Pete Brady (Dan Shor) isn't so much the burger-flipping type. Still, the guy's on his way out the door of this sleepy little midwestern high school, he could use some easy cash, and a buddy of his turns him onto a gig as a glorified lab rat. It's a pretty sweet deal. The doctor administrating all this stuff (Fiona Lewis) is kind of a fox, the whole thing starts off with a healthy dose of Experimental Big Brain Pills, and he gets $100 to boot. Adjusting for inflation, that's, like, $283.88! Ssshhh! Don't tell Pete's dad, though. These experiments would bring to mind the demented work of the late Dr. LeSange (Arthur Dignam), the long dead nutjob that Sheriff Brady (Michael Murphy) still blames for the loss of his wife ages ago. Hmmmm, and y'know, this ordinarily quiet town sure has been plagued by a slew of grisly murders lately. Is it a case of science gone wrong, or is there something more nefarious at work here?
The 20,000 foot view of Dead Kids sounds pretty spectacular, yeah, but once I started slogging my way through it...ack. The pace is extreeeeeemmmmmmeeeeeellllllyyyyy ssssssllllllloooooowwwwww. There's no snap or rhythm to the line readings, which kind of plod along. The editing by Petra von Oelffen -- who was too embarrassed to be credited under her full name -- is awfully clunky, more than a couple times cutting to a different scene in the middle of a word. The brainwashed, murderous kids angle is a lot more
I guess I can keep going. The mystery about the puppet master behind the murders is about as engaging as your average episode of Scooby-Doo, and I mean that in more ways than one. An awful lot of the acting is mechanical and flat, even for actors who aren't supposed to be on these experimental robo-meds. There's zero tension, suspense, or energy to propel the whole thing along. The lightly satirical tone rarely gets much of a smirk. The legendarily spazzy costumed dance is a blast, sure, and the intensity finally does start to ratchet up near the very end, but the rest of the movie is so borderline-unwatchable that it's not worth it to trudge through all that to get to the Tootsie Roll center of this Tootsie Pop. If you've never subjected yourself to Dead Kids before, I'd definitely suggest renting it before whipping out your credit card. Rent It.
I don't have the Elite Entertainment or Synapse Films DVDs handy to do a direct comparison, but I'm sure this shiny, new Blu-ray disc from Severin is a marked improvement. Like the other flicks in this wave of horror from down under, Dead Kids unearths the original negative for this new high-def presentation. It's a mixed bag, admittedly. On the upside, film grain is rendered extremely well, with no filtering or encoding missteps to get in the way. Colors are sometimes drab enough to make Dead Kids look at least a few years older than it actually is, but the saturation in many other sequences looks spot-on to my eyes. The presentation is reasonably clean but is peppered with more flecks of dust than usual. Crispness and clarity, meanwhile, are all over the place. Some sequences are wonderfully sharp and detailed, such as this case in point:
The technical specs are the same as Thirst. Again, you're lookin' at an AVC encode on a BD-25 disc. The aspect ratio remains a touch wider than usual for a scope film, closer to 2.43:1 rather than the 2.35:1 that would've been standard when cameras were rolling in 1980, although it's too minute a difference to fuss about. Oh, and this is a combo release, so there's an anamorphic widescreen DVD riding shotgun too.
After being disappointed that Thirst was limited to DVD-quality audio, I braced myself for the worst with Dead Kids. The good news is that you do score a lossless soundtrack this time around: 16-bit, monaural DTS-HD Master Audio. There's no background noise of note, the elements are reasonably clean and clear, and dynamic range is healthy enough, especially for a low-budget flick of this vintage. Dialogue is generally rendered well, although the quality of the recording -- and the occasional looped line that really doesn't blend in -- can vary from scene to scene. As mentioned earlier, several sequences cut away really abruptly, and I don't know how much of that jarring feel is because of sloppy editing and how much might be issues with the audio. One unmistakeable flaw comes around the 1:12:45 mark, right after the Steak 'n Shake blood-pissing sequence. The score awkwardly drops out, there's a "John?" that comes out of nowhere, and after a second or two, the synths smash back in, mid-chord. Somebody fucked up, and unless the movie's always been mixed with that flaw in place, it's baffling why neither the licensor nor Severin noticed this during any QA checks.
No subtitles, dubs, or remixes this time around, not even the Spanish track from the Elite and Synapse DVDs. There are a few other audio options, but they're extras more than anything else, so I'll get into all that in just a sec...
All of the key extras from the Synapse and Elite DVDs have found their way onto this Blu-ray disc, with the exception of Synapse's deleted scenes. 'Course, the runtime looks to be a little longer here (101 minutes vs. Synapse/Elite's 99), so maybe that footage is in the movie proper this time around...? No idea.
This is a combo release that also includes a DVD of the movie, by the way.
The Final Word
Dead Kids sounds as if it's all the right kinds of batshit insane. I mean, we're talking about a movie where you have an infectiously ridiculous dance party going on inside, and out on the front lawn, a remotely-controlled Jimmy Olsen in a Tor Johnson mask is slashing this kitchen knife towards a thirteen year old tramp. Dead Kids sounds a lot more gonzo than it actually is, though, and it's too tedious and ineptly made to make it worth slogging your way to the good stuff. There are a whole lot of fawning reviews of Dead Kids floating around out there, so maybe there's just something terribly wrong with me, but my vote...? Rent It first.