GREAT MOMENTS IN CINEMA: DANCE PARTY HORROR, “STRANGE BEHAVIOR” (1981)

SOMETIMES ART JUST MAKES YOU GIDDY, touches some place inside you that you were sure no one else knew about. Little else in cinema makes me as giddy as the dance scene in “Strange Behavior,” an odd, independent horror movie starring Michael Murphy, Louise Fletcher and the woefully underused Dan Shor. It’s an out-of-place moment in a movie that never found its place, on screen or in the market.

Shot in New Zealand with a U.S. cast and setting, “Strange Behavior” immediately looks wrong. The trees are exotic, the houses slightly out of sync. And the concept of meshing a 1950s teens-out-of-control horror movie with the nascent slasher genre never really clicks. It’s watchable, sometimes funny and ultimately unsatisfying. But the party sequence is a strong hint at what “Strange Behavior” could have been. It’s a low-rent set piece that emanates the New Wave zeitgeist of the early ‘80s as well as anything ever captured on film.

Teenagers dressed as characters from bad 1960 television shows – “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Bonanza,” “The Munsters” – dance to Lou Christie’s dynamite No. 1 hit from 1966, “Lightning Strikes,” and drink American beer in cans while outside lurks a killer in a creepy mask. The mélange of anachronistic media influences gives the scene a sort of out-of-body aura, as do the amateur performances of the party-goers, some of whom were no doubt trying on American accents. They also appear to be having the time of their lives, and it’s contagious.

It starts when Shor and the always-welcome Marc McClure are greeted at the door by the Flying Nun, who immediately informs them she isn’t wearing underpants, and ends with a dance line featuring Batman, Robin, Wilma Flintstone and Lily Munster.

Writer/director Michael Laughlin produced “Two Lane Blacktop,” wrote a movie with “Deep End/The Shout/Moonlighting” director Jerzy Skolimowski called “Mesmerized” (1986) and followed this with “Strange Invaders” (1983). Shor, so amazingly good in “Wise Blood” (1979), has been in a lot of movies – such as “Tron” (1982) and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1984) – but never was able to trade on the star quality he exudes here.

The YouTube clip I’ve embedded here lasts more than 7 minutes, but it’s the first 3 that have captured my heart. I’ve only seen “Strange Behavior” in its entirety once, but I’ve watched this clip at least 20 times. If the rest of it piques your interest, the movie is worth tracking down (it’s also sometimes known as “Dead Kids”). You can’t stream it on Netflix, but I’m pretty sure I got it from there via snail mail.

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