Class of 1984
In one of the more notorious exploitation films of the 1980s, Perry King stars in Class of 1984 (1982) as Andrew Norris, an idealistic music teacher with high aspirations for his new job at a big, inner-city high school. But his naiveté takes an immediate blow as he orients to the rough campus where students pass through metal detectors and teachers must fill-in for an understaffed security force and police the hallways. Although a nervous biology teacher (Roddy McDowall) tries to prepare Norris for the lawless student body, the new teacher's straight-laced commitment to principle runs him afoul of a vicious student gang led by the charismatic psychopath Stegman (Timothy Van Patten). Like a Mafia boss in punk's clothing, Stegman coolly controls the school's drug and prostitution rings, and he doesn't tolerate challenges to his authority from the likes of Norris. When Norris elicits help from both the administration and the police, his pleas are met with weary resignation, but he stubbornly persists in confronting Stegman's Clockwork Orange-lite reign of terror himself. A remake of Blackboard Jungle (1955), which was a controviersial film in its day, Class of 1984 (which kicks off with a depressingly anemic title anthem from Alice Cooper) is strictly pedestrian stuff during its first half, adding just enough sensationalism to overcome its prosaic writing and lack of style. King, who would become a minor TV star a few years later on the series "Riptide," is believably earnest, but dull, and only Van Patten's malevolent charm and McDowall's scenery-chewing neuroses distinguish it. But director Mark Lester, who co-wrote the screenplay with Tom Holland (who would later write and direct cult favorites Fright Night and Child's Play), pulls off a searing second-half rally as the conflict between teacher and student escalates from mere posturing to unrestrained violence. At times brutal and irredeemable (particularly a crucial, almost unwatchable scene in which Stegman's gang terrorize Norris' pregnant wife, played by Merrie Lynn Ross), the last act of Class of 1984 is bold, gripping, and cathartic, and elevated to a level of bloody hysteria that transports its admonishing intentions to a ridiculous frenzy that more than earns its lasting cult status. While Van Patten, fresh from the daring TV series The White Shadow, is the unparalleled star of Class of 1984, he made little subsequent mark as a performer, becoming instead a major TV director, finding his niche at HBO helming several episodes of "Sex and the City," "The Wire," "Deadwood," "Rome," and "The Sopranos" (for which he also wrote the series finest single episode, "The Pine Barrens"). Only chubby bit player Michael J. Fox emerged from the young cast as a considerable star. Stegman flunkies Stefan Arngrim and Lisa Langlois do a good job making their fairly anonymous characters stand out. Director Lester leveraged his clout from the movie's notoriety for three shots at a studio career, directing the disappointing Steven King adaptation Firestarter (1984) , the Arnold Schwarzeneggar hit Commando (1985), and the miserable comedy flop Armed and Dangerous (1986), before slipping back into Z-movie obscurity. Anchor Bay presents Class of 1984 in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). Lester provides an interesting commentary track, and this disc also includes the very good 25-minute retrospective, "Blood and Blackboards," as well as the theatrical trailer, two TV Spots, and a poster & still gallery. Keep case in paperboard sleeve.
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