Severin Films’ boner for Ozploitation flicks has led to some pretty sweet home video releases, including Nightmares (aka Stage Fright) and Australia After Dark. Recently they released Blu-rays of Thirst and Patrick, along with the 2.5-hour jackpot of trailer compilations, Ozploitation Trailer Explosion. Also new to Blu-ray is the ’80s oddity called Dead Kids. Released in the U.S. under the title Strange Behavior, Michael Laughlin’s bizarre amalgam combines a mad scientist flick with a teen slasher, resulting in an absolute genre blast that’s got a few nice tricks up its sleeve.
In the sleepy little suburb of Galesburg, Illinois, a series of stabbings has police chief John Brady baffled. While he tries to get to the bottom of the murders, his son Pete volunteers for a paid psychological experiment at his college. Pete’s not really sure what the hell the experiment is about, all he’s knows is that he gets $100 each time he shows up. For a kid dreaming of life beyond the sticks, that’s a nice chunk of change for the moving fund.
After his first session at the lab, Pete is feeling so good he asks out the receptionist Caroline (Dey Young from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School). As romance blooms between those two, John Brady realizes he may have a personal connection to the killings. In between heavy swigs of Budweiser, he notices that the corpses are pointing to the work of notorious scientist Dr. Le Sange, who Brady blames for the death of his wife. The only hitch is that Le Sange died years ago. OR DID HE?!?!
For an ’80s horror film, Dead Kids is very slow paced. I typically enjoy a slow burn, but there needs to be interesting characters to fill it out. The players here aren’t particularly engaging, though they have a really strong communal vibe going on. John and Pete Brady (Michael Murphy and Dan Shor) have a believable father-son relationship – one that’s haunted by the death of Mrs. Brady. John finds a love interest in Barbara (Louise Fletcher), a woman who wishes he would move on from his troubled past. There’s also Peter’s best bud Oliver and John’s assistant at the police station (played by prolific character Charles Lane). All these characters make up a solid rural community that’s the perfect stage for a bizarro serial killer mind control slasher.
The killings are done very well, with help from makeup effects by Craig Reardon (Poltergeist and a million other awesome movies). In the wake of popular slashers like Friday the 13th, it would’ve been easy (and safe) to simply one-up the gore and sensationalism. Dead Kids‘ murders contain a bit more panache though. Something as simple as a stabbing or as disturbing as a human scarecrow with its eyes gouged out are treated with equal amounts of delicacy. The deaths really get under your skin rather than try to gross you out.
While the butchery is all well and good, my favorite scene involves a failed murder attempt. The killer, wearing a Tor Jonson (Plan 9) mask, chases a girl from the woods to a house party. The revelry inside drowns out her screams as the killer tries to stab her in a pool. The killer waves his knife around as he tries to stab her like 1,000 times, making him look totally inept. He looks really disinterested in actually killing her too, but it’s still a fantastic scene, one that follows up a kick ass costume party dance number scored to Lou Christie’s “Lightin’ Strikes” no less. It’s so ridiculous, I love it.
Dead Kids ends on a surprisingly happy note for an ’80s slasher. There’s none of the cynicism that’s found in many of the genre entries of the time, just another reason its an oddity. A lot of people may be turned off by the languid pacing and overly-serious tone, so it’s probably wise to rent it first.
I’ve never seen the previous DVD releases of Dead Kids from Elite and Synapse, but I’m going to assume they don’t look as good as Severin’s Blu-ray release. It was sourced from the original camera negative, which sports a really drab color palette. There’s minimum damage to the picture and the transfer looks pretty damn clear, though there are random soft spots peppered throughout. The mono track sounds fine, with lots of nice ambiance from Tangerine Dream’s original score.
Severin has included two commentary tracks. The one featuring co-writer Bill Condon and actors Dan Shor and Dey Young was previously on the DVD releases and is a real lively track that covers a lot of fun tidbits of information. This is the one to listen to if you only have the patience for one commentary track. The other track is a new one featuring director Michael Laughlin. His is a much more dull commentary, covering the regular string of behind the scenes info.
Another new feature is a 20 minute look at the film’s effects with Craig Reardon. This is a great interview and really shows how everything was really thrown together last minute for the film. Reardon had to make up a lotta shit as he went along. Reardon also goes into his post-Dead Kids career. It’s a really impressive look at a really talented guy.
Rounding out the disc is an isolated score track if you’re really in the mood for some Tangerine Dream and a couple trailers.