Class of 1984 Review
Independent filmmaker Mark L. Lester started out in the seventies making low budget movies for the fervent drive-in crowd. This is the director who once brought the world Linda Blair on skates in the lamentable disco-era Roller Boogie, then later struck box office gold with the gloriously excessive Commando. Between those guilty pleasures came arguably Lester’s best movie by far – Class of 1984, a potent reworking of The Blackboard Jungle. Released in 1982, the film is considered prophetic by forewarning how violence in American public schools could spiral dangerously out of control.
The story begins as dedicated new music teacher Andy Norris (Perry King) arrives for his first day at Lincoln High and is horrified at what greets him. The entire place is daubed in graffiti, students pass through airport style scanners to check for concealed weapons, guards patrol corridors and activity is closely monitored by CCTV. Intriguingly, such measures didn’t exist in most schools when this film was made, though sadly it doesn’t seem quite so farfetched now.
This inner-city school is under the stranglehold of delinquent punk gang, who disrupt lessons, fight and deal drugs seemingly with impunity. Norris aims to end their reign of terror, causing him to clash straightaway with their aggressive leader Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten). Embittered colleague Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) warns ominously “If you want to survive, you’ve got to learn to look the other way”. Naturally, Norris doesn’t heed this advice, soon finding himself the victim of pranks and wanton vandalism – with far worse to come.
Despite a well-worn theme, the film is distinguished by some earnest performances. King is very believable in the role of Norris, a pacifist who grows enraged at all the wrongdoing taking place around him. When reaching out to Stegman proves futile and the authorities are ineffectual, he's driven to retaliate. McDowall is wonderful too – almost stealing the film - as a meek soul once dedicated to his profession, gradually worn down by the system and pushed to the end of his tether. Corrigan has hit the bottle and now speaks with sadness in his eyes, resigned to the fact that things won’t get any better. There’s a standout scene when he finally cracks following an unspeakable act and holds the terrified class at gunpoint, ordering Stegman and his cohorts to recall what they have been taught…or else.
Other notable cast members include a young Michael J. Fox – saddled with an unflattering bowl cut, as Arthur. He's one of the likeable kids who just wants to keep his head down and play in the orchestra with pal Deneen (Erin Noble), yet always seems to be in the wrong place when trouble strikes. It might only be a small part very early in his career, but the actor’s natural charisma already shines through.
The screenplay, co-written by Tom Holland, does at times play against expectations. Stegman – chillingly brought to life by Van Patten, is a psychopath, but not your one-dimensional villain. He has a penchant to spout profundities, such as “life is a pain” and in one surprising scene is also revealed to be a musical genius. Stegman’s four sidekicks are less well-drawn, though Lisa Langlois as sneering Patsy manages to be memorable simply for sporting some outlandish fashions. Just don't expect the punk subculture to be explored in any depth, despite an effective soundtrack that includes 80s Canadian rockers Teenage Head (who appear in a club scene) and veteran Alice Cooper wailing "I am The Future".
Admittedly, this doesn't stray too far from the conventions of an exploitation film, with some of the excesses that you might expect. However, Lester draws on his experience and manages to make this a better than average example of the genre. Class of 1984 is a taut, gritty revenge thriller that grabs hold and doesn't let go, building to a memorably nightmarish climax.
Class of 1984 makes its UK debut on blu-ray, released by 101 Films in a limited dual format edition (3,000 units) and forming part of their impressive Black Label Collection – this is no. 7 in the series. Sourced from the same transfer used by Shout Factory in the US, this is essentially the complete “R” rated theatrical version, as approved by director Lester. It is also identical to an earlier 2005 DVD released by Mosaic in the UK and Anchor Bay in the US. Prior to that, the film had a chequered history in the UK, having been heavily cut by over 4 minutes for its original cinema release in 1983 and later refused a certificate for a VHS re-release during 1987 (it was available briefly on tape from Thorn EMI prior to the Video Recordings Act 1984).
Presented in a ratio of approx. 1.78:1, the HD image is in very good shape, with only some light filmic grain visible, but no discernible signs of damage. There is plenty of fine detail evident, with an abundance of graffiti scrawled over walls in the background more noticeable than ever. Skin tones look consistently natural.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound mix is suitably punchy during the action sequences and the dialogue is distinct throughout. English subtitles are included.
While several featurettes are ported straight over from the previous Shout Factory disc, 101 Films have surpassed that earlier 2015 release by adding a raft of brand new material.
Life Is Pain (35:00) - An intriguing new interview with writer Tom Holland who takes us through his early days as an actor, later becoming a screenwriter and then a successful director. He discusses writing Psycho 2 (1983) and also directing cult favourites Fright Night (1985) and Child's Play (1988).
Girls Next Door (16:14) – Interviews with Lisa Langlois, who played delinquent Patsy, and Erin Noble who took the role of Deneen. Langlois reveals that she worked twice for French filmmaker Claude Chabrol in the seventies. However, the Canadian actress explains that she was not initially considered to play the bad girl in this film, so had to push for the part, thinking it would be more fun. Apparently it was sometimes a chaotic shoot, made cheaply on location in a real Canadian school, often involving a large number of young extras. Noble considers Van Patten “the nicest guy”, but reveals that at this point he was already growing despondent with acting – he would later become a distinguished director of television dramas such as The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire.
History Repeats Itself (20:59) – A 2015 interview with independent filmmaker Lester, who talks of being a huge fan of 50s and 60s exploitation movies, citing High School Caesar as one of his many influences. The writing and casting of the film is discussed, plus subsequent challenges with distribution – it was deemed too controversial by the major studios. Esteemed composer Lalo Schifrin -sporting a snazzy jumper - talks about his acid rock contribution.
Do What You Love (46:52) – Perry King talks candidly about his career, including early roles in The Possession of Joel Delaney, Mandingo and the 80s TV show Riptide. He provides lots of great anecdotes, including working with Sylvester Stallone, Andy Warhol and valuable words of advice given to him by veteran Claude Rains – “always be enthusiastic". No mention of his unsuccessful audition for the role of Han Solo, but there’s an amusing impression of Dino De Laurentiis.
Blood & Blackboards (35:35) – Further archival cast and crew interviews (taken from an earlier Anchor Bay release). Plus: photo gallery (4:43) and the original US trailer (3:19)
A limited edition booklet - includes new writing by Scott Harrison and an interview with director Mark L. Lester by Phillip Escott.