Also known by its much more in your face title Dead Kids, Strange Behavior holds a place in New Zealand film history as the first horror movie made in the country. A homage to American horror films of the 1950s, it was intended to be part of a trilogy. However, after this movie and Strange Invaders underperformed at the box office, that was not to be.
It was relased in the UK as Small Town Massacre and ran afoul of the video nasty controversy, ending up on the Section 3 list of films.
This — and Strange Invaders — were both directed by Michael Laughlin (Two-Lane Blacktop), who co-wrote the film with Bill Condon, who would go on to direct Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh, both parts Twilight: Breaking Dawn and write 2002’s Chicago and The Greatest Showman.
Speaking of the word strange, perhaps the strangest thing in this movie is that while it’s supposedly based in Galesburg, Illinois, it couldn’t be geographically further from America if it tried. That’s because the movie was lensed in Auckland, New Zealand.
It all starts with the murder of Bryan (co-writer Condon), which ends with his body getting stuffed into a scarecrow.
Local cop John Brady (Michael Murphy, who has been in plenty of Robert Altman’s films) is on the case. And his son Pete (Dan Shor, who was in Wise Blood) and his friend Oliver (Marc McClure, who you’d know as 1970’s Jimmy Olsen) are learning all about the work of Dr. Le Sange from Professor Parkinson (Fiona Lewis, who was in plenty of films, but around here, we celebrate her for her work in the seminal — and semenal, really — Tintorera…Tiger Shark). Oh yeah — his dead mom (and John’s lost wife) once worked for Le Sange.
Pete wants to go to college and doesn’t have the money to apply, so he signs up to be part of the professor’s experiments. After all, Oliver did it and it wasn’t a big deal.
Or was it? Because later that night, a maniac in a Tor Johnson mask attacks and kills a boy at a party before being unmasked as — you got it — Oliver. He can’t remember anything, not even the bizarre surgical cuts that he did near his victim’s eye. That said — whoever killed Bryan and the kid at the party couldn’t have been the same person.
Despite all that, Pete stil undergoes one of the professor’s tests, swallowing pills and repeating key phrases. He also begins a romance with Caroline (Dey Young, Kate Rambeau from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School), a fellow student.
The murders only ramp up in intensity, with one woman finding her son chopped to bits in the bathroom before her throat is slashed. John, being a good cop, starts to feel that perhaps the professor has something to do with all of this, questioning her while being unaware that she’s about to inject his son in the eyeball with a concoction of mind-altering drugs.
That’s when we get the exposition — during John’s date with his girlfriend Barbara (Louise Fletcher, who everyone else will tell you was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I’ll confide that she was Dr. Gene Tuskin in Exorcist II: The Heretic) — where we learn that everyone who has died — including his wife — was tied to the unethical experiments of Le Sange. Even worse, Le Sange is probably still alive, because when the lovey-dovey twosome break into his crypt — talk about a romantic date! — his casket is empty.
The end of this movie is a mix of mind control madness, a mistaken case of paternity, doctors ordering their patients to kill themselves and even a happy close. It all lives up to the title — strange — in the best of ways.
You have to love when a movie totally stops to give you a synchronized dance scene, like a slasher film variant of the same kind of stuff that used to happen in 1950’s films like I Was a Teenage Werewolf. That song — Lou Christie’s “Lightnin’ Strikes” — was also covered by Klaus Nomi.
Speaking of music, Strange Behavior also benefits from a score by Tangerine Dream. I really need to get on to writing a list of movies that thier music made even better. They rival Goblin for how many cult films they scored.