Strange Behavior (1981)

FEBRUARY 4, 2009


I forget where exactly, but I recently read a mini review of Strange Behavior (which was also recommended by HMAD reader Peter), which praised the film’s off-kilter feel, and also mentioned that it was sometimes known as Dead Kids. This reminded me of how I wanted to rent it (under the latter) title when I was like 7 or 8 and my mom refused based on the “ugly” title alone. She then rented one of the Friday the 13th movies and I forgot all about it until recently. I can’t help but wonder that if the original title had been used, she might have been more open to the idea of letting me watch it, instead of more child-appropriate viewings like the sight of three people being decapitated at once in F13 6.

But young me wouldn’t have enjoyed this movie the way I enjoy it today. I’m sure the scare scenes would have been entertaining, but lines like “You been doing experiments on fat girls?” wouldn’t have tickled my fancy back then, as I was not yet a fan of nonsensical dialogue (or of actor Michael Murphy, who effortlessly delivers the line). I probably also would have scoffed at, say, the interminable 10 minute dance sequence (set to Lou Christie’s “Lightning Strikes” - great tune), instead of marveling at its Raw Force-esque levels of “why in the hell is this party scene still on but oh God please never end”.

There are so many peculiar moments in the movie that I stopped writing them down in my notes. A would-be victim pausing to make shadow puppets on the wall; Murphy cutting his toenails at the dinner table; a guy driving a car that didn’t have a driver’s side door; a girl yelling “I can’t swim!” to the killer after he chases her into a pool... it’s just wonderful. But the alpha and omega of baffling incidents actually occurs pretty early on, as our hero (Dan Shor) walks up to his father (Murphy) in the bathroom... completely naked. He then just stands there and waits for him to finish up so that he can shower or whatever. OK, movie.

I just really dug the movie’s laid back charm. Murphy is the chief of police, but I had no idea that was the case until later in the movie, because he can’t even be bothered to wear a badge or any cop type things. He spends the entire movie dressed in khakis and a white polo shirt; it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to mistake him for a postal clerk or maybe a small claims adjuster on casual Friday. There are also a hefty number of scenes with no payoff, which for some reason just entertained me more than they annoyed me. At one point a cop from Chicago comes to town in order to help them solve the murders. He asks for some bourbon, then he talks about the Richard Speck case for a while. He’s pretty much never seen again.

Speaking of Speck, the odd thing about that is that a few scenes later, Shor goes to his love interest’s place, where we discover that she lives with 7 or 8 other girls, a la the Speck case. And since he’s slowly going crazy thanks to the mind control stuff, I was thinking that the Speck mention was actually foreshadowing what would happen in this movie. But nope, it’s also never mentioned again. But at this point I was pretty used to the movie’s “ah, whatever” attitude, and it didn’t bug me too much (there’s also a subplot about the town’s electrical problems that seemingly has no conclusion either).

One thing that DID bug me was the abhorrent editing. There are at least four points in the movie where I thought the DVD was just skipping around at random, as scenes would shift seemingly in the middle of a conversation. There are other quirks too; at one point Shor is accosted by a guy (fake scare), who asks (in a wonderfully terrible overdub) “what are you doing?”. The guy then disappears entirely as another character enters the scene. And the end is like the complete opposite of a Hammer film, where the movie ends the second the monster is dead. No, here the bad guy is finished off, and then the hero and his father head back home. And then there’s a wedding! Hero’s dad marries Louise Fletcher (who plays one of her few sympathetic roles here). So you’re thinking “oh shit, the kid is gonna snap again and kill someone at the wedding for a final scare!”. Nope. The wedding goes well, and then Shor and his girlfriend watch them drive off. He comments about how great they look together. THEN the movie ends. It’s like sitting there with a condom on for a half an hour after you orgasm. You’re done! Peel that shit off and go to sleep!

The commentary is pretty entertaining too. Co-writer Bill Condon (of Candyman 2 fame, though I’m sure his work on Dreamgirls is what he’d rather be parenthetically known for), co-star Dey Young, and Shor watch the movie for the first time in 20 years, and their memory is surprisingly strong. They also poke fun at some of the wardrobe and silly dialogue, making it the best kind of track (equal parts info and laughter). Young even candidly discusses how Murphy broke up her engagement and whisked her away to the Bahamas (or some such locale) after filming, only to dump her afterwards. Awesome. Condon also reveals that they didn’t even have a makeup FX guy, with the director and producers just doing it themselves. A pair of deleted scenes are also included, neither of which would be missed (nor would they be a problem had they been left in). The most interesting thing is that a trailer for “Strange Behavior” is included along with one for “Dead Kids” (if you recall all the way back to the beginning of this review, they are the same movie). “Behavior” is marketed more as a schlocky, drive-in-ready sci-fi movie, but “Kids” is much more truthful, focusing on the actual story (and even the movie’s off-kilter nature, which is hard to pull off in a trailer) while giving too much of the movie away. It’s a very interesting look at how a film can be marketed in entirely different ways, even when using most of the same footage.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Ha. I watched this about a month ago off of Netflix Instant. Going in cold, I got into it. Costume party stabbings, blood pissing, brain washing eye needles, Tangerine Dream. Good times.

    Also the dudes who made this also made Strange Invaders (1983), a Invasion of the Body Snatchers rehash which was notable for warping my fragile young brain with scenes of people ripping and tearing the flesh off their faces to reveal greasy bug-eyed aliens.

    Check it at 3:15 for the "gorey" details...


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