Thursday, September 10, 2009
Strange Behavior (1981)
Strange Behavior (aka Dead Kids) is a little-seen 1981 horror film that is probably best remembered for a zany party scene where a bunch of teens are dancing up a storm to some god-awful ‘60s music that sounds like it was better suited for Grease 2. And, yes, the teens soon join in for a choreographed number that’ll probably make you gag a little. Still, despite this and a few other glaringly out-of-place scenes throughout the film, I found Strange Behavior to be a surprisingly entertaining flick.
In the seemingly idyllic burg of Galesberg, Illinois, it seems that things aren’t so peaceful. Kids are getting murdered left and right, and top cop John Brady (Michael Murphy), thinks it has something to do with the strange behavioral experiments going on at the local university. Brady seems to have a history with the scientist in charge of the suspicious experiments, Dr. Le Sangel (Arthur Dignam), only problem is that the Doctor is long dead (though he still “teaches” college classes via archival footage), having been replaced by his protégé, the icy Dr. Parkinson (Fiona Lewis). Still, the experiments have continued, but now the kids who volunteer for the mysterious experiments are turning out a bit robotic and zombie-like…
Meanwhile, Brady’s son Pete (Dan Shor) enrolls himself in these experiments under Dr. Parkinson’s care in hopes he can make enough money to cover his college application fees. There he meets love interest Caroline (Dey Young), who is a clueless receptionist that knows nothing of what goes on behind Dr. Parkinson’s closed doors.
Do the experiments have anything to do with the rash of murders occurring in the sleepy burg? Well, you can bet your bottom dollar they do, but can Brady get to the bottom of them before his own son becomes a mindless killing machine?
Strange Behavior was definitely a fun film to watch, despite its few wacky scenes and offbeat humor. In fact, its goofiness made it even more fun to watch! The party scene is classic enough, but there is also a hilarious scene where an older deputy is going through files and files of college transcripts to try and find a “fat girl” that fits the killer’s description…really, just watch it and you’ll understand!
The sly humor used throughout certainly doesn’t underscore the gore, though, and there is plenty to go around. People get stabbed, limbs get hacked off, a victim’s body is strung up in a field like a scarecrow, people’s heads get bashed and so on. Certainly not the goriest of films, even by slasher standards, but Strange Behavior does a decent job spreading some crimson around.
The story, written by Bill Condon (who would go on to write/direct Gods and Monsters and Dreamgirls) and Michael Laughlin, does have its plot holes, namely not entirely explaining why and how certain people were targeted to be killed. Were some of the victim’s random or were they all selected to be killed? This was never cleared up satisfactorily for me. Also, the pacing in the beginning and the end dragged a bit for me. The beginning had a pretty typical opening that didn’t immediately grab my attention. Then the end felt unnecessarily drawn out…and what was it with the cheesy wedding scene at the end? There were definitely some parts that could have been heavily edited. I never really did get the connection between Brady and his love interest (played by Louise Fletcher), who I guess was the housekeeper…that part of the story added nothing to the overall story and should have been dropped from the script. It’s almost if Condon and Laughlin were trying to cram as much as they could into the story, but I wished they had focused a bit more on the murders rather than unnecessary characters.
The characters, for a change from most slashers, are well-developed and stay away from most horror movie stereotypes. You really could sympathize with Brady and his son Pete as they both try to make sense of what is going on. The cold character of Dr. Parkinson is also developed just enough so you know that deep down she’s evil. You even get a feel for the secondary characters, like Pete’s best friend Oliver (who disappears halfway through after donning a scary and oversized Tor Johnson-look-alike mask at the crrrrraaaazy costume party) and girlfriend Caroline (who wears one of the ugliest patterned pant and jacket sets I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing).
Despite some flaws and a few wacky sequences, Strange Behavior is otherwise an entertaining way to kill an hour and a half. It seems that many people aren’t familiar with this diamond in the rough, either, but nonetheless this unique film just begs to be seen. Just promise you won’t bust out any choreographed dance moves while watching!
Order it on Amazon!