Review Date: October 17, 2005
Released by: MGM
Release date: 1/05/1999
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes | P&S: Yes (Side B)
-inspired teen horror boom of the late 90’s bred some unusual offspring, films that either spoofed the genre for everything it was worth (Scary Movie
, etc), added weird comedic twists to the formulas (Idle Hands
) or added science fiction elements like the ones that turn up in Disturbing Behavior
, or, as my colleague Rhett calls it, “The Stepford Students”. Though it disappeared from theaters quickly and no doubt performed well below studio expectations, it’s ready availability on DVD ensures that it is not completely forgotten. So read on...
The town of Cradle Bay is a tiny and close-knit community located on a coastal island in the Pacific Northwest. We open on a car parked at the local lover’s lane, where jock Andy (Tobias Mehler
) is making out with a hottie named Mary Jo (Natassia Malthe
). Andy seems uncomfortable with her, but Mary Jo presses on and begins to give him oral sex. He starts getting turned on, but then all of a sudden he snaps and breaks the girl’s neck like a chicken bone. Just then a police cruiser pulls up and two officers get out. They ask him to get out of the car, and he does so. One of them notices Mary Jo’s body in the front seat and Andy panics. He grabs one of the officers’ guns out of its holster and shoots the other man dead. But instead of placing him under arrest, the surviving officer tells the kid to get lost and that he’ll take care of everything. The whole incident is witnessed by Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl
), another local teenager who is hiding in the woods.
We cut to a ferry bringing passengers to Cradle Bay from the mainland. Onboard is the Clark family, made of patriarch Nathan (Terry David Mulligan
), mother Cynthia (Susan Hogan
), brother Steve (James Marsden
) and his little sister Lindsay (Katharine Isabelle
). The family has just purchased a new home in Cradle Bay and is intent on starting over after living most of their lives in Chicago. A personal tragedy – the death of their oldest son, who committed suicide – is what has motivated them to make the change. They settle into their new house, and Steve begins taking classes at the local high school, where he is quickly befriended by Gavin and his two other social outcast friends, Rachel Wagner (Katie Holmes
) and U.V. (Chad E. Donella
Besides having the usual assortment of cliques, the high school is also the home of the Blue Ribbons, a group of impossibly clean and squeaky all-American youths who are into athletics, good grades and philanthropic events. The Blue Ribbon program is overseen by Dr. Edgar Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood
), who promotes it as a solution to the minefield of adolescence. The group studies together, practices together and hangs out together, with the whole point being that it is a team effort. The parents of Cradle Bay love the Blue Ribbons – and in fact they have the ability to volunteer their children for the program against the kids’ will – but their fellow students are wary of them. Not only are members of the group prone to strange and seemingly random fits of violent rage, but even when they are acting “normal” there is something about them that just isn’t right. In this once idyllic island community there is something very, very wrong happening.
Released in 1998, Disturbing Behavior
has become, if nothing else, an interesting cultural artifact of an era which feels like it existed a whole lifetime ago, even though in actual years it is still quite recent. I came of age in the 90’s, and I distinctly remember what it was like being a teenager in America during those years. During the latter half of the decade a wave of minor hysteria seemed to grip the adult population as they began to believe that there was something very wrong with the current generation of adolescents, something new that had never before been experienced. The hysteria peaked in the year or so following Columbine but, eventually, the country moved on. The wave of school shootings that caused so much trouble proved to be an isolated phenomenon and died out, though their legacy (especially inane “zero tolerance” policies in schools) and the controversy that followed has not fully gone away. But at the time it was happening people of all political stripes were moaning and groaning, pointing at everything from school violence to teen drug use to Bill Clinton’s immature behavior and the impeachment that followed as evidence that America had lost its way and was falling apart. In retrospect, most people now realize how naïve that sentiment was. The current mood in America is far grimmer and far more depressed than the mood back then was, and with the many tragic events and problems of recent years citizens have begun to realize that maybe things weren’t so bad after all.
This all relates back to Disturbing Behavior
in the way that the film reflects the heightened anti-teen paranoia of the time. It is a cliché to say that horror films reflect the fears, concerns and social mores of society, and it seems unnecessary to point such a thing out anyways when one considers how many other media forms also reflect those things. Nonetheless, like the attitudes of the time, the horror of Disturbing Behavior
seems far removed from the world of 2005. It still has some resonance with many viewers in part because the intergenerational conflict that is present in the movie is something any teenager or adult can identify with, whatever decade they grew up in. But, less than a decade after its initial release, Disturbing Behavior
already feels dated.
