Dead Kids (1981)

Director Michael Laughlin
Writers Bill Condon, Michael Laughlin
Starring Michael Murphey, Dan Shor, Dey Young, Louise Fletcher
Genre Mad Scientist
Tagline Good Kids Turned Killers!

I've actually been wanting to watch and subsequently review Dead Kids for quite sometime due to it having cult status Down Under and the name of legendary Producer Antony I. Ginanne being associate with it. That would be legendary in a sort of William Castle fashion there folks, Tony G was rocking the house down with "B" grade horror back in the 1980s. With our ANZAC weekend, least we forget, movie requirements it was perfect timing. The planets were in alignment, the age of Aquarius had dawned, the DVD was going cheap down Kmart. The movie is an Aussie production with U.S studio backing, filmed in New Zealand, and supposedly set in middle America somewhere close to Chicago. Now how could you possibly go wrong with that sort of baggage? That thump was me falling off my chair, rolling around the floor, and laughing my arse off.

Talk us through it

Lets try and sort this one. A psychology Professor, Dr. Le Sangel, is doing behaviour modification experiments. Which is cool and all but in a plot development worthy of Ed Wood Jnr the Prof is conducting his experiments from beyond the grave. On a giant video monitor, that Ed would have envied, Le Sangel is able to get a chicken to raise first it's right leg and then it's left. I was actually kind of thinking it was going to raise both at one stage and levitate but you can't have everything in your science gone mad project kids.

A number of kids have signed on for Le Sangel's on going experiments in "Department 104". The kids are given pills and injected with weird green shite in their eye sockets. And people wonder why I never volunteered for science experiments back in Uni. There are some advantages to being a lab rat though, you become a lot smarter due to memory retention, that weight problem is a thing of the past, and hey you get paid $200 for your troubles. Now no one told me you got paid for these things! Naturally there are some side effects that the Psychology department aren't exactly advertising; later in life you become a gut munching zombie and you do tend in the short term to turn into a homicidal maniac. Okay I'm making the zombie thing up, unless someone wants to contract me to write the sequel. Oh and our homicidal middle America kids wake up after their rampages with no idea they have gone all Manson family on the town's arse.

The son of the town Sherriff needs to earn some quick cash to pay for his college application, well it didn't do the chickens all harm did it?

Ready to give this one the good old college try?



Director Michael Laughlin swings into action right from the first frame of this movie with the sole intention of proving that when it comes to amateur movie making he's there with cherries on top. Some kid arrives home and heads upstairs to read a book, we assume this is homework as what self respecting middle American teen is going to waste time reading. His Mom calls something from downstairs, hey didn't catch what it was the audio department were down the pub during this scene. Now I think Mom must have been going for milk or something as the screen door slams downstairs. Naturally our teen, those rebellious middle America kids, immediately tunes his transistor radio to a station playing that devil induced rock and roll music and shockingly lights up a cigarette. Now okay this may not involve drugs, sex, or booze, but I'm already picking book boy isn't going to get away with this sort of lurid behaviour. I mean what's next a sudden urge to dance to Duran Duran! Naturally the old horror standby of the lights failing kicks in. Book boy heads downstairs to light a candle and one assumes check the fuse box, we're already having to infer a lot in this movie. In a sort of German expressionist crossed with film noir to produce an Ed Wood bastard child moment our book boy is stabbed to death by some unseen assailant. Well okay at least Laughlin was trying for something artistic with the shadows and such, pity it looked incredibly second rate.

We never do find out who book boy was, though I guess he was the mayor's son who various characters will remark on being missing later in the movie.

A major failing of the movie is the amount of blanks the audience has to fill in for themselves. This isn't saying we're going all cryptic here, it's saying the script writers haven't got a clue what they are doing.

Having established the movie as a slasher of sorts Laughlin proceeds to simply show that having no budget is not necessarily a good thing. We meet the Brady family, father John and son Pete. Now it took me quite sometime to work out what John did for a crust, it's crucial to the movie kids. At first I thought he must be the editor of the local paper, the Mayor keeps ringing and his staff appear to have been hired from the local retirement village, but I was wrong. John Brady is the local law enforcement. We can tell this by the gun holster he never wears and the Sheriffs' badge that must be in a desk draw somewhere. At least he has a fridge full of cans of beer, that is played for one laugh that no one in the audience would have found funny.

Pete Brady for his part wants to go to college locally, his father wants him to spread his wings and bugger off so that he can turn Pete's bedroom into a gym or something. Hey someone has to add some motivation here, sure as hell the writers aren't. Pete needs cash for his college application and naturally this will lead him into the diabolical science gone mad clutches of the local college of the damned.

Further complicating matters John's wife worked up the college for Le Sangel and kicked the bucket during the final week of her employment in mysterious circumstances. John blames Le Sangel and is still obsessed over goings on in the psychology department. Okay our Sherriff is only really obsessed about it when the script calls for it but at least the Mayor isn't keeping the college open in the face of proof that a great white is hunting the college grounds or something. This review is starting to make less sense than the movie, I need medication over here.

