WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
To preface this review, I must confess that CLASS OF 1984 flew under my radar until recently. This is kind of a shocker because I’m pretty familiar with several of director Mark Lester’s early efforts. I cheered on the invincible Ah-Nuld Schwarzenegger in COMMANDO, laughed at the hijinks of John Candy and Eugene Levy in ARMED AND DANGEROUS, marveled over the pyrokinetic powers of Drew Berrymore in FIRESTARTER, and discovered up-and-coming action superstar Brandon Lee (just before his untimely death) in SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO.
Then one fateful day in my early teens, I made another Mark Lester find when I came across a VHS tape of CLASS OF 1999 at my local video store. The description on the back sounded interesting, so I gave it a rental, and witnessed what I assumed was just another TERMINATOR rip-off. I enjoyed it, but it was soon forgotten as the number of movies I watched continued to grow.
Fast forward to March of 2015, when I got a press release in my inbox from Scream Factory, touting their upcoming release of CLASS OF 1984. After a bit of research I learned that CLASS OF 1999 was sort of a followup to CLASS OF 1984 (and not just chronologically), so out of pure curiosity, I picked up a copy. And damn it, I was glad I did!
CLASS OF 1984 takes place in a “future” where violent teenagers and gangs hold sway over the student body, and disillusioned faculty, at Lincoln High. At the center of it all is a psychotic genius named Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), the school’s main bully and drug dealer. Backed up by a group of loyal delinquents, Stegman rules the roost, until an idealistic teacher named Andrew Norris (Perry King) takes over as the school’s new music teacher.
Norris tries reaching Stegman and his cronies, then tries to have them expelled for selling drugs, but nothing sticks. Eventually a war breaks out between the once mild-mannered Mr. Norris, and Stegman and his vicious followers. Harmless pranks and empty threats ultimately build to horrifying physical violence, and as the film heads towards its conclusion, hunters become the hunted, when Norris transforms into the very thing he is struggling against. (“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…”)
CLASS OF 1984 is a fantastic film, and I hate myself for waiting this long to see it! Though it’s mainly a dramatic thriller, once the third act fires up, the film quickly becomes a super-violent revenge flick that makes it a worthy addition to the growing Scream Factory catalog. As an added bonus, the cast for this film is surprisingly good.
Perry King proves to be a capable lead and provides us with a protagonist we can root for, namely Andrew Norris. When he first comes to Lincoln High, Norris is positive and looking to make a difference. His goal is to reach at least some of his students. But as the film progresses, Norris snaps and cuts a swathe through Stegman’s crew to rescue his wife during the climax.
The one-upmanship between Stegman and Norris is a case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Both men have opposing ideologies (chaos vs. order) and neither will back down or give up. Their conflict drives this film, and it is exciting to see Perry King’s character pushed to his very limits. After Stegman and his crew burn up his car with a Molotov cocktail, Norris returns the favor in kind by hot-wiring and smashing up Stegman’s Plymouth Fury. As I watched this unfold, I actually begin laughing and cheered on the enraged teacher. It’s easily one of this film’s best moments!
Also taking part in the battle against Stegman is a fellow teacher named Terry Corrigan, played by the amazing Roddy McDowell. Corrigan gets pulled into the conflict when he helps Norris rescue two students (one if which is played by Michael J. Fox!) from Stegman’s gang. In retaliation for Corrigan’s interference, Stegman and his goons sneak into the teacher’s lab and murder his pet rabbits. This proves to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and leads to a wonderfully tense sequence where Corrigan tries to “teach” his class by threatening the students with a handgun.
And what of Stegman himself? Well Timothy Van Patten is brilliant as the main antagonist of CLASS OF 1984. He’s actually a complicated character, in that he’s clearly psychotic, and perhaps even a tad sociopathic, but has a few brief moments where a bit of humanity seems to peek through. There’s definitely an internal struggle going on inside of him.
This is particularly illustrated early on in the movie, when he shows off his piano skills to Norris (playing a concerto that was actually written and performed by Van Patten himself). When Stegman demands to be recruited into Norris’ proposed high school orchestra, it’s almost shocking when he appears legitimately upset after being denied a spot.
Van Patten’s character is also a very calculated villain that is aware of how the law works. Stegman and his pals are still considered juveniles, so the police are very limited in what it can do to punish them, especially if there’s no evidence or witnesses. This proves to be utterly frustrating for Norris who keeps trying to get the authorities involved, only to watch Stegman and his friends get off scot-free.
