Saturday, 22 September 2012

Strange Behaviour

1981, US/New Zealand, Directed by Michael Laughlin
Colour, Running Time: 95 minutes
DVD, Region 2, Hardgore, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD Mono

The cover of Hardgore’s DVD might fool people into thinking they’re picking up a homicidal mutant flick but the film is more of a twist on the old mad doctor movies, mixed with a little genuine psychological theory to keep its head above water (not that mad doctor movies necessarily needed that but the injection of credible science brings a touch of freshness). Pete Brady, a college student in a small American town (actually a New Zealand town for tax reasons but we would never have noticed), is in dire financial straits and takes up on the suggestion of a peer to earn some extra cash at the local laboratory, giving himself over to an experiment of which he has almost no prior knowledge - obviously the resident scientists would have to go for students with this scam because few others would be stupid enough to succumb... Meanwhile a number of deaths are occurring around the town, the perpetrators being college students inexplicably acting out of character. When Pete actually shows up for his appointment he’s promptly strapped into a chair, reassured that everything’s fine and injected with a horrifically large needle; later Pete himself is beginning to act a little on the unusual side but can his policeman father stop him before he does something nasty?

The film-makers have done a reasonable job of crafting a moderately professional offering with an obviously minimal budget, constructing a story that requires only people, locations, and a few nicely executed gore effects. Though Hardgore would have you believe otherwise when purchasing their UK DVD, there are no crazy mutants in this film (the image in question is actually a homicidal teen wearing a cool Tor Johnson mask), but there are kids who have been manipulated into behaving against their normal conduct at the hands of a scientific organisation headed by an ancient professor who has somehow acquired extended longevity. Unlike today’s fright flicks the kids of early eighties horror were bearable and actually quite likable on occasions (today’s pretty young hipsters generally have the audience rooting for the killers) so the bunch here score marks for eliciting a modicum of sympathy - they include Dan Shor from Tron and Strange Invaders, hot babe Dey Young, and Marc McClure who played Jimmy Olsen in the Superman movies! Theories were formulated and proven decades ago by the likes of Thorndike and Skinner to present to us today great insight into how humans and other organisms learn through voluntary actions in response to stimuli that persuades them to act or avoid depending on the expected outcome - this was called operant conditioning and forms the basis for some of the ideas in the film. Whilst liberties have been taken with these theories it makes a pleasurable change to find a film with a little thought in academic areas. The other real bonus is a catchy and emotively executed score by Tangerine Dream, a marvellous synthesiser instrumental specialist outfit from Germany who produced many noteworthy albums outside of cinema, plus created scores for the likes of the innovative vampire movie Near Dark, Ridley Scott’s mess of a fantasy Legend, and Firestarter (before Drew Barrymore became a drug-lovin’ lesbian… I assume). There’s a pretty groovy disco/party episode as well that will have viewers smiling. On the downside Strange Behaviour (or Dead Kids as it was known in some territories) is slow moving and hardly shot with boundless energy - the camerawork is often quite static while the killings themselves have an oddly laid back pace about them. The film rarely succeeds in exciting the viewer in any way, however you might consider checking it out for its positive aspects but it’s not necessarily one that will have you repeatedly reaching for it on dark stormy nights.

Hardgore’s DVD presents the film well enough considering the depths they often stooped to, surprisingly anamorphically enhanced to its full Panavision ratio, well detailed and coloured quite naturally, if perhaps a little under saturated. In a move that could in truth be a sick homage to the subject matter of the film, the caveat here is that the BBFC have censored it by around 40 seconds - a scene depicting suicide in such detail that it would have had mindless Brits topping themselves everywhere (could have been a useful ploy to cull the ridiculously expanding population, but I digress...). I’m sure if one is so inclined to voluntarily cease their own existence they wouldn’t be using Strange Behaviour as a step-by-step guide to aid them on their journey to The Beyond - whilst I can understand removal of scenes that depict real life animal cruelty (e.g. Deep River Savages) this is the sort of thing that tends to irritate me somewhat, especially in the Internet age where people can access pretty much anything they want online without having to track down nasty gore films to fulfil their insatiable blood lust. If this removal of footage bothers you then the version to go for was once released by Synapse in the US. Having said all that, Strange Behaviour was submitted to the board around 2004 and perhaps attitudes may well differ these days. The Hardgore disc also features a written interview with writer Bill Condon, the man who later got involved with the Candyman franchise as well as netting himself an Oscar for Gods and Monsters. Finally there are a selection of trailers (one or two of them extremely bad) for a handful of other Hardgore DVDs, some of which persuaded me to avoid them like the plague - presumably not the intended effect. Butchered anyone? Somehow I don’t think so…

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