Strange Behavior (original title Dead Kids) is a 1981 mystery horror film directed by Michael Laughlin, written by Bill Condon, and starring Michael Murphy. It is a homage to the pulp horror films of the 1950s. The film was intended as the first installment of the Strange Trilogy which was cancelled after the second installment, Strange Invaders, failed to attract a large enough audience. Several teenage boys in Galesburg, Illinois are murdered, each apparently by a different killer. Local policeman John Brady (Murphy) investigates. The victims are sons of men who previously collaborated with John to investigate the unethical experiments of Galesburg University professor Dr. Le Sange (Dignam), who was reportedly killed years previously but still gives lectures via old films. Le Sange's research is being continued by Gwen Parkinson (Lewis). Unbeknownst to John, Gwen has enlisted his son Pete (Shor) as a research subject. Gwen's "experiments" involve mind control, turning the subject into a programmed killer. John, whose late wife had worked for Le Sange, becomes convinced that Le Sange is still alive and is waging a vendetta against those who wronged him.
Why are you hearing about this 1981 film today? Not because of director and co-writer Michael Laughlin, whose career may have ended after he wrote the notorious Town & Country in 2001.
No, the other writer was Bill Condon, who not only wrote Gods and Monsters, he also wrote the script for Chicago (not that that’s such a Herculean effort). So riding on Condon’s rising star comes his first film, made when little Bill was just 26 years old. He even appears in the opening scene, sneaking a cigarette before he gets killed (in shadow) as the first of several offings.
Well, the story of Strange Behavior is a familiar one about a serial killer and a manhunt that leads the cops (headed by Michael Murphy) to the local highschool, where inappropriate psychology experiments are underway. Which begs the question: Are highschool psychological experiments ever okay? Bygones.
Strange Behavior is one of those scrappy little movies that you can’t help but enjoy to some extent, though its low-budget concessions and very rough script make it hard to love. This is a cult movie and a party flick (and in fact it has one of the best party scenes I’ve ever seen, complete with an impromptu dance number and a Tangerine Dream soundtrack. We need more dance numbers. We need more Tangerine Dream.
As for star Murphy and co-star Louise Fletcher (that’s Nurse Ratched to you), they’re the most forgettable part of the film. It’s always a mistake to headline a teen slasher movie with a bunch of boring grown-ups. But forgive Condin and Laughlin. They were kids, oblivious and ignorant. They didn’t know what they were doing, and in his commentary track (with some of the stars of the film), he freely admits this, laughing his ass off throughout the 87-minute running time. Can’t blame him.