Class of 1984

Dir: Mark L. Lester, 1982. Starring: Perry King, Timothy Van Patten, Michael J. Fox, Roddy McDowall. Cult.
Class of 1984

As a remake of Blackboard Jungle, with a lot of A Clockwork Orange thrown in, the ’82 punk rock revenge flick Class of 1984 is still a surprisingly effective piece of exploitation pulp. With a theme song called “I Am the Future” sung by Alice Cooper (shockingly written by long time film and TV composer Lalo Schifrin!) prophetically announcing its intentions— this is a new youth nightmare. Entering the school through metal detectors (now a standard in many urban schools) the hero/teacher in this story, Andrew Norris (Perry King), is shocked at the conditions at his new school, and the kids are much more aggressive and nasty. Blackboard Jungle’s Glenn Ford had it easy compared to this guy. Yes, these aren’t your father’s punk kids anymore.

Shot in Toronto, but sitting in as any mixed-race urban jungle USA, Mr. Norris just wants to teach the good kids music (including a nerdy young Michael J. Fox). But the school seems to be dominated by a punk rock gang led by its genius psychopathic pretty boy, Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), who instantly takes a dislike to Norris for having the gall to want to teach while other teachers like Mr. Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) have just given up. Norris wants to put together a classical music school band and though Stegman can play the piano like that dude in Shine, Norris denies him a spot because of his bad attitude. This begins a deadly showdown between the two.

Unlike the antics of most tough youths in older films, Stegman and his crew are not laughably dated. Their “punk” outfits may look clownish but the danger they produce is still believable and their harassment of Norris is incredibly intense. They rule their punk club like a junior mafia, turning teen girls into prostitutes and dealing drugs while fighting off other gangs (led by their bruiser, Keith Knight who played the chubby geek Finkelstein in Meatballs). Their nihilistic approach to school and life makes discipline utterly impossible. 

After Stegman beats himself up and blames Norris, the innocent teacher confronts the kid’s mother, who coddles and spoils her son, meaning this little monster has no authority over him. This causes Norris to up the ante by vandalizing the kid’s prized hot-rod. Echoing A Clockwork Orange, the gang fights back by attacking and raping Norris’s wife (the film’s co-producer Merrie Lynn Ross). This leads to a deadly showdown during the night of the school concert where the gang goes after Norris while the halls and classrooms of the school are deserted. In classic revenge-flick fashion, Norris turns the tables and cleverly hunts down each of the gang, torturing and killing them. It could be a dull Death Wish knockoff, but besides the ultra-violence this final showdown is actually incredibly suspenseful. 

The pressure that Norris is under slowly builds and TV veteran Perry King proves to be an inspired choice in casting; he hits all the notes just right. Roddy McDowall also does—his Corrigan finally snaps, brandishing a gun to get his students to learn, and then goes on a driving rampage against them. The surfer-looking Van Patten was another unlikely choice to play the violent gang leader of an inner-city school. He shows a lot of potential and has moments where he is very intimidating; he parlayed it into a successful career as one of TV’s most accomplished directors (working on many HBO shows including The Sopranos). As a follow-up to his lightweight disco romp Roller Boogie, director Mark L. Lester does a complete 180 with the dark and sadistic Class Of 1984. He would follow it by directing Firestarter and Commando and then a little-seen sequel, Class Of 1999 (that unfortunately had something to do with robot teachers) before falling into straight-to-video obscurity. 

As far as teen rebellion goes, the best films of the genre from Rebel without a Cause to Over the Edge are usually through the teen’s eyes, giving them good reason to rebel. But Class Of 1984 is an adult nightmare; the film may have been made with the teen market in mind, but it’s terrified of teens and the future they represent. Surprisingly it’s more then just a solid cult film and early ‘80s time capsule, Class Of 1984 is one of the more gripping revenge yarns of its era. Its violence and thrills are completely earned; this isn’t slapped together trash, its creators saw what the future may be and got a lot of it dead right.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Nov 4, 2011 5:47pm
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