Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Blu-ray Review: DEAD KIDS (1981)

DEAD KIDS (1981) 
Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 101 Minutes
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono 
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
DIrector: Michael Laughlin
Cast: Michael Murphy, Dan Shor, Fiona Lewis, Dey Young, Louise Fletcher, Mark McClure, Scott Brady

When an eerie series of murders occur in a small Midwest town Sheriff Brady (Michael Murphy) suspects that the strange behavior modification experiments going on at Galesburg College might have something to do with it. In fact the sheriff's long suspected that a certain Professor Le Sange (Arthur Dignam) had something to do with his wife's death years earlier. What he doesn't know is that his son Peter (Dan Shor) is earning pocket money volunteering for these very same experiments under the watchful eye of Professor Parkinson (Fiona Lewis, Innerspace), an icy vixen who continues the bizarre teachings of the late Professor Le Sange. La Sange teaches from beyond the grave via archival film as he directs a chicken with an antennae surgically attached to it's head to obey his every command, very weird stuff. 

Before you can say "chicken, raise your right leg"  teens are inexplicably killing each other in a series of grisly murders, sort of grisly anyway. I thought the set-up for each killing was pretty damn decent with some nice atmosphere but the kills are mostly anti-climatic. The worst offender a throat slash minus any actual gore, in its place we get the classic blood on the edge of a knife prop, but I give it props for some nice set-ups.

There's an abundance of great small town folk who populate the film and give it a true sense of a community including Peter's best friend Oliver (Marc McClure) who looks quite a bit like tennis great John McEnroe, a gossipy house maid and a love interest for the sheriff in the form of a waitress played by the gum-snapping Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

Ozploitation stuff no matter how absurd usually have a great visual style and Dead Kids does not disappoint, we have some skewed angles and interesting camera movement plus some great use of the New Zealand  scenery which quite perfectly emulate the Midwest setting. As stated before this is stuffed with great atmosphere which is enhanced by the droning Tangerine Dream (Legend) synth score.

Early on the teens attend an awesome costume party with everyone is dressed-up in costumes and pogoing to Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes". The whole scene has Animal House feel to it and ends with a tubby bully named Waldo trying to molest his 13 year-old  date in his car until they're interrupted by a killer wearing a very creepy Tor Johnson Plan 9 from Outer Space mask who stabs Waldo to death and pursues his date through the woods and into a swimming pool before the murder in progress is interrupted by party-goers. This is great stuff and the whole scene is probably the highlight of the film for me. 

I love this one quite a bit, it has so many creepy and what-the-fuck moments that you cannot not at least be partially entertained or horrified. A shot of nude Peter in bathroom carrying on a conversation with his father is a bit strange, that's just not normal. While the films is steeped with atmosphere the pieces of the story don't always fit together neatly and at points it does start to get a bit dull. On top of that many of the kills are sub par despite some nice set-ups. Most of the gore is a let down though we do get a creepy scarecrow cadaver with hollowed-out eyes and a young kid dismembered in the shower, both of these are great The scene that freaked me out as a kid (and still does) is Peter pissing a dark red stream of blood which gave me nightmares as a kid watching this on cable, that's just icky. 

I love the off-kilter exploitation cinema that came out of Australia in  the 70's and 80's and I enjoy Dead Kids (1981) quite a bit even if it doesn't measure up to the classic slashers coming out of America and Canada around the same time but as a psychologically-infused thriller it's a nice slice of entertainment.  

Blu-ray: Severin Films went  straight to the original negative and created a brand new HD transfer of the film framed in it's original widescreen (2.35:1) aspect ratio and it's a nice upgrade over the 2002 Elite Entertainment DVD. The image is more crisp with finer detail and more saturated colors. The 1080p upgrade is nice but don't expect perfection, sort of an uneven presentation but quite an improvement from the DVD. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono comes through clean and free of distortion. There's not a lot of depth but it's a decent track and the Tangerine Dream score sounds great, fans of the synth score will enjoy the bonus of an isolated music track. 

Carried over from the previous DVD editions are a fun audio commentary with Co-Writer/Associate Producer Bill Condon and Actors Dan Shor and Dey Young which is never dull and loaded with some great info and anecdotes about the making of the pictures.  There's also a new commentary from Director/Co-Writer Michael Laughlin recorded via Skype which is moderated. It starts off a bit slow but does eventually get rolling along as he speaks about coming into the project, working with Condon and some neat casting anecdotes. 

There's a 20-minute interview with Makeup Effects Artist Craig Reardon who speaks humorously about coming onto the project last minute and the stresses of creating low-budget effects on the set and what worked and what didn't. Finishing up the extras we have the US and international trailer for the film. Missing from this edition are 2 deleted scenes with optional commentary from the previous DVD but it's worth noting that both scenes have been stitched back into the feature for this BD/DVD Combo edition. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary With Director/Co-Writer Michael Laughlin
- Audio Commentary With Co-Writer/Associate Producer Bill Condon and Actors Dan Shor and Dey Young
- Featurette: The Effects Of Strange Behavior – An Interview With Makeup Effects Artist Craig Reardon (20:32)
- US Trailer (1:45)
- International Trailer (3:19) 

Verdict: Better known here in the US as Strange Behavior the under seen Dead Kids (1981) is bit of an odd psychological horror film with some great atmosphere and fun slasher elements that while not perfect is a nifty little creeper. Severin have spruced this one up with a brand new hi-def transfer and new value-added extras. Not a flawless watch by any means but a perfectly entertaining slice of Ozploitation horror. 2.5 outta 5