31 Days of Horror: Scream & Shout! Day 9

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Disturbing Behavior (1998)

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What's It About?

Steve Clark (James Marsden) and his family have just moved to the small island town of Cradle Bay after his older brother (Ethan Embry) committed suicide.  Steve quickly falls in with a group of outcasts (Nick Stahl, Katie Holmes, and Chad Donella) but Cradle Bay has a bizarre clique known as the Blue Ribbons who act bizarre and people randomly join their numbers after undergoing a complete personality change overnight.

Is It Any Good?

So if you haven't figured it out yet, Disturbing Behavior is the Deep Impact to The Faculty's Armageddon.  1998 had two high school brainwashing movies, one was a play on The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and this one was a play on The Stepford Wives.  I'll not mince words, The Faculty is a much better movie from top to bottom but Disturbing Behavior is not without merit.

I mean look at the cast list: James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Steve Railsback, Bruce Greenwood, Ethan Embry, Katherine Isabelle, and William Sadler (more on him in a moment.)  Admittedly some of those actors were at a very early stage of their career and not performing at full power but that's still a damn good cast.

Your main obstacle to enjoying this film is that it is craaazy dated.  If that needle drop of Flagpole Sitta (which IS in the movie at maybe the most inappropriate moment) in the trailer didn't cue you off this movie is like an essential oil of 90s film-making.  It's perfectly tolerable in the back half of the movie but in the first half it is fucking insufferable.  So let me present to you the absolute most awful '90s-tinged scene in the film.

I promise you that nothing else in the entire movie is as hard to watch as that was.

William Sadler plays a... janitor, I think?  He's a perpetually dirty man who appears to live in the school boiler room and hunt rats.  He has a soot-covered face and yellow teeth and is affecting an accent that is equal parts Maine native and Brooklyn Jew.  Later we learn of the character's hidden depths when he reveals that he reads Kurt Vonnegut.  Sadler's a hoot in this and he's making some very weird and very specific acting choices that could have only come from him.

Less great is Bruce Greenwood.  Greenwood is a great actor as usual but his evil scientist character is as flat as can be.  Even Footloose knew they couldn't make the zealous no-dancing preacher just a prick who hates dancing, he had to have a tragic backstory.  Greenwood's character has no such tragic story, William Sadler mentions a tragic drunk driving accident that happened before Greenwood's arrival but there's no such incident in the character's past beyond the fact that he accidentally lobotomized his daughter with an early version of the mind control process but when confronted about it by James Marsden he doesn't seem to care.  It's not even clear what he's trying to accomplish by brainwashing these teens as the process makes the kids murderous whenever they get horny.

Oh yeah, and the resolution of the plot involves the wholesale murder of a bunch of innocent teenagers who have had their brains altered without their permission.  They get dropped off a fucking cliff.

As terminally flawed as Disturbing Behavior may be it's still a fun movie and at a breezy hour and twenty-three minutes it won't take up a whole lot of your life if you don't dig it.  Still if you're doing a double feature with The Faculty you're going to want to put this one on first and save the stronger film for the finisher.

Watch, Toss, or Buy?

At least give it a watch, I'd say this is a soft buy.