Class of 1999 Review
Released during 1990, Mark L. Lester’s campy follow-up to Class of 1984 portrays a bleak near-future in which vicious feuding gangs reign over entire cities across the US. A sombre intro explains that some neighbourhoods have become known as “free-fire zones”, so hazardous that the police will no longer enter them. Youths cruise around junk strewn streets in souped-up vehicles, with many hooked on a dangerous new drug known as “Edge”. In a bid to take back control of schools, a special department has been formed, working under the auspices of shady outfit Megatech – headed by creepy gimlet-eyed Doctor Forrest (Stacy Keach sporting a ridiculous mullet). It emerges that Forrest has developed a trio of so-called “Tactical Education Units”, which are being despatched to the unruly Kennedy High in order to restore discipline. With hostility in the classroom escalating, desperate Principal Langford (Malcolm McDowell) prays they will be the answer to all his problems.
To those unsuspecting students, the three new arrivals at Kennedy High just look like regular teachers and not in the slightest bit intimidating. Yet middle-aged pipe smoking Mr Hardin (John P. Ryan), smartly dressed Ms Connors (Pam Grier) and athletic Mr. Bryles (Patrick Kilpatrick) are not all they initially seem. Hardin warns “I operate a model of absolute zero tolerance” – and he’s not kidding either. Each of them has something quite unpleasant up their sleeve – especially for anyone foolish enough to disobey the rules.
Out on parole and back in the classroom, ex-gang member Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg) is trying to keep his nose clean, but notices that the tutors are exercising ever-increasing levels of brutality to regain control – and chillingly will even resort to murder. He just needs to get the principal’s astute daughter Christie (Traci Lin) on his side and convince everyone else, including gang rivals, that they need to take a stand. There's an amusing scene early on when Culp breaks into the teacher’s residence and comes to the startling realisation that they are in fact more machine than human, since the kitchen shelves are stacked not with food but copious cans of WD40 – essential for preventing those troublesome squeaks during a lecture.
With an overly familiar storyline of androids running amok, the film brazenly draws inspiration from both Westworld and The Terminator - without coming close to matching either. Anyone seeking an intelligent exploration of A.I., or indeed any degree of subtlety should look elsewhere. Class of 1999 is loud, violent and highly preposterous. It's also filled predominately with unpleasant characters - at least its controversial predecessor had people we cared about.
Compared to a myriad of cheap knockoffs that came soon after James Cameron’s original classic, this does at least manage to be better than most. Fans of cheesy exploitation will have a blast watching veteran character actor Ryan and AIP queen Grier going overboard in their flamboyant roles. The decidedly old-school pre-CGI animatronics are well handled too, especially given the modest budget. While the film is not exactly To Sir With Love, it instead follows in the same vein as Lester’s earlier hit Commando, serving up a lots of mindless action punctuated with laughably bad dialogue.
Class of 1999 forms part of an ever-expanding series celebrating the films of eighties indie label Vestron and their eclectic output during the glory days of VHS. They may have struck box office gold with Dirty Dancing, yet many fans will also have fond memories of their quirky plethora of b-movie delights throughout the decade. This third batch of blu-rays also includes Bob Balaban’s jet black comedy Parents (1989) and rubbery monster mayhem in supernatural horror The Unholy (1988). This release marks the HD debut of Class of 1999 in the U.K and is identical to the US disc that surfaced from Lionsgate during 2018. Unlike the original Vestron UK VHS, this edition is completely uncut and has been recently downgraded to a 15 certificate by the BBFC.
Preserving the original 1.85:1 ratio, image quality is perfectly satisfactory albeit a little soft at times, but free from any noticeable defects. For those who remember just how hazy some of those early Vestron films used to look on tape, this is definitely a major improvement.
Audio comes in DTS-HD MA 2.0 and is suitably boisterous at times, especially during a dockside showdown between rival gangs and the climatic pyrotechnics. Dialogue is consistently well-defined throughout. English subtitles are included.
Red Shirt Pictures have provided a generous 80 minutes of new interviews with key members of the crew. Sadly, no contributions from any of the cast members.
Audio Commentary track with Producer/Director Mark L. Lester
School Safety (22:33) - Lester and Co-Producer Eugene Mazzola provide their recollections on making the film. Lester explains how he takes society’s issues of the day and then makes it bigger for the screen. In this case, the story was inspired by him being robbed by a gang in LA. The interview is packed with fun anecdotes, such as how Keach managed to persuade the struggling production to buy him a costly 3,000 dollar syrup to help create his character. There was often tension on set, though Lester is full of admiration for star Grier, who graciously helped those in need during her spare time. Best story is how Lester booked a musician in a bar to provide the music who was unknown at the time, but turned out to be Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails.
New Rules (19:27) - Screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner provides an entertaining interview, explaining how he was a huge fan of the old AIP drive-in films and later made his own movies on super 8. He got the job writing Class of 1999 on the strength of his previous screenplay for Prison (1988). He is enthusiastic about the casting too, especially John Ryan who he describes as “the greatest guy”. Apparently it was also a coup for the production to get veteran stunt man Paul Baxley on second unit, who earlier worked on some of the Don Siegel classics.
Cyber-Teachers from Hell (19:30) - Special Effects Creators Eric Allard and Rick Stratton discuss their work. Allard is a veteran of special effects and designed the remarkable cyborg animatronics used in the film. He’s still very much active in the industry and recently worked on the forthcoming Godzilla movie. Stratton is a make-up artist who has specialised in creating intricate tattoos for characters in a large number of movies.
Future of Discipline (19:04) - Director of Photography Mark Irwin talks about the filming location and stunts. The production rented an empty neighbourhood in Seattle that had been abandoned to make way for an airport expansion. This included a disused high school building, where they were permitted to stage large scale pyrotechnics. Irwin explains how he used an Arri 2C hand held cameras - favoured by Kubrick, in order to fluidly capture the action sequences.
Theatrical Trailer (0:59) – “To graduate is to survive” declares the fittingly sombre voiceover. Plus: TV Spots (1:02), stills gallery (8:42) and video promo (7:47).