundtrack. 'Dead Kids' is one of the my favourite horror movies of the late 70s/early 80s, a golden age filled with some very inventive and original shockers e.g. 'Evil Dead', 'Phantasm', 'Dead & Buried', 'Basket Case', to name a few. Eli Roth's super-hyped 'Cabin Fever' claimed to be inspired by some of these movies but totally missed the point in my opinion. Forget Roth, go for the real thing like this, which is both more entertaining AND scarier.
Chock full of haunting images, chilling murders, and good performances
slow, laconic but amazingly effective horror flick has stayed with me
I saw it when it was originally released. The film is best in its
of teen life in a small college town in the midwest (though it was shot in
New Zealand). Taking it's cue from there, the film moves along at a
leisurely, but ultimately disquieting pace revealing that all is not so
sleepy and calm in this rural environment.
Co-written by Academy Award-winner Bill Condon ("GODS AND MONSTERS") the story shows remarkable intelligence and wit in the vein of some of the best Roman Polanski flicks (e.g. "THE TENANT" and "REPULSION").
Best if seen in the movie theater to appreciate it's glorious widescreen landscapes. Wish this picture was out on DVD.
dead kids is very well made and unusual addition to horror cinema. it is an
australian/new zealend production, and was made with the intention to sell
it to an american market. so you get a film that looks very much like an
american film, is shot and crafted like an american film with american
actors (who are often better than any australian actor that gets into this
kind of film, neighbours and home and away are rarely good casting grounds)
but the script has a definite australian feel to it. from the odd, sly
humour, to the way it deals with the murders and the almost complete lack of
morality in the film. not to say it is immoral, but themes of morality never
come into it, which is not often seen in american horror.
for the most part, it is wonderfully directed, one that has to be seen in widescreen to appreciate. however, the murders are somewhat lacklustre, they are directed with very little bite. it is obvious that the director has no idea of hot to show "action". most of the time it does not drastically effect the overall film as this is not a typical slasher film. in a few scenes however, this "relaxed" view of violence heightens the horror, such as the final murder and the "human experiments" carried out on the main character. as mentioned above, the script is quite interesting and entertaining. however, there is a 2 minute ending tacked on after the final showdown which drastically decreases the power of the film.
while not being a classic, it is still one of the better and more interesting horror films of the 80s that deserves a far wider audience than it has recieved.
I first saw this inventive and well-produced thriller in the
mid-nineties via a full-screen Rhino Video cassette I bought--this is
not a film that is easy to find in most video stores (I currently have
it on DVD and, I must say, it is like a new film, immaculate and
widescreen in all of its Panavision glory). Well, when I saw this
deliciously tongue-in-cheek flick, I fell in love with it instantly.
The direction by Michael Laughlin was tight and effective; Bill
Condon's script was clever, funny and twisty; Louis Horvath's
provocative and incredibly colorful cinematography was impressive; the
Tangerine Dream score was stunning and dream-like; and, in the lead,
Michael Murphy, towering and unforgettable, was both brilliantly subtle
and medium cool, as well as intense and humanly believable. Along with
fine supporting turns from Louis Fletcher, Fiona Lewis, Arthur Dignam,
Scott Brady and Charles Lane, the whole film is quite satisfying.
It's hard to describe this film in a few short, concise words, so I choose to say that "Strange Behavior" is like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" meets "Halloween" meets "Blue Velvet." It's an atmospheric, genre-busting, deliciously quirky slice of cinematic cleverness. A must for genuine horror film enthusiasts.
Don't let the unpleasant title put you off, this is an excellent little movie that I actually found quite scary. The acting is top class especially from Dan Shor and Michael Murphy who star. Louise Fletcher is also on top form and all three bring a realistic almost 'cinema veritie' feel to the proceedings. The film works because of Michael laughlins direction that develops the film on many levels. On the one hand there is lots of atmosphere and a suspenseful intensity that builds up to the films climax yet Laughlin also concentrates on character development and relationships giving us insights in to Chief Bradys (Michael Murphy) mysterious past and the close father/son relationship him and Pete (Dan Shor) have. The film also pays close attention to small town life. In this small Louisiana town everyone knows everyone there are lots of nice little touches by Laughlin to point this out. Laughlins direction also has a humorous edge to it and the good acting adds to this. There is one incredibly surreal scene in the movie at a party where all the 'party-goers' start dancing in unison! They are all in 50's style fancy dress and dance in a hyperbolic 50's fashion! Although it is hard to decipher Laughlins motives here this scene seems incredibly inspired to me personally. Although some scenes in this film are quite shocking I cannot comment on the amount of gore in this film because I have only seen the UK 18 cert release which has been cut considerably and panned and scanned. If only there was a widescreen version available I for one would instantly snap it up!
Known most everywhere (outside the US) as DEAD KIDS, this is the film by
which "strange flicks" are measured. To some extent, comparable to MY BLOODY
VALENTINE in as much as what we have here is majorly weird goings-on in a
You would never pick that this was filmed in New Zealand - it LOOKS like a small Nebraska township with a Pontiac Le Mans, Thunderbird, Chevy and assorted 60's Yank tanks on view as well as your all-american college dudes. Only the dedicated viewer may pick up the cinematography and Tangerine Dream soundtrack as revealing its New Zealand ancestry - very reminiscent at times of BATTLE TRUCK! Actually in large part an Australian endeavour also - witness Arthur Dignam as Dr Weird-In-The -extreme!
Agreed, as a slasher movie it doesn't cut it....as a thinking man's thriller it never rates. As an 80's time-capsule..its a winner ("Friday the 13th" vintage) What makes the film, is its very weirdness and the musical score from Tangerine Dream. Those shots of the car moving along the town's main drag are utterly cool and absorbing. For some reason also the fancy dress party and the kids dancing to Lou Christie's great 60's hit, "Lighting strikes," just hits a nerve somewhere down memory lane. Interesting also to see McClure as a zappy college student. Some of you may recall him as reporter-pup Jimmy Olsen in the four-part SUPERMAN series as well as SUPERGIRL
Not great by a long shot but way left field enough to stake a claim to horror immortality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In a small town in Illinois, the local teenagers have found a new way to make after school cash. They have been volunteering as test subjects at the local University in the psychology department run by Dr. Gwen Parkinson (Lewis). Parkinson is secretly doing the work of Dr. Le Sange (Dignam) who is believed to be dead after the crazed doctor was caught doing mind experiments on the kids which resulted in the death of the wife of local sheriff John Brady (Murphy). John's son Pete (Shor) has now began to volunteer and starts showing psychotic tendencies. Also known as "Strange Behavior", this film was shot in New Zealand and passed off as Illinois. Essentially it's the mad scientist behind the evil in this unbalanced horror film. There are a few effective sequences like when a mind controlled girl chases an old woman through a house and when twisted Oliver (Marc McClure) puts on a Tor Johnson mask and stalks and slashes a girl at a party. Unfortunately there are plenty of dull moments spread throughout and both the action and actors seem bored. This movie flicks to life in a few flashes which makes it watchable but it just never catches any momentum and in the end is quite forgettable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first half of this horror film, about strange experiments going on
at a small campus, is very good. It was very effective thanks to a
chilling score by Tangerine Dream and had some expert cinematography.
It also had some big names in the cast. Michael Murphy (M*A*S*H),
Louise Fletcher(One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest) and classic film actor
But then, maybe 3/4ths of the way through, it gets terrible. And it gets there quick. I think the scene that convinced me this movie was no longer good was the one where Michael Murphy's character is talking to Louise Fletcher's at the kitchen table. He talks about this evil scientist like he's some cartoon super villain. In fact, the plot to this whole movie becomes a ridiculous mad scientist/ revenge story like you would see in a Poverty Row production from the 30s or 40s, with hilariously campy lab scenes straight out of a bottom of the barrel James Bond flick. It loses all credibility here. It loses it's atmospheric feel , the blond kid acts like he's high for most of the rest of the film, and it has a climax that is very predictable and feels like it was thought up right on the spot. It also has one of the most pointless and confusing (to me anyway) "last lines" in movie history, and ends abruptly. I would also like to note that, unless I missed something, we never find out what happens to any of the kids that the mad doctor experiments on. (SPOILER) They just kill and disappear from the film altogether.
So to me, it just seems like the filmmakers stopped caring halfway through. They don't even try to cover up this one kid's New Zealand accent (it's set in Illinois, but was shot in New Zealand.)
This movie is included in the same set with "Patrick". It is marginally better than that film but alas, only marginally.
Australian-New Zealand-US co-production about modern-day teenagers in a small town "outside of Chicago" who come under the influence of a nefarious scientific team conducting paid experiments in their laboratory-fortress; the resident chief of police, harboring a grudge against the government-funded operation since the mysterious death of his wife, investigates. Director Michael Laughlin, working from a thin script by Bill Condon and himself, is very apt at creating atmosphere and mood, and the tension which slowly develops rests entirely upon these attributes (the characters and dialogue being of little consequence). His handling is, at times, uncomfortably physical, yet the violent sequences are paced in a realistically awkward manner--as if in a tumultuous dream-state. Laughlin takes it all quite seriously, with no camp overtones, though he doesn't give his first-rate cast an opportunity to do any real acting (Louise Fletcher, speaking with a light, frivolous twang, is particularly frittered away). Still, the look of the picture, the music by Tangerine Dream, and some of the horrific images are unique and memorable. *1/2 from ****
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