Blu-ray Review: DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

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SHOCK reviews the new Blu-ray release of 90’s teen horror flick DISTURBING BEHAVIOR.

Please take this review with a grain of salt as, of course, all film criticism is subjective, though many will try their best to claim otherwise. It’s impossible not to let your own life experience and personal bias seep into your scribbles.

So with that, let me say that the 90s sucked.

They sucked for music (thanks grunge for injecting aimless self-pity into youth culture and thanks Nu Metal for draining the fun and fantasy from hard rock). They sucked for movies. And they really sucked for horror movies.

Of course, I’m painting with the broadest of strokes as there were some dirty diamonds in the rough. But it’s true that the genre was on direct-to-video life support until Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson gave the world SCREAM.

And with SCREAM…the plug was creatively pulled!

I know, I know. SCREAM spoke to an entire generation and even alerted some youngsters to the very existence of the contemporary horror film. But I was about 4 years too old and a dash more educated in darker, straight-up shock cinema than the average cat and man, did I hate SCREAM.

Still do.

The smarmy self-referencing, the fast talking teens, the smug, slipshod satire; even the killer seemed lame, a desperate attempt to kick-start yet another lucrative serial murderer franchise to mass-market to multiplexes.

There was no heart. No soul. No risk. No danger.

And yet so successful was SCREAM that the rest of the decade and a better part of the following decade’s genre films tried to trade in its glory, from the way-too-pretty youths that made up the cast, to the stilted presences of these planks on the video covers and theatrical posters used to market the movies, to the self-awareness and faux-cleverness, to the dashes of lightweight gore and mere whiffs of sex; there was a dull sameness to mainstream horror that now, with the swell of entertainment consumed by a global village (much like it was in the 1970s), has only recently seemed to improve.

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Director David Nutter spent time producing and directing key episodes of the small screen’s answer to 90s horror, THE X-FILES (still too glossy and somber for my liking but there’s no denying its quality and import) and his more thoughtful, sci-fi leanings added a dose of gravitas to one of the more eccentric post-SCREAM try-hard films of the decade, 1998’s DISTURBING BEHAVIOR. That film hits Blu-ray from Scream Factory on March 22nd in single disc with some great special features (though the transfer is a bit scratchy, not that it really matters). And though the movie itself aint no great shakes, the story surrounding it’s fate is fascinating.

DISTURBING BEHAVIOR was shot in the same West Coast Canadian locales as Nutter’s X-FILES world and employs Northern union folks and a plethora of familiar Canuck actors in roles both supporting and key. Otherwise it follows the same tried and true formula of its American counterparts, mis-asting far-too-pretty actor James Marsden as a sensitive teen who winds up in the coastal town of Cradle Bay, a lovely joint (actually Vancouver) that is also rotten with weirdness. The local highs school houses a cabal of clean teens who call themselves”The Blue Ribbons”, a varsity jacket wearing clique of assholes who have actually been genetically altered to avoid vices like sex and drugs and rock and roll and made to focus squarely on sports and study. When their hormones surge and they sway from their programming, the Blue Ribbons short circuit and become super-humanly strong and violent and often, homicidal.

Marsden and his fellow outsiders Katie Holmes and Nick Stahl are on to the oddness afoot and become embroiled in a plot to expose the truth about their school and the maniacal “Frankenstein” like doctor (Bruce Greenwood) who is behind the bio-fuckery.

What we have here is a teen-centric INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (or a covert remake of the underrated 80s chiller ZOMBIE HIGH), armed with a plot that would sit pretty in the 1950s but retooled as a modern horror film goosed with a bit of mild cruelty and the odd exposed boob. It’s just as shallow as any other of its 90s ilk however and moments of darkness are smothered so as not to offend. This sanitizing of the material is not the fault of its director nor screenwriter (Scott Rosenberg) rather it had everything to do with tampering from nervous producers and a test-screening happy studio, the likes of which cut a handful of alternate versions without Nutter’s involvement, shaving down his original near 2 hour cut to a paltry 84 minutes. That version is the one represented on this release and, like the previous DVD edition, the many cut and alternate scenes appear on the back end of the disc. Said scenes include a much more satisfying, emotional ending that was obviously too downbeat for kids and a brief but sweaty sex scene between Marsden and Holmes. Odd that Scream Factory didn’t prepare a longer version with those scenes re-inserted as they add so much more character and texture to the film, something Nutter echoes in his fantastic commentary track.

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But no matter the length, the fact is DISTURBING BEHAVIOR isn’t that disturbing, with a mystery that reveals itself half way through the running time and it’s woefully weighted down by a blank lead performance by Marsden. Thankfully, Greenwood – always a joy to watch – delivers an intense turn as the mad doctor and the great William Sadler (DEMON KNIGHT) shows up to eat the scenery and add some sort of sideways comic relief. It’s not enough but it’s something…

Very often time is kind to horror films, serving to illuminate things about their respective time periods that we may have missed living through them. But ultimately, despite its few bright spots, all DISTURBING BEHAVIOR does is remind us how utterly toothless a decade the 90s was.

Feel free to tell me I’m wrong below…

 

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