Horror review: Disturbing Behavior

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 30, 1998

By Steve Newton

With the abundance of failed horror-thrillers made in Vancouver (Hideaway, Watchers, Needful Things), I wasn’t expecting the locally shot Disturbing Behavior to be anything special. And it isn’t, really. But it does boast an impressive cast and some keen direction, and—considering its stable of young TV stars and ultrahip dialogue—deserves credit for not becoming a total Scream clone.

The film follows the social misadventures of troubled teen Steve Clark (James Marsden of TV’s Bella Mafia), who, after the suicide of his older brother, moves from Chicago with his family to start a new life in the quaint island community of Cradle Bay. Unfortunately for Clark, he finds himself enrolled in Hell High, where a clique of model students named the Blue Ribbons holds sway over the general populace. Seems these arrogant bookworms and sports stars are all former rebels who’ve been “programmed” to be goody-two-shoes types by sinister school psychiatrist Dr. Caldicott (a slumming Bruce Greenwood from The Sweet Hereafter).

Clark takes up with outcast Gavin Strick (The Man Without a Face’s Nick Stahl), who tries to warn the newcomer, via his slacker-philosopher ramblings, about the town’s evil secret. But Stevie-boy doesn’t listen, and besides, he’s more interested in scoring points with Gavin’s sassy gal pal Rachel Wagner (Katie Holmes from TV’s Dawson’s Creek).

As we discover in the film’s crass opening scene—in which a promiscuous teen’s eagerness to perform fellatio gets her neck casually snapped—Caldicott’s “treatment” has serious side effects. Whenever his overachieving automatons have naughty thoughts, their eyes light up and they fly into a murderous rage, laying the boots to whoever is nearby. Most prone to violence is pudgy bully Chug Roman, whose clean-cut creepiness is superbly rendered by A.J. Buckley. Also fun to watch is genre veteran William Sadler (Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight), whose over-the-top portrayal of nutcase janitor Dorian Newberry provides the film’s best comic moments.

Director David Nutter, whose credits include various episodes of The X-Files and Millennium, deftly handles the action scenes, and he brings an eerie kind of X-Files quality to sequences that unfold in a dilapidated insane asylum. His obvious talents aren’t enough to make Disturbing Behavior a first-rate fright flick, but as relatively low-budget and quickly made teen shockers go, it’s not too hard to take.

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