Strange Behavior

Strange Behavior (also known as Dead Kids) is a 1981 slasher film written and directed by Michael Laughlin, co-written with Bill Condon, and starring Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher, and Dan Shor. Its plot follows a series of bizarre murders being perpetrated against teenagers in a small Midwestern town.

Strange Behavior
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Laughlin
Produced byAntony I. Ginnane
John Barnett
Written byBill Condon
Michael Laughlin
StarringMichael Murphy
Louise Fletcher
Dan Shor
Fiona Lewis
Arthur Dignam
Music byTangerine Dream
CinematographyLouis Horvath
Edited byPetra von Oelffen
Distributed byHemdale Film Corporation
World Northal
Release date
  • 16 October 1981 (1981-10-16) (U.S.)
  • 17 June 1982 (1982-06-17) (Australia)
Running time
94 minutes
United States
New Zealand

An international co-production between the United States, New Zealand, and Australia, 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. It is a homage to the pulp horror films of the 1950s. The film is considered a seminal work of New Zealand cinema, being the first horror film produced in the country. It has since attracted a large cult following.

While not prosecuted for obscenity, the film was seized and confiscated in the UK under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 during the video nasty panic.


Bryan, the son of the Galesburg, Illinois mayor, is brutally murdered in his home, his body later found stuffed and posed as a scarecrow. Local policeman John Brady begins investigating the murder. Meanwhile, John's son Pete, a high school senior, sits in on a course at Galesburg University with his friend, Oliver. During the course, professor Gwen Parkinson screens a lecture by her late mentor, Dr. Le Sange, whom Pete's late mother, Catherine, once worked for. After the lecture, Pete agrees to become one of Gwen's test subjects in order to earn money for his college applications. Later, Pete attends a house party. During the party, one of his classmates, Waldo, is stabbed to death outside by a masked assailant, and Waldo's girlfriend Lucy is attacked and falls into the swimming pool. Pete and several others rush to save her, and the masked attacker flees; in the distance, he removes his mask, revealing himself to be Oliver. John subsequently questions Oliver, who says he cannot recall the events of the party as he was drunk.

Medical examiners observe that Waldo's corpse has a bizarre surgical incision near his eye, and, upon scrutinizing the evidence, John concludes that two different people are responsible for the murders of Waldo and Bryan. Meanwhile, Pete attends one of Gwen's studies at a large laboratory, which hosts both human and animal tests. Gwen has Pete swallow a pill and repeat several words before dismissing him. After, he invites Caroline, a college student who works the front desk at the laboratory, on a date, and the two quickly begin a romance. The following day, a woman finds her son, Timothy, being dismembered in her bathroom by an unknown young woman; she phones police before being stabbed, and manages to tell her friend Mildred over the phone sparse details about the girls' appearance before having her throat slashed.

John, suspecting the female assailant may be one of Gwen's test subject, confronts Gwen at the laboratory, unaware of the fact that Pete is in one of the test rooms, tied to a chair. After John leaves, Gwen resumes the session, in which she injects a fluid into Pete's eye. After he awakens and is dismissed, Pete goes to have dinner with Caroline, but becomes violently ill, and begins urinating blood. Meanwhile, John has a conversation with his girlfriend, Barbara, about the murders: He deduces that each of the victims are sons of men who previously collaborated with John to investigate the unethical experiments of Le Sange, and believes Le Sange is in fact alive, enacting revenge. Barbara follows John to the cemetery, where he breaks into Le Sange's crypt, and finds the casket empty. John and Barbara return home and find a confused Pete along with Caroline.

John retrieves a shotgun and heads to the university. Barbara meanwhile recounts to Pete and Caroline how Pete's mother, Catherine, acted strangely during her employment under Le Sange, and that her subsequent unexplained death spurned John's initial investigation into the program. Pete and Caroline decide to follow after John to the university. Pete enters a chamber where John is communicating with Gwen, who appears on a small television. Gwen orders Pete, now in a daze from her mind control methods, to take his father's gun. Gwen appears in the room with Le Sange, who has been disguised as an elderly man. He expounds that his methods of mind control will help the world, before proceeding to instruct Pete to slash his own wrists, which he does, before instructing him to stab his father to death. Pete responds by stabbing Le Sange in the throat, and declaring that he "is his father," revealing that Pete's mother, Catherine, had an affair with Le Sange, and John is not actually Pete's biological father. Police subsequently arrive and Gwen is arrested.

