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“Paranoia! Paranoia! Everybody’s Coming to Get Me!”: Revisiting 1998’s DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

It was the 90s. We loved grungy clothing, angry music and X-FILES. In 1998, X-FILES veteran David Nutter directed the feature film DISTURBING BEHAVIOR. Opening on the same day as SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, the film received horrible reviews and sunk financially. It was quickly dubbed “the Stepford Kids” for the very Stepford Wives-ish plot…just at a high school with Nick Stahls’s lengthy monologues about high school clichés and adorable Katie Holmes getting all sexy. And Harvey Danger was there.

After the death of his brother, Steve’s family relocates to Cradle Bay, a seemingly perfect lil ‘burg. Steve soon discovers the extremity of the clichés in the school with all the winners joining the Blue Ribbons, a club of over-achieving do-gooders who have a penchant for violence when one of them is even remotely threatened or sexually aroused/confused. And it’s High School, so those two scenarios happen a lot. Nick Stahl plays an outsider fighting against the Blue Ribbons and with a “Lone Gunmen” style conspiracy theory about how they are actually some type of scientifically altered beings. And fresh off DAWSON’S CREEK and looking to toughen her sugary image, Katie Holmes plays punk-grunge chick, Rachel, who boasts scantily clad outfits, ample cursing, bra-free weed smoking, and sex.

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It is revealed early on that the Blue Ribbon teens are in fact some type of scientifically created beings, as they rip heads off their dates and get weird 90s digital red lasers in their eyes. Its up to our Scooby gang to discover the truth of what’s going on in Cradle Bay and put a stop to it. But then Stahl’s character gets changed, and Steve gets kidnapped. And Katie gets repeatedly felt up.

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My favorite scene of the movie (and warning, it is a spoiler), comes at the climax when a group of the deranged Stepford kids are clinging to the janitor’s car. As he starts to drive off a cliff with the kids attached, our lead character, Steve, asks if they could be saved or have the augmentation process reversed or something. “NOPE! Too late!” The janitor hits the gas, sending his car over a cliff and killing dozens of teens in an fiery blaze. That’s how you f’n end a 90s movie. Let’s just blow up everyone!

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While the movie DISTURBING BEHAVIOR was not exactly a great horror film, it was fun to revisit and would have made a wonderful X-FILES episode or possibly a fascinating CW show. It also boasts an iconic 90s style poster image of hot young people standing in a line while looking straight into the camera with angst-y expressions. This was used in most major teen horror releases in the late 90s, all following on the marketing coattails of SCREAM.

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And while the movie is just ok, the soundtrack seriously rocked the decade. I recall most of my college friends owning this soundtrack leading to endless dorm rooms on campus all blasting “paranoia, paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me!”. Featuring an assortment of other punk and hardcore bands that you would likely recognize not by name, but by catchy tunes, the soundtrack, unlike the movie, has stood the test of time.

Scream Factory is releasing a new snazzy Blu-ray edition of DISTURBING BEHAVIOR next week which features some of the film’s many deleted scenes and alternate endings. In a well publicized studio battle, director David Nutter lost the final cut privileges on several key scenes to the almighty powers at MGM. The new blu features the deleted scenes, alternate ending, and also has a commentary track with David Nutter discussing the history.

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