Class of 1984 was released in 1982 (ironically the year I graduated high school). I remember hearing about this movie at the time – it had a reputation for being hyper-violent and prophetic: schools are going to hell in a hand basket and it’s because bad kids are getting out of control and good kids are getting lost in the rage. In post-Columbine America I can’t argue with the sentiment, but I can argue about the presentation.
In Class of 1984 young, idealistic Andy Norris (Perry King) takes a new job as a music teacher at Lincoln High School. He soon discovers a chaotic, crime-infested school where punks run the show, and where decent students are not getting an education because the school is more like a jail. Andy quickly befriends the biology teacher, (Roddy McDowell), who packs heat and drinks on the job. Andy begins to understand how seriously bad conditions are at this school when he has a run-in with bad boy Stegman (Timothy Van Patton) and his band of thugs. Andy refuses to let these twits intimidate him and things start escalating after he catches the gang selling drugs. People die, Michael J. Fox (billed here as Michael Fox) gets stabbed, and pregnant wives get raped on-screen (oh, ick!).
Roger Ebert sang the praises of this movie when originally released but I have to respectfully disagree with him here. I will concede that much of this movie, 20 years later, is dated and the dating inevitably colors my opinion, but the biggest thing that doesn’t work for me is some of the contrivances of the script. The authorities in this picture keep insisting that their hands are tied while the thugs get away with anything and everything (and leaving evidence behind which would have had them in Federal Pound-You-In-The-Ass prison in the real world in no time flat). This picture keeps reaching for the gritty realism angle but the seemingly super-incompetent authorities drag the story down.
The other thing that doesn’t work for me is the age of the actors playing the kids. No wonder they are so unruly - most of them look like they’re past the age of 25! I know it is difficult to film a movie using underage actors, but it can be done and the result is a more realistic movie. Over the Edge, from 1979, is a far better movie about nihilistic children (cast with child actors) and I recommend it highly, even if Ebert didn’t like it as much as Class of 1984.
What did work for me was the attitude of the punk school kids. The actors playing them had the “I just don’t give a [BLEEP]” attitude down flat – any one who has had to deal with young thugs who simply don’t care what happens to them will recognize this horrible attitude. I also liked that Andy wasn’t a saint – at one point he is so frustrated that he engages in a little vandalism of his own upon Stegman’s car, and it does nothing but worsen the situation. That was one of the few believable touches. And yes, this movie depressingly predicts things like surveillance cameras and metal detectors in our schools. These small saving graces, however, don’t raise this movie up above its mediocrity.
While I’m smacking around this movie, I’d like to praise Anchor Bay for the DVD. Somebody cared about this movie and gave it the royal treatment. The packaging is attractive, with a see-through case in a cardboard sleeve, and an actual printed insert that gives information on the movie’s director as well as trumpets its cult movie status and prophetic story. I think the picture and sound were cleaned up as best as possible (which is pretty good) – this is a low-budget movie with a mono soundtrack. The picture looks sharp and the sound was remixed in Dolby Surround (2.0 and 5.1). I recall first seeing Class of 1984 in the late 1980s on an old VHS tape where the sound was distorted and the picture murky and fuzzy. I really do not miss my VCR at all.
The extras contain a commentary by the director that is handled nicely by having DVD producer Perry Martin ask director Mark Lester questions, which keeps the track from becoming one of those plodding ‘narrate the scenes’ commentaries. I got mighty tired of the ‘prophetic warning’ remarks, though, which were also repeated in the documentary specifically created for this release. The best of the extras for me are the previews for other Anchor Bay releases. I am totally amused they are coming out with Vice Squad, another sleazy, exploitative movie but made better by a hyper-rabid performance by low-budget actor Wings Hauser. I may have to get that to see if it’s still as funny as I remember it.
Class of 1984 may have been prophetic but the execution is mediocre and a little slimy. The sliminess I can forgive simply because it is a trademark of that bygone era. If I would recommend it to anyone it would have to be people who are interested in late 70’s / early 80’s exploitation cinema because this puppy is squarely in that genre. In the future I hope Anchor Bay finds more worthy sleazy and exploitive movies from that era and gives them a similar high-class treatment.