STRANGE BEHAVIOR (1981)
(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)
1981 slasher flick has the youth of Galesburg, Illinois being murdered by their peers for no apparent reason. Cop and widower John Brady (Michael Murphy) thinks it has something to do with experiments being conducted at Galesburg Univesity and might link back to a man he’s investigated before, Dr. Le Sange (Arthur Dignam). Not only has Le Sange been dead for years though, but Brady blames him for the death of his wife. Now with his own son, Pete (Dan Shor) in danger, Brady must solve the mystery of why some of his young citizens are being murdered and by their own classmates.
Flick is the directorial debut from Michael Laughlin from a script by Bill Condon. it is atmospheric and has some spooky scenes and while advertising pushed the slasher element, it is equal parts sci-fi as it does deal with mind control experiments years before Disturbing Behavior. There are some gory moments and the kills have impact, but if there is anything that holds this chiller back is it’s pace. Laughlin guides the proceedings with a dreadfully slow pace and it really doesn’t help as, much like his Strange Invaders two years later, it makes this 90+ minute flick feel much longer. That and once we get our big reveal, it’s not really anything we weren’t expecting. Still, it tries to be something a bit different than the slasher flicks of the time and the cinematography by Louis Horvath and music by Tangerine Dream do add a lot of atmosphere.
The cast are fine. Murphy isn’t really all that convincing as the cop type, but he is a suitable working class hero. Dan Shor is likable as Pete, who is lured into the sinister experiments by the need for quick cash. Fiona Lewis makes a fine femme fatale villainess as Dr. Gwen Parkinson, who was Le Sange’s protegeé and is now continuing the experiments. Arthur Dignam is suitably creepy as Le Sange who appears in recorded lectures and Dey Young is feisty and cute as Pete’s love interest and our heroine. Louise Fletcher also appears as a local waitress with eyes for Murphy’s widower cop, who gets pulled into his obsessive investigation.
Overall this is an OK flick that could have been better with a healthier pace and maybe a few red herrings to throw us off the trail we eventually find ourselves on. Obviously there is a reason these experiments are leading to murder and we can pretty much see what is coming before it does. There are some effective moments, the plot is a bit more involved than the slashers of this era and there is some nice atmosphere to make it worth a look. Laughlin would use quite a few cast members again in his Strange Invaders.
2 and 1/2 knives.