As Elite Entertainment continues its productive association with producer Anthony Ginnane, another cult film makes its debut on DVD. Originally titled "Dead Kids" (and released under that name outside of North America), the name was changed to "Strange Behavior" when the Atlanta child murders occurred, and U.S. distributor World Northal (then in its death throes, after releasing many martial arts films, art pics like "Bad Timing," and the Canadian tax shelter dross, "Circle of Two") mandated a name change, to give it a chance at the box office.
After an unsuccessful attempt with a "Cat People" remake at Warner Bros, Bill Condon and producer Michael Laughlin decided to collaborate on Condon's early version of "Dead Kids," and with assistance from Hemdale and tax incentives from the New Zealand government, began production in northern New Zealand, with an eclectic mix of American actors: Dan Shor had recently appeared in John Huston's "Wise Blood"; Dey Young had just debuted in "Rock and Roll High School"; Michael Murphy was a Woody Allen alumnus; and Mark McClure had achieved a kind of immortality as Jimmy Olson in the "Superman" films.
After the success of "The Whisperers" in 1966, Laughlin produced a string of odd films - including the cult favourite "Two-Lane Blacktop," and the Leslie Caron-Paul Magwood vanity project "Chandler." Laughlin briefly stepped into the director position on three films, including "Strange Invaders," also co-written by Condon, in 1983; and "Mesmerized," in 1986.
The commentary track assembles co-writer/associate producer Condon with co-stars Shor and Young (minus Laughlin, who was delayed in Hawaii and missed the recording session), and fans are treated to an affectionate, sometimes self-deprecating trip down memory lane with a trio of friends whose subsequent projects have occasionally crossed paths. The end results are plenty of production details, backgrounds on cast and crew members, and with the exception of the final reel, the pacing is pretty brisk; it's only their admiration for actor Arthur Dignam that results in dead spots during the film's denouement.
Condon, now an Oscar-winning screenwriter (for "Gods and Monsters"), gives a detailed portrait of his early years, and one gets the sense it was more that luck which boosted his career; the theatrical exploitation movie business still had a few years via second-run and drive-in venues, and many filmmakers were getting their brakes at independent companies. Shot for $1.5 million over 30 days, Laughlin's film, while heavy on extended takes and a few awkward edits, overall looks very nice, and Elite's transfer marks the first time the film's been available with its original, evocative Technicolor-styled cinematography by Louis Horvath (who also photographed "Chandler," and Laughlin's other directorial efforts); and in its original aspect ratio, which, in previous full screen versions, chopped Condon's second appearance as a 'dead kid'.
Elite's Jack Murphy is given high praise by Condon for finding such a lovely print, in addition to two deleted scenes for which Condon provides an optional commentary. The first brief scene was meant to precede the discovery of a new dead kid, but the extreme wide photography rendered the key visual a mere dot in the field; and the second scene involves local police chief Murphy with the town mayor at a grocery shop.
In addition to a bountiful still gallery of production shots, there's also an isolated music track, showcasing Tangerine Dream's score. An early work following their breakthrough soundtrack for Michael Mann's "Thief" in 1980, the score remains commercially unreleased (though, as Condon admits, some fragments have appeared in subsequent films).
Laslty, a detailed filmography for most of the cast and filmmakers is included, along with several trailers, including "Syngenor" (released on video in the U.S. by Hemdale).
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan