Sunday, April 12, 2015
CLASS OF 1984 (1982) Blu-ray Review
Class of 1984 (1982) d. Mark L. Lester (Canada)
Andrew Norris (Perry King), vibrant young music teacher and expectant father, leaves his sleepy Nebraska assignment for the big (unnamed) city, and immediately finds himself in the middle of a war between students and faculty. Of course, it's not the entire student body that's gone bad, just a quintet of bad apples spoiling the bunch, radiating bad karma, intimidation, disdain for order, and violent tendencies in their vicious, entitled wake. Their leader, the charismatic Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), is the worst of the bunch, knowing which strings to pull, which loopholes to use. When Norris pushes for change from his fellow educators, he's met with rueful glances or flat-out "go along to get along" directives. (His closest friend, Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) packs a pistol, a flask of whiskey, and a protective armor of apathy to get through the day and isn't afraid to use any of them should the occasion call for it.) Through a series of harrowing personal attacks, the conflict between Stegman and Norris escalates past the point of detention or a trip to the principal's office - this time, the report cards will be written in blood.
Director Mark D. Lester, having wrapped the 1979 cult kitsch classic Roller Boogie with Linda Blair, paid a visit to his former high school in the San Fernando Valley where he was taken aback by the lack of discipline and flagrant disregard for authority. Intrigued, he began to research incidents within the U.S. educational system and, drawing upon several extreme incidents (a student's suicide while on drugs, a teacher who brought a gun to class), created a mythical circle of Hell walled in by blackboards and graffiti.
Up-and-coming screenwriter Tom Holland (Child's Play, Fright Night) took Lester's idea and banged out a solid first draft, with further assistance from John C.W. Saxton (and an uncredited pass by Roller Boogie cohort Barry Schneider). The result was a provocative, visceral, and wildly cathartic thriller that ruled the box office and remains a solid piece of shock exploitation three decades on. (That said, even to these jaded eyes, the sexual assault on Norris’ pregnant wife (Merrie Lynn Ross) seems excessive. I understand it’s there to serve the narrative as the teacher’s final push into vigilante killer territory, but there were other viable options.)
Amping up the juvenile delinquent movies that he loved as a youth, Lester turned his teenage hoodlums into prostitution kingpins and drug dealers, well-versed in the laws that protect minors and the public school system's conveyor belt attitude of "Put up with it until they become someone else's problem." (The incorporation of various elements of the early 80s new wave/punk movement also gave them an alien appearance, as well as an anarchic agenda.)
Rape, murder, and extortion are everyday occurrences, and as the tagline says, "We are the future...and nothing can stop us!" This heightened view was just the ticket for paranoid parents who genuinely didn't understand their rebellious teens as well as the teens themselves - it was all too easy to believe the insanity unfolding onscreen as happening sometime in the not-too-distant future.
The film also enjoyed a boost during its home video reign, thanks to King's mid-'80s role on TV's Riptide as well as a young Canadian actor who was slowly exploding into superstardom: Michael J. Fox had just completed shooting the first season of Family Ties when he was tapped to play a pudgy band geek unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. (For perspective, Fox's next theatrical film was 1985's Back to the Future. Ah, the difference a few years can make.)
Sharp-eyed genre fans might also recognize - beneath the layers of makeup and snazzy duds - the sexy, sassy Lisa Langlois (The Nest, Deadly Eyes, Happy Birthday to Me) as the gang's lone femme fatale. And, of course, there's the always enjoyable McDowall, clearly having a whale of a time gawking at his unfortunate lab animals or subjecting the thugs to a pop quiz at gunpoint. ("What are you doing?" "I'm teaching.")
Shout! Factory commemorates the Blu-ray debut of this cult classic with a bounty of supplemental materials, either ported over from the 2006 Anchor Bay DVD release (Lester's audio commentary, the "Blood and Blackboads" making-of) or new interviews conducted by the consistently terrific Aine Leicht. These include "The Girls Next Door" with Langlois and Erin (Flannery) Noble who played "good girl" Deneen and "History Repeats Itself" with Lester and composer Lalo Schifrin (who reveals it was he who landed his pal Alice Cooper to sing the memorable title track). Both featurettes are a lot of fun, although listening to Langlois once again name-drop John Huston and Claude Chabrol is as tiresome as it was during her Deadly Eyes BR interview. Clue phone, Lisa – you’re a cult actress. If it weren’t for your genre films, no one would be talking to or about you.
Perhaps the best of the lot is the “Do What You Love” segment with the avuncular King, who sits down for nearly an hour to chat about his lengthy and storied career, going as far back as his screen debut opposite Shirley MacLaine in The Possession of Joel Delaney and getting rowdy a few years later with pre-stardom buddies Henry Winkler and Sylvester Stallone in The Lords of Flatbush. The racy theatrical trailer, a couple TV spots, and a stills gallery cap (and gown) the extras.
Class of 1984 is available now for pre-order from Shout! Factory and hits streets Tuesday, April 14. Details can be found HERE:
--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine