CLASS OF 1984
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Produced by Arthur Kent
Written by Mark Lester and John Saxton and Tom Holland
Director of Photograpy Albert Dunk
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Perry King, Timothy Van Patten, Roddy McDowall, Stefan Arngrim, Michael J. Fox
1982/98 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.77:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
School violence is an unsettling and reprehensible thought. But thanks to the media coverage of events such as the Columbine tragedy, incidents of school violence unfortunately aren't as shocking as they used to be. There was once a time when the thought of hostility in the hallowed halls of a school was unheard of. But long before the mass murders that we see today, there were isolated incidents of violence in school. The 1982 film CLASS OF 1984 offers a somewhat prophetic look at a school which is totally out of control.
CLASS OF 1984 is set in an urban high school in an unnamed city. As the film opens, music teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) joins the faculty of Lincoln High with the hope of educating the youngsters. But, Norris soon learns that Lincoln is a war-zone which is ruled by Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his gang of thugs. Norris attempts to maintain an air of order and dignity in his classroom, but Stegman's gang confronts him at every turn. Assuming that teacher's should be the authority in the school, Norris attempts to intimidate the teens, but they don't back down. When the principal refuses to assist Norris in stopping the violence, the teacher decides to take matters into his own hands. What Norris doesn't understand is that Stegman's crew are truly fearless and feel that they have nothing to lose. This battle of wills eventually leads to a bloody climax.
CLASS OF 1984 is an interesting film which lives at the intersection of exploitation and serious drama. The movie presents a (somewhat) exaggerated look at an inner-city high school which has been engulfed in violence and is ruled by the students. Roddy McDowall has a very memorable role as a teacher who comes to school armed -- feeling that is the only way that he can be safe. While the behavior of the students in the film may mirror real-life, CLASS OF 1984 takes things a step further by portraying Stegman and his gang as a mini-Mafia, selling drugs and controlling prostitutes. These scenes have a quasi-ludicrous feel, but the more realistic moments, such as the look at Stegman's home life, give the movie a sense of truth.
Since directing CLASS OF 1984, Mark Lester has had a somewhat lackluster career, but he shows true skill in the pacing of the film and the structure of the story. While the early scenes in the film make it clear that Lincoln High is a scary place, things don't seem all that alien. However, as the struggle between Norris and the gang escalates, the tone of the film becomes more and more urgent. Still, the audience trusts that a resolution will be reached, even if someone gets hurt. However, the third act of the movie becomes totally unhinged and the violent acts are quite shocking -- not only in the way in which they are portrayed, but in the way in which certain characters are effected. Throughout the film, the average audience member will be hoping for the bad guys to get their comeuppance, but few will be expected for the level of violence in the finale.
Along with this shocking and violent story, CLASS OF 1984 features a good cast. Perry King is very good as Norris and he's totally believable as the idyllic pacifist who is pushed too far. Roddy McDowall steals the show as the jaded teacher. Timothy Van Patten is memorable as Stegman, an intelligent, talented teen who craves power. It's very surprising today to see Michael J. Fox in the film. He's in many scenes and becomes a target of the violent behavior. The members of Stegman's gang, Drugstore (Stefan Arngrim), Barnyard (Keith Knight), Patsy (Lisa Langlois), and Fallon (Neil Clifford), are all creepy and threatening.
Again, in this age where students take automatic weapons to school, some of CLASS OF 1984 feels very dated. Also, the white middle-class punk aesthetic portrayed in the movie feels quite different from the urban feel of most high school films of today. While some of the film doesn't come across as fresh, the story still packs an emotional punch and the second half of the movie is difficult to watch at times. CLASS OF 1984 is a depressing and engrossing film which is much more poignant than the average exploitation film.
CLASS OF 1984 graduates to DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.77:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The film has been restored by Anchor Bay (according to the audio commentary) and the image looks good. The picture is sharp and clear, showing only a fine amount of grain at times. The colors are noticeably good, especially the reds. The nighttime scenes are never overly dark. I did notice some mild defects from the source material. The amount of artifacting elements on the image is negligible. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which presents some problems. The dynamic range on the track isn't very well balanced. I found myself having to hold the remote control throughout the film, as I had to turn the volume up in order to hear the dialogue and then quickly turn it down to avoid being deafened by music or loud sound effects. When I could hear it, the dialogue was clear and devoid of hissing. The sound effects, while too loud, sounded OK. The track presented some surround sound effects, but I was often too distracted by my volume adjustments to notice.
The CLASS OF 1984 contains a few extra features. We start with an Audio Commentary from director Mark L. Lester and DVD Producer Perry Martin. This is an informative track as Martin asks many good questions to keep things movie along. Thanks to this, there are few silent moments on the track. Lester gives specifics about the cast and the production of the film. He also talks about the reception which the violent film received and how hard it was to sell. These themes are echoed in "Blood and Blackboards", a 35-mintue featurette which explores the making of CLASS OF 1984. This segment features interviews with Lester, star Perry King, and actress/producer Merrie Lynn Ross. It starts by exploring Lester's early career (my favorite quote, "I was always interested in making political type film...(such as) TRUCK STOP WOMEN and ROLLER BOOGIE.) and then recalls the inception of the film. The main cast members are profiled and Lester recounts the controversial success of the film. The DVD also features a Trailer for the film, letterboxed at 1.85:1 and 16 x 9 enhanced, two TV Spots, a Poster & Still Gallery, and a text biography for Lester.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©