Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Severin Films - DEAD KIDS and THIRST on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Severin Films - DEAD KIDS and THIRST on Blu-ray

DEAD KIDS (1981; Michael Laughlin)
Here are some things I like: Slasher films, THE STEPFORD WIVES, movies with multiple titles where the less popular title is better. DEAD KIDS (most commonly remembered as STRANGE BEHAVIOR) has all these things in it. 1981 was a holy grail year for Slashers. The studios were cranking them out in droves and fans were treated to a ton of them, many considered the best the genre has to offer. MY BLOODY VALENTINE, THE BURNING, JUST BEFORE DAWN, THE PROWLER, THE FUNHOUSE and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (plus more) all flooded theaters that year. Both the HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH series spawned their excellent Part 2's. In the words of Ray Liotta, "It was a glorious time,". Into that mix crept a small, mystery Slasher filmed in New Zealand (doubling for Illinois, the story's location). It's easy to see how it might have gotten a little lost in the tidal wave of blood that was 1981. It's a memorable Slasher though, for several reasons. First off, the title. DEAD KIDS (which was changed) is a great title for a movie. The age of horror cinema we live in now, as graphic as it can be, still has some taboos that contain it for the most part. One thing that doesn't happen much in movies now is the killing of kids. As a father of two, I am at once pleased by this and yet still a bit nostalgic for a time when movies dared to "go there" and make you go "whoa!". Killing children can often accomplish that. So how can a movie miss with a title like DEAD KIDS. Secondly, it's got an interesting story to it. It is, as I mentioned above, one part Slasher, one part STEPFORD. I think it's been called "STEPFORD KIDS". I won't give away the mechanics, but basically kids start mysteriously killing each other. And speaking of those kids, I love the cast here a lot. Dan Shor will be most immediately recognizable to folks my age for his role as 'Billy the Kid' in BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE or 'Ram' from TRON. He's great and has a nice career of smaller roles, all of which he shines in (Apparently he was cast in part because of his role in John Huston's film WISE BLOOD). He's given a little more prominence here and he takes advantage of it. I love that his character's name is 'Pete Brady'. I would have loved to have seen more Dan Shor headlined films and it rarely occurred. Next up is Marc McClure most oft remembered as 'Jimmy Olson' from the SUPERMAN films and Marty's big brother in BACK TO THE FUTURE (I also remember him as the neighbor boy Jodie Foster had a crush on in FREAK FRIDAY). He's a very affable lanky fellow always good for a few laughs. Another kind of cult actor in this cast is the lovely and charming Dey Young, who I fondly remember from her role in the amazing ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (she played Kate Rambeau). Rounding out the adult cast is Robert Altman and Woody Allen regular Michael Murphy and 'Nurse Ratched' herself, Louise Fletcher. One more thing that stands out about the movie is this wonderful impromptu-seeming dance sequence near the beginning. It's a party scene with a bunch of teenagers (including the aformentioned leads). Lou Christie's infectious 1965 hit "Lightnin' Strikes" comes on and the kids break into a choreographed routine and it is a beautiful thing.

The widescreen (2.35 to 1) Blu-ray transfer looks nice and the disc sports several nice supplements - 2 commentary tracks and a featurette. Both commentaries have more moments of dead air than I prefer, but both are quite fun and informative. It seems to be a style choice as far as the pauses go so I can't fault it too much. Some commentaries are scripted, and wall to wall and others are more laid back. These are certainly the latter, but as I said the participants have some interesting things to say about how they got involved with the production and their specific memories of it. It's particularly amusing to hear them react to things, especially in the cast commentary as Dey Young declares up front that she's not the biggest horror movie watcher so is a bit squeamish during the kill scenes. I particularly liked the story Bill Condon tells about how he was chosen by director Laughlin to be a co-writer on the film.
Also included is "The Effects of STRANGE BEHAVIOR", a 20 minute featurette /interview with Craig Reardon the Special Make-up Effects guy on the film. He talks about his previous experiences and his employer Tom Berman's work (CAT PEOPLE and THE BEAST WITHIN). Reardon talks about how he did some of the specific effects including the memorable 'syringe in the eye' (which apparently he was called upon to on his first day on set).

THIRST (1979; Rod Hardy)
This was a film I'd never seen before but one that nonetheless interested me because of it's subject matter (vampires), it being Australian and the presence of the great Henry Silva in the cast. Also, I remember seeing a clip or two of it in Mark Hartley's wonderful documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD and that certainly put it on my radar in a big way (they chose some excellent clips for that movie). THIRST makes a decent double with DEAD KIDS in that both films have an element of "mad science" to them. The "science gone awry" sub genre is typically quite an entertaining one and takes many forms from body horror type stuff to killer computers and robots. In this film, the science side involves brainwashing and a factory-like system for extracting blood and packaging it for vampires. On top of being a a "science gone awry" flick and a vampire movie, this is also a "cult" film as well. Not the kind of cult that rabidly follows and loves a movie, but more like a Charlie Manson cult. This film's cult is called 'The Brotherhood' and they are a group of old and powerful vampires. They run the "factory" I mentioned and use it as a blood harvest for themselves.
So unfortunately, Henry Silva's role in the film is a bit smaller than I'd have liked. In my mind, you can never have too much Silva. He's just one of those actors that elevates every scene he's in by his mere presence alone. He's one of few actors I know of that can carry a lot of weight in a scene by simply turning his head to look at another character. And when he decides to take it up a notch, he is among the best scenery chewers in all of movies. Watch SHARKY'S MACHINE to get a full sense of what I mean. The cast here is mostly headlined by Australian actors, but another stand out is David Hemmings who plays a doctor working for the Brotherhood. Hemmings adds a needed level of legitimacy and depth to the production. Apparently director Rod Hardy was mainly a TV guy and THIRST was one of only a couple theatrical features he ever made (though he was quite prolific in his TV career). Quick tidbit -I've been told that Leonard Maltin was apparently a fan of this movie and gave it 3 out of 4 stars in his infamous video movie guidebook.
Included as a bonus feature on the disc is commentary track by director Rod Hardy and Producer Antony I. Ginnane. Both men dispense the standard background to their arrival at this project and both have other interesting stories to tell. Ginnanne mentions having worked with the lead actress on his previous effort, an Australian film called SNAP SHOT, which was also featured prominently in NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. Ginnane was also producer on Richard Franklin's film PATRICK, which he mentions a few times throughout the course of the track. Both gents give some insights as to the historical and contextual place of THIRST as an early film in the resurgence of the Australian film industry at that time (MAD MAX came out only about 4 months before this). Director Hardy mentions that his friend George Miller was the original choice to helm THIRST, but apparently was unable to do it so instead Hardy was given his first feature.


AndyHunt said...

I first saw these 2 as a teenager in the eighties. Dead Kids (Strange Behaviour here in the UK)had been cut to ribbons by the censors for Uk vhs. Thirst was left pretty much untouched. I had actually forgotten about them...hmmm, time to hit amazon.
Incidentally, I think your spot on regarding Silva. A greatly undervalued genre actor. His performance in Sharkys Machine was superb. The descent of his psycho character into pill popping, cocaine hoovering insanity made Pacinos Scarface finale look like a spoilt brats tantrum.

Rupert Pupkin said...

I like that comparison to SCARFACE, very apt.

AndyHunt said...

It gets a little weird...Consider this shot of Henry Silva in Sharkys Machine
with this shot of Geno SILVA (no relation) in scarface