Disturbing Behavior a Teen-Lite Take on The Stepford Wives

When Scream shocked the box office in the mid-1990s, it didn’t just reinvigorate the slasher subgenre. Suddenly, the teen horror market was booming like it was the mid-80s. In addition to I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend, teen horror movies like Teaching Ms. Tingle, The Faculty, and Idle Hands were flooding theaters. For many of these movies, Kevin Williamson’s name popped up as a screenwriter. One of the non-Kevin Williamson penned teen horror movies lost in the glut of releases was Disturbing Behavior. Starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes, and Nick Stahl, Disturbing Behavior barely out-earned its budget while earning some scathing reviews.


Following the death of his brother, high school senior Steve Clark and his family relocate to the small island community of Cradle Bay. At his new school, Steve navigates the socially stratified cliques, which includes the poplar ‘Blue Ribbons’. Soon Steve notices that the Blue Ribbons’ behavior seems odd and somehow regimented by a strict moral code. When previously rebellious students change over night and join the Ribbons, Steve suspects a sinister force working in the background.

Disturbing Behavior Shows Lots of Signs of Studio Interference

Neither scary nor suspenseful, Disturbing Behavior is a slickly produced teen horror flick suffering from a few glaring issues. At just 83 minutes, Disturbing Behavior never overstays its welcome, but feels choppy. Rumors surfaced that the studio had director David Nutter do some serious cutting. Certainly, the rumor seems likely when you look at the content and tone. At times, Disturbing Behavior looks like an edgy, R-rated horror movie. However, other scenes feel jokey leaving audiences to wonder if the intent was something more silly and over-the-top. Aside from these issues, production values are good and the 90s alt-rock soundtrack is something of a hidden gem.

…the 90s alt-rock soundtrack is something of a hidden gem.

In addition to these problems, rumors of studio interference impacted the story’s coherence. Entire characters seemingly disappear from the movie – where do all the parents go? Other characters disappear and re-surface suggesting they may have originally played a bigger role. Moreover, it feels like major parts of the story, including the death of Steve’s brother and Dr. Caldicott’s lab rat daughter, are seriously undercooked. Of course, writer Scott Rosenberg’s transplanting of the Stepford Wives’ premise to 90s teen rebellion feels like a missed opportunity. There’s potential her for commentary on conservative values, American idealism, and teen rebellion. But Rosenberg’s screenplay seems content to just use the idea to set up slick teen thriller.

Disturbing Behavior Packed Its Cast With Future Stars

Just like every other post-Scream 90s teen horror movie, Disturbing Behavior balances out its cast with young, good-looking up-and-coming stars and veteran character actors. First, there’s James Marsden getting his first breakout role just a couple of years before playing Cyclops in X-Men. And a few months after Dawson’s Creek premiered, Katie Holmes turned up in her first starring role in a feature-length movie. Joining Marsden and Holmes, child actor Nick Stahl upgraded from The Man Without a Face to a slightly more edgy role. While Stahl shows off some decent acting chops, Holmes feels slightly out of place playing a rebellious teen.

Arguably, studio tinkering most adversely impacted Greenwood whose villainous Dr. Caldicott feels like an afterthought in the thriller.

Canadian horror fans may recognize a young Katharine Isabelle playing Marsden’s younger sister. Isabelle would go on to star in the cult classics, Ginger Snaps and American Mary, among several other genre roles. Happy Rex Murphy Day! Yes, if you’re an Empire Records fan and have an eagle eye, you’ll catch Ethan Embry playing Marsden’s deceased brother in distorted flashbacks. Former Canada Much Music VJ Terry David Mulligan, William Sadler (VFW, The Hills Run Red), Steve Railsback, and Bruce Greenwood sporting a terrible moustache round out the adult supporting cast. Arguably, studio tinkering most adversely impacted Greenwood whose villainous Dr. Caldicott feels like an afterthought in the thriller.

Disturbing Behavior a Blandly Inoffensive Bit of 90s Nostalgia for Gex-X Horror Fans

If you came of age in the 1990s, Disturbing Behavior makes for an inoffensive trip down memory lane. It’s fun to see some recognizable faces in early roles years removed from what we know them for now. And the alt-rock 90s soundtrack is the perfect time capsule for Gen-X horror fans. Nonetheless, Disturbing Behavior absolutely shows signs of massive edits and tinkering. The result is a teen, Stepford Wives-lite thriller that’s tonally inconsistent and occasionally incoherent. Worst of all, it’s rarely scary or suspenseful.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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