Every teen feels like something is wrong with their high school, but for Steve (James Marsden), the new kid in town, he’s actually right. Once delinquents, teens are suddenly donning letterman jackets and joining the Blue Ribbons social club. Steve and his friends Gavin (Nick Stahl) and Rachel (Katie Holmes), are hell-bent on figuring out what’s changing these kids into placcid yet psychotic teacher-pleasers. But if they’re not careful, they could become one of them.
For many teens of the ’90s, Disturbing Behavior (1998) came at the perfect time. They could relate to the social power struggle that gripped so many high schools at the time. Explaining away teen angst with spooky mind control tactics resonated with people, which is why the film has become a nostalgic classic. It has a place among other teen-centric ’90s horror movies like The Faculty (1998) and Scream (1996). Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at sci-fi horror Disturbing Behavior. Spoilers ahead!
Behind the Scenes of Disturbing Behavior
1. The setting for Disturbing Behavior, an island called Cradle Bay, doesn’t exist. The movie was filmed mostly in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada and on Bowen Island, British Columbia, Canada.
2. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg gives a little shoutout to one of his previous films, Beautiful Girls (1996). In the first scenes of Disturbing Behavior, the sheriff mentions a game the high school is having against Knights Ridge. Knights Ridge is also the setting for Beautiful Girls.
3. Now well-known for his television roles in shows like Flashpoint and Morning Show Mysteries, this was David Paetkau’s very first role. In Disturbing Behavior, he played Tom Cox, one of the Blue Ribbons.
4. The names of the two main adult characters of the film have a connection with their last names: Janitor Newberry, the one good adult on the island, and Dr. Caldicott, the evil scientist imposing mind control on the island’s teens. Newberry and Caldicott are both prestigious book prizes for outstanding children’s literature.
5. Steve discovers that Janitor Newberry, played by William Sadler, has been reading a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This could be a nod to a quote made by Vonnegut in an opinion piece written for The New York Times in 1982:
My novel Slaughterhouse-Five was actually burned in a furnace by a school janitor in Drake, North Dakota, on instructions from the school committee there, and the school board made public statements about the unwholesomeness of the book.Kurt Vonnegut, The New York Times, 1982
6. Katie Holmes and James Marsden starred in the music video for a song from the soundtrack, “Goy You (Where I Want You)” by The Flys. In addition to filming new scenes for the video, it also features clips straight from Disturbing Behavior, including shots of The Blue Ribbons in the diner.
7. This was Crystal Cass’s first major film role, playing Lorna Longley. Despite her memorable performance, she quit acting shortly afterward.
8. Many nostalgic fans get Disturbing Behavior mixed up with another 1998 teen horror about mind-controlled high school students: The Faculty. But where Disturbing Behavior uses psychological technology reminiscent of The Stepford Wives (1975), The Faculty has an alien presence similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).
Studio Cuts and Deleted Scenes
9. When MGM showed the film to test audiences, they got a lot of negative reactions. As a result, the studio required extensive cuts and reshoots to hopefully fix the perceived flaws. This resulted in a theatrical release much different from what director David Nutter and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg had envisioned. There were cuts to character backstories and a scene with Gavin’s survival added to the end. 31 minutes of the total runtime were removed. David Nutter hated the changes and seriously considered taking his name off the movie.
10. You may have noticed how very little screen time the storyline for Steve’s dead brother gets despite it clearly being an important aspect for the character. That’s because much of the backstory was cut for the final edit.
11. Disturbing Behavior ended up going through five rounds of test screenings as the film was pared down.
12. David Nutter said of the studio cuts to the LA Times: “Their attitude was ‘Let’s just get to the fright beats.’ They felt teenagers wouldn’t sit through a picture that was more than 90 minutes.”
13. The final theatrical run time after all of the cuts was 84 minutes.
14. The 2000 DVD release and 2016 Blu-ray release include 11 deleted scenes as well as the original ending of the film for those who want a feel for what the director’s cut would look like.
15. The SyFy Network often shows an unofficial director’s cut of Disturbing Behavior with the deleted scenes reinserted but with the theatrical ending.
Release and Reception
16. The film earned $7 million on the first weekend and $17.5 million at the box office overall. It had a budget of $15 million.
17. The big dip in box office sales after the first week is partially due to an only one-week showing in some markets.
18. Despite some negative reviews, Katie Holmes won an MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance for her role as Rachel in Disturbing Behavior. She was also nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Performance by a Younger Actor.
19. Disturbing Behavior has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 34%. The audience score is a bit better at 39%. Despite the low rating, this movie is often a favorite of horror fans who were teens in the ’90s. The film’s depiction of social cliques resonated with a lot of people and it also created lifelong fans of James Marsden and Katie Holmes.