This-is-Dystopia! Class of 1984 (1982)
"Last year there were 280,000 incidents of violence by students against teachers and their classmates in American high schools. Unfortunately, this film is based on true events.
Fortunately, very few schools are like Lincoln High...yet."
This static text served as a bleak opening for this cult classic thriller from the early Eighties that was as prophetic as it is disturbing!
Meet Andy Norris, a High School Music Teacher “straight outta Nebraska,” who gets a transfer to a graffiti sprawled Lincoln High, but suddenly realizes that his dreams of being a teacher, is now a living nightmare that he cannot escape...or can he?
Directed by Mark Lester (Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo) and written by Tom Holland, Director of cult favorite, Fright Night, 1982's Class of 1984 is more than a schlock Teenage based film, with its nuanced approach to the subgenre and most importantly, foreshadowing, I rate this as one of my favorite films that debuted during the 80's, a decade that redefined Pop Culture as we know it!
At the start if the film's intro, there is a collage of scenes centering around Lincoln High School, accompanied by Rocker Alice Cooper's "I am the Future," that serves as the template for the hostile environment, that Norris is in for especially when running afoul with 17 year old Peter Stegman and his evil quartet of Punk Rockers: Drugstore, Barnyard, Fallon and Patsy, who has caused the most chaos within the School, from prostitution, racial gang fights, intimidation, extortion, drug dealing and rape, the latter involved 14 year old girl.
Due to the questionable judicial system, Stegman’s gang is immune to prosecution, as Juveniles are a protected class under the law and even so, you would have to have plenty of witnesses, at the scene of the crime prior to pressing charges! Andy sees Stegman more of a serious threat than your ordinary teenage nuisance yet, there is some admiration as demonstrated in this piano piece, which was performed by Timothy Van Patten, himself!
But that’s not enough to win him over, as tension mounts between the prodigy and the teacher that reaches the boiling point. Our once mild-mannered Norris goes on a crusade against Stegman and his Punk flunkies, after a few unfortunate incidents. Now, this is where the narrative takes a serious turn from a game of cat and mouse, leading to dire consequences that ultimately defined '84 as a classic revenge film, at its very core!
Perry King (Mandingo) is convincing as the once optimistic Andrew Norris whose character progresses into a righteous man with conviction who at times, comes across as severely misguided, leading to dire consequences involving those he loves.
Roddy McDowell as the highly cynical Biology teacher Terry Corrigan, serves as the voice of reason, contrasting against Andy's naivete however, he is dependent on alcohol as a coping mechanism especially after a traumatic experience during the film's second act. You can feel his disillusionment to the point of him going off the deep end.
Timothy Van Patten was memorable as the main antagonist, Peter Stegman who is as sadistic as he is narcissistic. Out of the entire cast seconded to Michael J Fox, it would be Van Patten's career, that flourished, albeit late in the game, as he became the critically acclaimed Director of HBO series such as the Sopranos, Game of Thrones, The Wire and Boardwalk Empire.
If there is one thing I can say about Canadian actress Lisa Langlois, is how her role as the equally sadistic Patsy, was integral to this movie. She's perhaps one of the first LGBTQ villainesses from 80's cinema whose while acts of taking pictures during a disturbing scene, predates "revenge porn" and bizarrely enough, her devotion to Stegman is almost akin to Comics ' Harley Quinn opposite Joker. There's also that line where she taunts Norris " come and get it Teacher-Teacher" which sounds exactly like the DC villain. I'm shocked at how, she somewhat had a redemptive moment, hence I can't single her out as a one-dimensional foil.
As an exceptional teenage exploitation flick, Class of 1984 was more than generic or formulaic, unlike Roger Corman's Suburbia. Backed with non-stop acts of brutality to accompany the menacing storyline, thanks to Tom Holland, an impeccable soundtrack courtesy of composer Lalo Schifrin (Magnum Force, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.) and a breakout role for Van Patten who was previously known as that nice guy "Salami" from White Shadow or Lee Van Cleef's heroic protégée from The Master. Now that's acting! This movie was so disturbing, that Paramount, Warner Bros and Columbia Pictures refused to distribute the film due to its disturbing premise and test screenings, which were mostly negative.
And then there were allegations of abuse during the making of this film, as Ms. Langois (Patsy) mentioned how she and the rest of the Canadian cast hated working on this film because they felt mistreated and underappreciated.
"The extras really got mistreated. They hardly got paid. They got peanut butter and jam sandwiches. That scene where the girl (Helena Quinton) takes her clothes off in front of the punks. That was really hard to do. It involved real acting for Tim Van Patton and me because the poor girl didn't want to do that scene. They pressured her into it. She didn't want to take her clothes off. She was shaking. You get intimidated and you don't want to make waves. You're young. You want people to like you. And they make it sound like it's no big deal. That poor girl was literally shaking. I remember it was so sad, my makeup artist was making her up and I was sitting next to her. She told the girl, 'Don't worry, I'll make you up so that no one will recognize you." And I thought, that's NOT just the issue. It doesn't matter whether someone can see your face. The problem is you're taking all your clothes off in front of everyone on set when you don't want to!"
This was Quinton’s first and last film, as she was so traumatized about being pressured into stripping totally naked in a room full of people during that scene, that led her to quit acting.
The payoff at the end, involving Norris' (justified) actions, is satisfactory, despite the far-fetched 'happy ending. "Roger Ebert praised Class of 1984 in an review by saying, "If you're going to make a bad Teenage film, make a good one!" And you know what, he's right!
Now, as for the Blu-Ray release courtesy of Shout Factory, the quality is a step up from the DVD version, with an slightly upscale transfer however, in terms of high definition, it's lacking in some areas. The quality of the film has noticeable grain and one who payed for the special edition would expect better results especially compared to the free streaming service FreeVee which is owned by IMDB slash Amazon. However, its the additional content, which in my opinion, justifies the $18 purchase:
. Commentary with director Mark L. Lester
Mark talks about how impactful various scenes were and a few backstage moments.
· Do What You Love - A career retrospective of Perry King
Actor Perry King reminisces about his earlier roles from Lords of Flatbush, Mandingo and of course, Class of 1984.
.History Repeats Itself - An interview with director Mark Lester and composer Lalo Schifrin
This is self explanatory where Director Lester, mentions how his film foreshadowed the future.
· Blood and Blackboards - Interviews with cast and crew
Great retrospective involving plenty of the cast members but don't expect to see van Patten nor Michael J Fox as they were too occupied with their careers at the time.
Girls Next Door - Interviews with actors Erin Noble and Lisa Langlois
This, was one of my favorites from the disc, where Langlois discussed her role as Patsy with her honest take on the film itself and a modicum of controversy that occurred during the filming process.
Now aside of the praise I have for Class, I would be remised if i didn't being up the "Elephant in the Homeroom."
“Fresh Flesh” Animal abuse?
Now According to Lester, the animal corpses in the science lab were real, and it is important to note that they were never actually killed for the sake of the film but were already dead when they were brought into the set. This, I must take umbrage with. Judging from what was written, some animal wranglers, intentionally killed their animals, Rabbits, birds and a cat prior to delivering the corpses on set for Corrigan's lab. If this is 100 percent accurate, Lester and the production company, should be held accountable for animal abuse, by no uncertain terms! This takes “suffering for one’s art” to a whole new level. Also of note, the smell of the room in which they were placed was so overwhelming that most of the actors and actresses wouldn't enter the room.
In an unfortunate set of circumstance or coincidence as the film reaches it's fortieth anniversary, Teenage Head guitarist Gord Lewis was found dead at 65, while his son has charged with murder.The band made their film debut during a scene in Class of '84 with their signature song, "Stop Making Sense."
The Future is Now! (As History Repeats Itself.)
Mark Lester recants how things have changed after visiting his High School that was once authoritarian, but now lacking in discipline as the rules have changed. This led to Lester performing further research of American High School violence, that primarily had occurred within the urban areas of NYC, Chicago and Los Angeles, where Guns are being brought to classrooms, gang fights, and drug dealing. Those events as with Blackboard Jungle and A Clockwork Orange served as an inspiration for this film.
Despite the cryptic warning at the very beginning of "Class", most of the theater going audience, dismissed the overall production as just some schlock exploitative film, with White Middle class subscribing to the theory that this can only happen to them as in the "Blacks and Browns." But lo and behold, the violence had creeped into their "Schoolyards" for lack of a better term. With Columbine, Parkland, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Umpqua Community College, Red Lake Senior High School, Oikos University, Northern Illinois University, Santa Monica College, Marysville Pilchuck High School, and I’ll be here till 10’ in the morning!
The message is abundantly clear, “Thoughts and Prayers” are not enough. You can shove it up your collective asses unless to take a course of action to curb this epidemic of violence!
Mark Lester went on to direct the sequel “Class of 1994” which features automated “Teachers’ giving discipline toward unruly students. That may be a subject for another day, but intel then, “Class dismissed!”
Class of 1984 is available on Blu-Ray or you can stream it for free on FreeVee.