Synapse // 1981 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // October 15th, 2008
A movie of mystery, horror, and suspense.
Odd things are happening in a little college town. Someone is murdering the sons of prominent citizens. John Brady, the chief of police (Michael Murphy, Manhattan), is completely baffled, and completely unprepared -- crimes like this just don't happen in these parts.
Unbeknownst to John, his teen-age son, Pete (Dan Shor, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure), is picking up a little extra cash by taking part in a behavior experiment for the psychology department of the local college. His friend, Oliver (Marc McClure, Back to the Future), made a healthy $200 letting himself be a test subject a couple of afternoons.
Of course, Oliver can't remember what happened later on those days -- when he murdered two of his classmates. Pete, John, and everyone else may not realize it, but there's a connection between the psychology department and the Strange Behavior of the local teens.
A clever, quirky movie that works most of the time, Strange Behavior is a goofy, low-budget rip on '50s sci-fi and early '80s slasher.
Strange Behavior was the first film written (co-written, actually) by Bill Condon, who went on to adapt Chicago and wrote and directed Dreamgirls and Gods and Monsters, for which he won an Oscar. Unlike those polished, mature works, Strange Behavior feels a like a work in progress. It's a bit sloppy, and when it comes time to pull all the threads together, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it's a good time.
The film works best as a parody of '50s-era mad scientist films. The kids here are clean cut and responsible, they respect their elders and are planning for the future. Their biggest vice is the occasional beer, and they "cut loose" at a party at which they dress up like TV characters (Jeannie! The Flying Nun!) and dance to "Lightning Strikes" -- Lou Christie's version, not the cool, but subversive, Klaus Nomi remake (which might not have been released when Strange Behavior came out).
The adults are a fairly clueless and ineffectual lot, and the film tends to grind down during some of the scenes that don't feature the teens.
Murphy and Shor have a nice rapport as father and son. Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) is wasted as Murphy's romantic interest, though Dey Young (Rock 'n' Roll High School) is engaging as the girl Shor meets at the psych lab. Character actors Charles Lane, Scott Brady, and Arthur Dignam turn in solid support.
There are quite a few murders, and they all rendered horrendously. Since the film is such a goof, this is actually kind of endearing, though it's odd to think that the same year that saw the elevated violence of Friday the 13th Part 2 and The Burning also gave us the inept gore effects featured here. The first killing -- with writer Condon cameoing as the victim -- is particularly stupefying, with a death-in-silhouette jag that looks like it was slapped together by middle schoolers. It kind of sets the tone for the rest of the film, though, in a good way.
This low-budget cult item is well treated here, but be warned: this release from Synapse is a repackaging of the disc Elite put out five years ago, now out of print. If you've got that one, then you've got this one.
The transfer, while Anamorphic and in the original aspect ratio, is still a bit weak, with flecks and speckles and some general softness. The Dolby Mono track is alright, but subtitles, which are not included, would have helped.
The main extra is a commentary with Condon, Shor, and Young. All three -- especially Condon -- have gone on to bigger and better things, and Strange Behavior was a starting point. Their recollections of the filming are enjoyable, and while they have good things to say, there is no pretense that the film is some kind of masterpiece. Recorded around 2003, this is a really fun track and feels like a 20+ year high school reunion.
In addition to the commentary, we get some not especially interesting deleted scenes, an isolated music track of the score by Tangerine Dream, the '80s stalwarts whose work was also featured in such films as Risky Business and Vision Quest.
Strange Behavior is not a great film, but it's a lot of fun and deserves a place on your shelf next to Brain Damage, Sleepaway Camp, and whatever other '80s horror cult favorites you're storing.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Bill Condon, Dan Shor, and Dey Young
* Deleted Scenes
* Isolated Music Score
* Photo Gallery