Strange Behavior (1981)

Good kids turned killers!
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Strange Behavior - Good Kids Turned Killers!

Strange Behavior (known as Dead Kids, Human Experiments, Small Town Massacre and Beyond the Gate but never referred to as Strange Behaviour in the UK) is a peculiar entry on the list of video nasties. Most peculiar is why it was banned in the first place, yes it has gore, but not enough and not in a context where a banning should be necessary. Compared to some of the blatant sensationalism of some of the titles banned in the UK during that period it is apparent that Strange Behavior is an honest attempt at making a movie that just got caught up in the furore.

A further peculiarity is the whole vibe of the film. It is a mishmash of styles but overall feels like a science fiction with occasional sequences which put it firmly back in the horror genre. It is an homage to the pulp sci-fi from the fifties (but set in the eighties) and definitely exhumes the paranoia apparent in the movies from that era. It combines this with some of the more traditional horror aspects from the world of the slasher film. This mixture of styles is what gives Strange Behavior such a unique feel giving it an edge over many horror films of a similar vein, the mixture works well and doesn't ever feel disjointed like some genre benders (Xtro springs to mind).

Another aspect that probably adds to the unique charm of Strange Behavior is that it is and Australian produced film, shot in New Zealand but set in America with a mostly American cast. This setup was intended from the beginning as the target audience was the US. There is an obvious influence of Australian culture throughout, noticeable in the script and certain aspects of the cinematography, despite trying to create the illusion of America which furthers the oddness.

A number of brutal murders has the small town of Galesburg, Illinois, shook up. With only a few leads and no suspects it is up to Chief of Police, John Brady to try and find a connection. This proves difficult as each of the murders seems to have been committed by a different perpetrator. The only connection seems to be that all victims were the offspring of some of Brady's long time friends leading him to believe that his son, Pete, may be at risk.

Brady was widowed years previously. His wife died in suspicious circumstances while under the employment of Dr. Le Sange who himself dies suspiciously not long after. Dr Le Sange was a university professor at Galesburg university working on some unethical experiments involving mind control. With suspicious of this unethical activity, John Brady investigated the establishment back when he had a wife, with the aforementioned long time friends, which started the chain of events which is currently making his life a misery.

Unbeknownst to Brady, Le Sange's work is still being carried out at Galesburg university and a number of students (including young Pete Brady) are being experimented on, enticed into the program with the promise of big fat cheques.

Strange Behavior impresses in a number of ways. The story is far from deep but is managed in a way that makes it engaging and twisty enough to maintain interest throughout. The occasional bouts of gore are shot in a way that makes them seem quite extreme for the kind of film but they do not seem out of place. Just when you feel that something is missing director Michael Laughlin throws in a synchronised dance scene at a fancy dress party which amazingly doesn't seem out of place either by the time you have got that far in.

The ending provides a nice little twist which isn’t really a jaw dropper but does re-emphasise the Twilight Zone charm and proves that thought has gone into the writing beyond just wanting to make a fifties tribute. Originally intended to be part one of a trilogy of films with the same inspirations, Strange Invaders was made as the next instalment but nothing ever came in third. Thumbs up (or whatever the cool kids do nowadays) for Strange Behavior for it's charm, originality and Marc McClure's dancing.
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