Some time later, Pete, healed from the experiment, attends his father's wedding to Barbara with Caroline.



Though set in Illinois, the film was shot in Auckland, New Zealand, and filmed under the title Dead Kids.[1]

The Encyclopedia of Horror designates the film as a New Zealand film. It lists several of the similar productions of its Australian producer Antony I Ginnane and frequent collaborator David Hemmings, who is Executive Producer of this film through the Hemdale Film Corporation. The book opines that "Dead Kids must count as one of their most professional efforts."[2]


The film premiered in New York City on 16 October 1981,[3] and subsequently opened in Los Angeles on 13 November 1981.[4]

Critical responseEdit

Strange Behavior received largely favorable reviews upon its release.[1] Janet Maslin of The New York Times noted that the pacing was at times slow, but praised the performance of Fiona Lewis, and concluded that the film "belongs to two movie species, both of them nearly extinct. It's a 1950s mad-scientist movie, or at least a very fond and painstaking reincarnation of same. And it's a small, original, offbeat film of the sort that is out of fashion."[3] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote of the film: "Grisly but sly, Strange Behavior is the genre film at its most knowing and controlled...  As an exploitation picture, it plays on the layman's deep-rooted fear of science tampering with nature."[5] In the New York Daily News, Rex Reed praised the film, writing: "Strange Behavior is a horror movie that shows how to succeed in grisly gore without really trying, and moreover, how to do it while being intentionally funny at the same time. It is genuinely chilling, constantly imaginative, and full of exquisite throwaway comedy."[6]

Some critics were less laudatory of the film, such as Bernard Drew of The Journal News, who deemed the film "awkwardly plotted" and "little more than a rehash of all the old "B" horror movies of the '30s."[7]

Home mediaEdit

The film was released on VHS by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video in the United States.[8] In the United Kingdom, the film was released on VHS under the title Small Town Massacre in 1983.[9]

The film was released twice on DVD in the United States, first by Elite Entertainment on May 6, 2003.[10][11] and then by Synapse Films in 2008.[12]The DVD included deleted scenes, a photo gallery, an isolated music score by Tangerine Dream, a Spanish-dubbed track, U.S. and Australian theatrical trailers and filmographies.[11]

The film was released on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Severin Films under its New Zealand title, Dead Kids in 2014.

A novelization of the film was published in 1982 under the title "School Days" by Robert Hughes.


The soundtrack features electronic music by Tangerine Dream. Also included are songs "The Ritz" and "Jumping Out a Window" by Pop Mechanix, "Shivers" by The Birthday Party, and "Lightnin' Strikes" by Lou Christie. "The Ritz" and "Lightnin' Strikes" are heard at a teenage costume party during which characters (including two enacted by Ngila Dickson and Peta Rutter) spontaneously perform a synchronised dance routine to "Lightnin' Strikes". The soundtrack has never been officially released; the Tangerine Dream tracks are available on the fan release Tangerine Tree 50: Assorted Secrets 2.


  1. ^ a b Fischer 2011, p. 360.
  2. ^ Milne, Tom. Willemin, Paul. Hardy, Phil. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Horror, Octopus Books, 1986. ISBN 0-7064-2771-8 p 361
  3. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (16 October 1981). "A Taste of the '50s in 'Strange Behavior'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 3 July 2018.
  4. ^ "Strange Behavior trade advertisement". Los Angeles Times. 13 November 1981. p. 7 – via
  5. ^ Thomas, Kevin (13 November 1981). "'Strange Behavior' Blends Wit, Gore". Los Angeles Times. p. 2 – via
  6. ^ Reed, Rex (16 October 1981). "Girls in the ring and ghouls in the night". New York Daily News. p. C17 – via
  7. ^ Drew, Bernard (16 October 1981). "'Behavior' horrible film". The Journal News. White Plains, New York. p. 11 – via
  8. ^ Strange Behavior (VHS). RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. 1983. VH91126.
  9. ^ Small Town Massacre (VHS). Scorpio Releasing. 1983.
  10. ^ "Strange Behavior (Elite)". DVD Empire. Retrieved 26 August 2019.
  11. ^ a b Rivero, Enrique (11 April 2003). "Condon Looks Back Fondly on Strange Behavior". Archived from the original on 4 May 2003. Retrieved 29 September 2019.
  12. ^ "Strange Behavior (Synapse)". DVD Empire. Retrieved 26 August 2019.


  • Fischer, Dennis (2011). Science Fiction Film Directors, 1895-1998. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-46091-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External linksEdit