Dead Kids aka Strange Behaviour (1981)

One from the rewatch pile…
Dead Kids

Film: Growing up in the VHS era was awesome. To actually have movies that you could play whenever you wanted in your home was a revelation. I loved monsters already, from Famous Monsters, Marvel and DC comics, Saturday afternoon Godzilla flicks and late night creature features, but to be able to watch horror movie whenever I wanted was a revelation.

When I turned 16, I managed to secure a job as the afternoon clerk… I called myself ‘manager’… of a video shop in the NSW suburb of Sylvania. Basically my job was to receive returns from the Saturday night hires as very few actually rented on a Sunday afternoon.

I didn’t see that as my job: I saw it as being paid $30 to watch whatever horror films I wanted to, and during my time there, there were a few films that I always put on in the afternoon: Dawn of the Dead, The Neverdead (aka Phantasm), Dead and Buried and this film, Dead Kids (also called Strange Behaviour by countries who don’t think Dead Kids is the BEST exploitation title ever!)

Dead Kids was filmed in New Zealand, written by William Condon (who is also the first victim in the film) and Michael Laughlin, who also directs. The film was produced by Antony I. Ginnane and John Barnett, but don’t let that or the filming location fool you into thinking this is an ‘Aussie’ film. The film is based in an American country town, and NZ seems to act the part quite well.

Dead Kids tells of police chief John Brady (Michael Murphy) who is dropped into the middle of a series of murders that a small town like his has never seen before. About this time, his son, Peter (Dan Shor) volunteers to take place in a series of behavioural experiments made by a local psychology research institute, associated with the university, but do the two things have anything in common? Many locals have volunteered for these experiments, and maybe research lead Dr Parkinson (Fiona Lewis) has something to hide…

This film has a likeable cast. Dan Shor is charmingly cheeky, his best friend, played by Marc McClure, is a great foil for him, and they seem like real school mates. Shor’s love interest, played by Dey Young is delightfully flirty, and her boss, the mysterious Dr Parkinson, is played by Fiona Lewis with a cool sexuality that is breathtaking. The inclusion of Arthur Dignam is a fun addition too, as is Louise Fletcher as the police chief’s bubbly love interest. The only cast member who seems to be a little out of sorts is Michael Murphy, who is in an apparent state of ‘what the Hell is happening’ through the whole film.

Not a pillar of police investigative powers, for sure.

The films direction is beautiful. Laughlin has created a minimalistic look on the panoramic scenes that gives the immediate feeling of the remoteness of the town, but keeps the intimate scenes crowded and claustrophobic.

A special shout out has to go to the dance sequence… Yes, the DANCE sequence that takes place at a party when one of the victims is murdered. A catchy song danced to by a bunch of people dressed in weird TV series costumes… Odd, and brilliant!

It’s not a perfect film, far from it actually!! Flawed dubbing, dubious motives, blood effects that don’t quite go off as well as they should and an ending that really doesn’t hold up under too much scrutiny, but for me it has a charm that may be due to my personal nostalgia for it, but whatever it is, I love it like a brother.

Score: ****

Format: This release is the Australian, regionĀ B release from industry newcomer Glass Doll Films, who in their short career have released some genre classics like Eaten Alive and The Centrefold Girls, and are quickly becoming my favourite! This feature runs for 99 minutes and the picture quality of the 2.35:1 image is really clear and vibrant. The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Mono and is of a particularly high quality too.

Score: *****


Some pretty cool extras on this disc.

First we have two audio commentaries, one (via Skype, which makes it a little tinny) with Director Michael Laughlin, which seems more like an interview edited into the film rather than an ACTUAL commentary which causes it to be quite sporadic, and the other with co-writer Bill Condon and actors Dan Shor and Dey Young, which is far more animated and fun and funny!

The Effects of Strange Behaviour is an interview with Makes up effects artist Craig Reardon where he discusses how he ended up on and what effects were used in Dead Kids.

A Very Delicious Conversation with Dan Shor is a really awesome interview with Shor where he presents his entire career whist sitting on a bench in New York. It’s a fascinating extra, especially if, like me, you don’t know much about Shor. I must admit to having to watch it twice as I was, for a second, distracted by a squirrel in the background. I’ve never been to New York and didn’t realise that squirrels were SO prevalent.. I mean, you see them always in the movies, but you don’t expect that to necessarily be a real thing.

The disc also has a isolated score track by Tangerine Dream. The score is actually really good, but it is so sparse in the film that you spend several minutes at a time watching people’s mouths moving with no sound between the music pieces.

There is also an interesting booklet, written by John Harrison, which explores the film, that has some great behind the scenes pics.

Score: *****

WISIA: Of course it has rewatchability: I’ve owned this film on every format that it been released upon in Australia!! I love it and Glass Doll have my eternal gratitude for taking so much care of the Australian release.

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