This generational war eventually comes to a head when Norris’ wife Diane (Merry Lynn Ross), is raped and kidnapped by Stegman and his gang. Norris races to her rescue, and is toyed with and repeatedly beaten by the sadistic teens, until he turns the tables on them. One by one, Norris exacts bloody vengeance upon them all, and it is awesomely brutal. I won’t ruin it for you, but let’s just say that various tools in the school’s wood and machine shops are put to good use.
To conclude this review, all I really have left to say about CLASS OF 1984 is that it’s a great film that I’m eager to watch again. It boasts a talented cast, a solid script, and a rockin’ soundtrack composed by Lalo Schifrin (who also wrote the music for the film’s memorable theme song “I Am the Future,” performed by Alice Cooper.) I do have a few complaints about CLASS: The scenes between Andrew and Diane Norris are kind of sappy (though this was probably done on purpose in order to reflect the “perfect life” Norris has at home) and I think the escalation between Norris and Stegman was a bit rushed.
But those are just minor quibbles, because I love this movie, and it highly recommend that you seek it out. Few films manage to etch themselves as deeply into my mind as this one has, and I can’t wait to share it with others! CLASS OF 1984 has suddenly become one of my all-time favorite movies, and I hereby award this cult classic a rating of:
Packaging: CLASS OF 1984 comes in a standard Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover showcasing Scream Factory’s newly created artwork for the film. As is usually the case, the Blu-ray insert can be flipped around to feature the original poster art.
Audio & Video: Scream Factory’s disc offers up DTS Master Audio in both 2.0 Mono and 5.1 surround sound. The dialogue and awesome soundtrack all came through nice and clear on my surround speakers. The film is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen format and boasts a great transfer made from a new high-def scan of the film’s original interpositive.
There is grain present throughout, and the image is at times a bit soft, but overall I was more than happy with how the movie looked on my TV. It’s not perfect, but any issues probably stem from the condition of the source material.
Extras: Since this release is a “Collector’s Edition,” Scream Factory loaded it with a good number of special features. Along with the original theatrical trailer, two TV spots, a still gallery (with scenes from the film, posters, and lobby cards), there’s also a feature-length commentary by director Mark Lester that was carried over from the previous Anchor Bay DVD release. As of writing this review, I have yet to listen to the commentary, but I plan to remedy that in the very near future!
Also ported over from the Anchor Bay release was the half-hour featurette Blood and Blackboards which contains various cast and crew interviews. There’s a lot of great info here, plus several extremely interesting anecdotes about the making of the film. (e.g. Everyone was disappointed with the original ending, which had Stegman killing himself as a final “screw you” to Andrew Norris.)
The remaining extras on the disc are all brand new: The Girls Next Door is sixteen minutes long and features interviews with Lisa Langlois (Patsy) and Erin Noble (Deneen). There’s a lot of fun tidbits of info here (Lisa Langlois had next to no lines of dialogue, so she did a lot of improv to build up her character), and both actresses seem to have fun recollections of the shoot.
History Repeats Itself is twenty-one minutes long and features interviews with director Mark Lester, and composer Lalo Schifrin. The best portion of this is when Lester tells about the trials and tribulations of getting his film distributed. He went from having a disastrous public screening (populated by young teenage girls and their mothers), to self-distributing the film and watching it become an overnight success. Also, Lester mentions that he’s currently penning a modernized remake of CLASS OF 1984 which will be set within a private school. Whether it becomes a reality remains to be seen!
Finally there’s Do What You Love, a nearly hour-long interview with lead actor Perry King. It covers a large part of his career, focusing mostly on his early pre-CLASS OF 1984 roles. This interview is quite engrossing, with King reminiscing about portraying Chico in THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH (apparently staying in character saved him from an ass-whooping), declaring that his all-time favorite role was portraying a homosexual man in A DIFFERENT STORY, and humorously explaining how he didn’t quite understand his part in Andy Warhol’s BAD, until it was too late.
Eventually (with about six-minutes left) he briefly delves into CLASS OF 1984, and he seems to be less enthused with it, than he was in the Blood and Blackboards featurette. He seems to have enjoyed working with Mark Lester and the younger actors, but was apparently not a fan of the violence that takes place in the final act of the film. While I was hoping for more dirt on the making of CLASS, I was not disappointed with this interview because Perry King is such a fascinating person!
Final Verdict: This is yet another stellar effort from Scream Factory! The audio and video presentation of CLASS OF 1984 is above average, and the disc contains a wealth of extras. This is easily a must own title whether you’re a Scream Factory junky or not, and worthy of: