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Synapse Films presents
Strange Behavior (1981)

"A clear and unnatural picture begins to form in my mnd. They're going to strap me into some chair and pump my brains out."
- Pete Brady (Dan Shor)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 27, 2008

Stars: Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, Dan Shor, Fiona Lewis, Arthur Dignam, Dey Young
Other Stars: Marc McClure, Scott Brady, Charles Lane, Bill Condon
Director: Michael Laughlin

MPAA Rating: R for (gore, violence, language)
Run Time: 01h:38m:57s
Release Date: October 28, 2008
UPC: 654930307397
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- BB+B B+

DVD Review

During the horror cycle of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the seminal slasher movies such as Halloween and Friday the 13th acquired quite a multitude of knockoffs. One of the odder ones is this effort co-written by Bill Condon, populated with American actors, but shot in New Zealand. The plot is a bit predictable with some bizarre twists that will hold the attention.

In Galesburg, Illinois, the teens are teens, and determined to drink and extend their sexual frontiers. Among these are Pete Brady (Dan Shor), son of the local sheriff, John Brady (Michael Murphy). When what seems to be a serial killer strikes at a Halloween party, and also kills the mayor's son (co-writer Bill Condon), the sheriff is determined to find the culprit, and his attentions soon turn to the local college, which has a psychology department that caused trouble in the past. Unbeknownst to him, son Pete has volunteered to be a guinea pig for their experiments in behavior modification of a most extraordinary type.

The use of American actors helps to nicely camouflage the site of the filming, though some of the supporting minor players give the game away with heavy Down Under accents (given the lengths that were gone to to Americanize the production, it's mysterious why a few hundred dollars weren't spent on ADR). Still, co-writers Condon and director Michael Laughlin have a good grasp on the genre of the slasher movie and it functions as a reasonably good entry into the type.

Unfortunately, the American cast lets the production down seriously. Michael Murphy overacts in grand guignol fashion, and Fiona Lewis, as the sinister Dr. Parkinson, all but chews the scenery (though she is terrifying enough in her way). It's an odd bit of casting, since when one sees Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched herself) listed in the cast, you expect her in that role, rather than as the sheriff's sympathetic girlfriend. Shor and Dey Young hold up their ends well enough as the juvenile leads. Eternal character actor Charles Lane gets one of his biggest roles of his career here, and he's quite good and even on the side of the angels for a change. There's also a bizarre noirish Chicago detective, who does nothing whatsoever of note, who is dropped into the proceedings just for weirdness' sake, and he's fairly disruptive. It's an odd bit of self-indulgence, as if Mike Hammer had wandered into a John Carpenter movie.

The effects are marginal, with the critical stabs being clearly inflicted with rubber knives that turn aside at the point of impact. Nevertheless, there's plenty of crimson fluid running everywhere, so gorehounds will be pleased, and a particularly shocking effect of a severed hand that's pretty grotesque. The commentary indicates the the director of photography was going for a 1950s Technicolor look, and in that he succeeded, making it a fairly unusual slasher pic. It gives a heightened sense of unreality to the movie, and offers a tongue-in-cheek aspect that's entirely consistent with the rubber knives, 1940s detectives, and Murphy's carrying on.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture is a revelation over the previous putrid video renditions of this film; the added width helps with the compositions, and the color scheme is much more clearly rendered. Although it's a bit soft, that seems to be a stylistic choice rather than digital noise reduction since the grain structure is still quite good. There are vivid colors and strong black levels, and the source print, while modestly speckled, is in relatively good shape for what this movie is.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The English mono track has plenty of oomph, though many of the foley effects seem to be far too loud. The audio is clear and there's very little hiss or noise to be heard. The score by Tangerine Dream is appropriately unsettling and their synth sound comes across well.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Patrick, Thirst, Syngenor
2 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by co-writer Bill Condon, actors Dan Shor and Dey Young
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:03m:12s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: Synapse provides a reasonably solid special edition here, starting with a chatty and reminiscence-filled commentary from Condon, Shor and Young. They offer plenty of history and insight into the production, and it's definitely worth a listen; several plot points that are a bit confusing are cleared up as well. Tangerine Dream's score is presented as an isolated music score, which is very nice to have, though they're not my cup of tea. There are trailers for the film in both its US and Australian versions (the latter under the name Dead Kids). Those, plus three other trailers, are all presented in anamorphic widescreen. Two deleted scenes with an optional commentary are fairly dispensable; neither adds much to the movie at all. A gallery offers dozens and dozens of stills, including behind-the-scenes moments. Finally, there are filmographies for eight cast members, the director, Condon and the producers.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A slightly off-kilter slasher movie offers a few good chills, but the cast just can't pull it off. Nevertheless, if you like the movie it has never looked better.

 


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