Naturally being a slasher of sorts Dead Kids must have a regular body count going down, or in the case of this movie an addition once in a blue moon on the dead list. Queue the teen party cause naturally an amorous couple should be high on the agenda. Besides some chick dressed as the flying nun stating she isn't wearing any undies, where were you in my college days, the teen party is notable for an awesome choreographed dance number set to "Lightning Strikes" by Lou Christie. I mean forget Michael<<..>> making a complete twat of himself during the dance scene in Jaws: The Revenge, Dead Kids has risen in my humble estimation to the top of the list of horror movies with embarrassing dance scenes. Just once in a horror flick I would like to see a teen dance where the actual events being shown are from a teen get together and not from some Producer's weird concept of what a teen hoe down would be like. Guess that'll happen when Pigs take wing over the ice bound fjords of Hades guys. Naturally the dance setups the obnoxious over weight guy everyone hates in a car with the thirteen year old "she gets around" damsel in distress. Even more surprisingly they can't get the car going because the back tires are stuck in mud, never seen that before in a movie to be honest. Any news on those pigs? In what can only be described as a scene from someone's drug fever induced imagination it appears that a teenage Tor Johnson attacks our couple of the bizarre. Fat dude goes down, thus fulfilling a common slasher theme ... the over weight obnoxious kid always gets it, just ask Shelley, and his date is left sort of escaping into the night. I would pay good money for scenes like this not to be shot to be perfectly frank. The sole purpose of the date escaping is of course for Pete to turn into something of a hero, or he would have been if someone with the least bit of talent was making this movie.

For those expecting a blood bath with a finale involving going up to the lab to see what is on the slab you are going to be severely disappointed. Dead Kids is all over the place like a mad women's breakfast, looks to have a budget that wouldn't get Uwe Boll out of bed, and collapses on it's own half arsed plot. Clearly the Writers knew what they were doing, pity they didn't let the rest of us in on it. I was sort of inferring stuff as I went along, for example the kids are only now turning homicidal due to a breakthrough in the behaviour modification formula, for sure the Writers aren't taking time out of their morning martinis to tell us. Actually I've seen more blood drenched horror on an episode of Play School, don't trust teddies with carving knifes kids!

Kudos to the movie however for going with an early example of how to include a scene from the local Tourist Marketing Board. Well Baz did the same with Australia and no one was complaining, and Fox were certainly happy to bank $40 million from the Aussie Government benevolent fund. We get two shots of a forked river for no apparent reason, looks to be good trout fishing kids I'm booking the airfare tomorrow. Can anyone else make head or tail of those two scenes?

Michael Murphey (John Brady) sort of works if you don't think to hard about him being the local Sherriff. I mean he like totally rocked with the cutting of the toenails scene at the breakfast table, and then ruined it by going hysterical in places. Dan Shor (Pete Brady) looked like a surfer in need of a beach before doing his very best to channel Roger Daltry after a particularly bad drug experience in the final nerve racking scenes. Actually after those scenes I was left wondering "is that it!" but hey let's not get caught up in my little issues here. The rest of the cast prove competent enough, well if this had of been an episode of Neighbours where acting isn't actually a requirement they would have.

Weirdly the band Tangerine Dream turned in the score, which I guess works since you are caught in the headlights of Dead Kids like a stunned mullet anyway. Didn't overly note the score during the movie except in a couple of the quieter scenes when it bubbled to the surface like swamp gas. We do get a fairly good soundtrack however with the highlight being kiwi rockers Pop Mechanix hitting the right notes with "Jumping out a Window". The choose of songs actually does nothing for the movie but at least we are spared Rob Zombie levels of banging our heads against our desks.

Summary Execution

Dead Kids for no apparent reason has reached cult status Down Under. I'm thinking a lot of people haven't actually seen the movie and those that have are remembering it from their misguided youth. Yeah "The Sweet" was cool back then as well folks. The movie is an example of how wrong things can go when you have movie makers with no budget showing they have no idea what the hell they are doing making a horror movie. Personally I'm blaming Tony G for this one. I sat through the movie wondering if it could reach new levels of badness as things progressed and wasn't disappointed.

The movie is an Aussie production filmed in New Zealand with U.S backing, which is probably never a good idea at the best of times. Peter Jackson might beg to differ however. We're talking about horror here PJ go back to playing with hobbits mate. Dead Kids was released in North America under the far less confronting title Strange Behavior, and pretty much did as well over there as it did down in this part of the world, which is to say no one made a truck load of cash out of it.

For once I'm going to say give a local horror flick a miss, there's nothing to be gained by watching Dead Kids besides rounding out your ozploitation dance card perhaps. The movie is poorly made, has ludicrous dialogue, and simply looks like two tweens put it together in their spare time. Maybe a remake would work here, sure as hell the original doesn't?

ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...

Avoid with extreme prejudice would be my advice.