Made relatively cheaply by the standards of Hollywood productions, the film is the modern equivalent of a studio “B” picture and of no great credit to the career of anybody involved. Hero James Marsden was probably cast mainly on the basis of his good looks and his presumed ability to appeal to the youth audience demographic, but he was too old for the part of a high school student (he was in his mid-twenties when the film was shot) and looks it. There is nothing particularly special about his character, and is given no characterization except for the bit about his dead brother. He doesn’t even do that much to save the day, but that probably doesn’t matter. He’s clearly identified to us, the audience, as “The Hero” and as such we are of course supposed to root for him. Except that we don’t want to. We would much rather root for Nick Stahl or Katie Holmes, both of whom are given better parts and put in better performances. Bruce Greenwood is also fairly effective as the sinister Dr. Caldicott. As played by Greenwood, Caldicott is both the embodiment of the smarmy, disingenuous educators we all remember from our own youths, as well as a convincing and scary villain. Unfortunately, Greenwood isn’t given enough screen time.
The story is a muddy, jumbled mess. It is never completely clear exactly why the community actually tolerates Dr. Caldicott and the presence of the Blue Ribbons, considering the disruption they cause (at one point one of them gets into a brutal fight in the local supermarket that ends up leaving the place one hell of a mess), other than that they are good students and the boys win football games. The role of the school authorities and the police (particularly why the police cover up the murders at the beginning) is also confusing. Running a scant 84 minutes (credits included), the film feels incomplete, and the numerous deleted scenes that are included as extras on this release reveal just how much was actually cut from the finished picture. Several of these scenes (which go a long ways towards explaining some of these issues) should by no means have ever been cut, and there are several more which, although less important, would have helped had they also remained in the final edit. But alas, it was not to be. Disturbing Behavior
is a tolerable but mediocre horror film. It would have been lacking even had it been edited better, but as it stands it is even more of a missed opportunity.
The film is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1 and with the benefit of 16x9 enhancement. This DVD was released in 1999, when many companies still had not gotten the hang of doing high quality digital transfers and properly encoding them, yet the transfer of Disturbing Behavior
as presented here is largely up to the standards of more recent releases. Colors look great, and the image is often minutely detailed. Night scenes feature clear, bold blacks and generally good shadow detail. The compression, however, leaves a bit to be desired. A number of the night shots are noticeably pixilated, and in fact even dark spots in daylight shots (such as somebody’s black hair) will sometimes also break up into pixels. It’s distracting, but fortunately the only appreciable flaw in an otherwise good presentation.
A pan and scan version is presented on Side B of this release.
Two soundtrack options are available, an English track in Dolby 5.1 Surround and a French track in Dolby 2.0 Stereo. The English soundtrack is excellent, with the minutest of sounds accurately reproduced and all of the available channels effectively utilized for a great listening experience.
Optional English and French subtitles are also included.
The biggest attraction here is the running commentary by director David Nutter. Unfortunately, Nutter spends a lot of time singing the praises of the production and everyone involved (after a while of this I almost expected to hear him thank his pets for all their energy and hard work). When he isn’t patting people on the back he becomes relatively interesting to listen to, talking about how his experience working on The X-Files
and other shows (his career as a director has been almost exclusively limited to television) influenced him, as well as providing information on the locations and the special effects. Not that bad a listen, but not one of the classic commentary tracks that you will be able to visit repeatedly.
Aside from the commentary the other highlight of this release is the eleven of deleted scenes that are included, as well as an alternate ending. All the scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and are of mediocre audio and video quality. The alternate ending – while not great – is still better than the one that ended up on the finished film. All the scenes have optional David Nutter commentary. Nutter places them in their proper context within the story and expresses veiled regret at their loss, offering no explanation as to why they were cut, which I suspect is his discrete way of saying that the studio hacked up his movie. Since it seems he either will not or cannot talk openly, his commentary for them is pretty useless, though it does have a moment of unintentional humor when, commenting on the alternate ending, he says that Disturbing Behavior
is “a tragedy”. Indeed.
This release is rounded out by a theatrical trailer, a music video for the song “Got Where I Want You” by The Flys (which is featured on the soundtrack) and brief liner notes on the film’s production.
is a misfire of a movie, not terrible but not great, though it is better than some of the other entries in the 90’s teen horror cycle. As for the DVD itself, it’s inexpensive, of good technical quality and with decent supplements. Considering that this not a popular title it is unlikely that another Region 1 release will surface until Hi-Definition becomes the standard, and if it is a film that appeals to your tastes there’s no reason not to buy this disc.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B+
Sound – A-
Supplements - B
- Running Time - 1 hour 24 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 5.1 Surround
- French 2.0 Stereo
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Audio commentary with director David Nutter
- Deleted scenes with optional David Nutter commentary
- Alternate ending with optional David Nutter commentary
- Theatrical trailer
- "Got You Where I Want You" music video
- Liner notes