Could Have Been a Contender: Strange Behavior

1981's Strange Behavior, is probably one of the most confounding horror films I have ever seen.

A combination of slasher, science fiction, 50's teen-horror, and murder mystery; Strange Behavior tries desperately to be all things to all people - and man oh man, it stumbles horribly despite its well meaning efforts.

Directed by Michael Laughlin, and starring a mixed cast that includes Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, Dey Young (from Rock and Roll High School) Fiona Lewis and Charles Lane; Strange Behavior tells the tale of a mad scientist who is seeking revenge on the people of a small mid-western town (said town is played by Avondale, New Zealand) by experimenting on the teens of the town and turning them into mindless killers.  Sounds like fun, right?  And for a while it is.  In fact the first twenty minutes, or so,  of the film are very intriguing.

  After the opening credits (scored by German ambient music makers, Tangerine Dream) sets a rather David Lynch mood a murder occurs, and it's seen only in shadows...
...from this we get a further Lynch-like look at where we are.  Gorgeous landscapes of the small town in brilliant sunlight set up the location until finally we are at the house of Officer John Brady (Murphy), and his son, Pete (Don Shor), who, apparently likes to walk around bare-assed in front of his dad...BTW, this is the only nude scene in the film!
Later on, we discover that bubble butt, I mean, Pete is a college student.  And like all college students, he needs a little money - so he joins his buddy and agrees to be tested by someone at the college's science department.  Also, as a college student, Pete likes to go to themed dance parties, and that's when Strange Behavior delivers its most delightfully silly moment: a new-wave costume party...complete with a choreographed dance scene set to Lou Christie's "Lightning Strikes."
...couple number one: Dork Boy and Pat Benatar! 
Couple number two: The Flintstone Sisters!  
Couple number three: Robin and Screaming Gal!
Couple number 4: Lily Munster and Bat Man!

Like they say, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt ... and true to form someone does get hurt...actually a couple of people are in trouble because some goober is running around in a Tor Johnson mask with a big knife hacking up party guests on the front lawn!
Turns out that we see the killer remove his mask, and it's Pete's buddy - oh no! Could it be that the experiments being run on him at the school are causing this...strange behavior (see what I did, put the title of the film in, clever, eh?).  

Later on more killings occur - seems like one of the more zaftig teens has taken to slashing , and she's very proficient at it.  She likes to chop off hands and leave them around where parents can find them...

...and if that's not enough, she comes back to the scene of the crime to finish up her hand collection...
...this causes Inspector Donovan (Lane) to utter the immortal line, "Round up all the fat girls!"
While I wish I could tell you that things only get better, sadly they don't.  At this point, Strange Behavior just sort of stalls out and slowly (very slowly) runs out of gas... sure, sure the mad scientist's assistant (Shaw) gets to stick an enormous hypodermic needle into bubble butt's eye...
 ...ouch, that's gotta hurt...
...and sure, Louise Fletcher is quiet good as Brady's long suffering girlfriend (honestly, she's terrific in this film)...
...but none of this manages to coalesce or bring things to a satisfying ending.  By the time we've reached the "shocking conclusion", and the mad scientist  is revealed it all seems rather anti-climatic.  The pregnant pauses and lingering moments of facial reactions don't seem to help matters either. 
Nah, it's all just a big old blah by the film's happy ending, and the closing credits that just seem to happen.  And that's a shame, because Strange Behavior really could have been a contender. 

That said, turn up the speakers and enjoy the jerky movements, bad costumes, and general weirdness of my favorite scene from Strange Behavior!


Dusk said...

I thought it was creepy. The dance scene, above all. And gotta love the Tor mask.


Anonymous said...

This sounds terribly awesome. I mean, awesomely terrible! Gonna have to take a stab at this puppy myself. Great review.


Jeremy [Retro] said...

i am afraid, very afraid... i shiver and then do the pippi dance...

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Pax! You've made it into the second "issue" of Spatter Analysis!

Check it out!


Morgan said...

I just discovered this movie today when I was wanting to listen to Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes".

I'm now in love with that dance scene!