Monday, August 1, 2011

Bad Teacher, Worse Students

Based on fleeting memories of watching Class of 1984 at a far-too-young age, I had no actual anticipation of writing about it here.
A pile of punky corpses later--one of which belonged to my favorite teenage Antichrist of all time from a little Doll’s House classic known as Fear No Evil--and I realized I’d be missing out on one supreme slasher.

Quick Plot: Meet Mr. Norris, an optimistic high school band conductor making his debut at Lincoln High, the kind of institution where metal detectors are just a formality and the teachers are expected to maybe have a certificate and college education but to definitely have a black belt or revolver. 
On his very first day, Norris manages to make enemies of Peter Stegman, the baby-faced underachiever who spends schoolnights running prostitution and drug rings despite his natural intelligence and piano skills. 

Because Norris is kind of a dolt, the enemyship escalates with every passing weekday, leading to a few of the following:
Biology teacher pal Roddy McDowell’s class pets slaughtered
Norris’ car blown graffitied and, well, exploded
Teacher’s pet Michael Pre-J. Fox stabbed in the gut

Norris is falsely accused of beating a teenager up
Michael Pre-J. Fox’s pal climbs up a flagpole in a drugged out mania and falls to his pledge of allegiancing death
And his even dafter pregnant wife gets gang raped
These are terrible things to have happen to you, but am I a bad person for having to say the dude *kind of* asked for it? Questioning wimpy student Fox in front of the stab-happy gang? Hauling the drug dealers into the principal’s office without any real solid footing for how to punish them? Smashing the bully’s car? Abandoning his loyal band students at their biggest hour?
If I had one problem with Class of 1984, it’s that it was awfully hard to get behind the protagonist when he came off as the biggest idiot this side of the border. Or that side, since it’s fairly clear that Class of 1984 was proudly made on Canadian soil. It’s a minor issue...

In a pretty damn kickass film. Director Mark Lester (working form a script with his, Child’s Play's Tom Holland and actor John Saxon’s screenwriting credits on it) clearly went into filming with a deep passion for his story, as well as a solid and timely hold on the the-emerging punk culture. Everybody onscreen--from lead Perry King to all-star McDowell and all the young thespians reveling in their prime--brings a grand and all-out energy to their roles, making just about every major and minor character believable, interesting, and often both. The actual themes of bureaucratic hand tying and undisciplined youths are a tad heavyhanded but heartfelt enough to hold up strong. It’s a daring and creative film, even when crafting careful homages to A Clockwork Orange.

Oh, and the last 15 minutes are about as gory and violent as Fear No Evil, minus the bully boobs and dodgeball deaths. See Low Points.
High Points
As the baby-faced sociopath building a mob-like empire in high school, Timothy Van Patten’s Stegman is a truly unique and layered villain, part genius, part low-life, part mama’s boy and all fascinating charisma

Goodness can Roddy McDowell elevate material! His most infamous scene waving a gun in front of his laxer students’ faces is easily the heart and high note of Class of 1984, lending a deep, sad, and disturbing weight to what could have been a mere exploitation film

The film apparently won a British Oscar for its costume design, which might surprise you until you really look at some of the styling going on in Stegman’s gang

Low Points
It’s probably more a testament to the many other youth-gone-wild films that have made some common sense seem more possible, but it truly is occasionally straining to accept Norris’ naiveté, particularly on the third ‘why don’t you go stay with your mother?’ plea made to his even airheadier wife
No death by dodgeball or bully boobs.Though credit to this guy for trying:

Lessons Learned
It was incredibly easy to blow up automobiles in the 1980s
Shimmying up a flagpole is easier than you think, at least if you have a sniff of cocaine helping you out
The human heart has four chambers and if you don’t know that, Roddy McDowell will blow your face off
Child labor laws have evolved much over the last 20 years, particularly that whole amendment about not allowing 14 year olds to stab classmates  on orders from their place of employment
I was impressed at how much I enjoyed Class of 1984. It’s gritty and dark, but also incredibly watchable and occasionally quite humorous. Though it’s true that I’ll probably watch this far less than Mark Lester’s lighter, more ridiculous(ly amazing) semi-sequel Class of 1999, it’s still a high recommend for a rental or purchase, particularly since Anchor Bay’s release is loaded with extras. A making-of featurette includes interviews with cast and crew while the director and Anchor Bay producer commentary track is both informative and intersting, demonstrating most importantly that Class of 1984 was a film that everyone fully invested their energy into making. We don’t get enough of those.


  1. I love this movie a lot, not least for Roddy McDowall in another of his many legend-securing roles. You're dead on about Timothy Van Patten's charisma as Stegman. A fascinating character, and a great performance.

    As to the hero's naivete, that's a good point, but it's hard to remember from this distance that, at the time this came out, the idea of metal detectors at the door and police-state high schools was almost inconceivable to most viewers, or certainly in my neck o'the woods. The film was very prescient in some ways, as heavy handed as it was in others.

    Also, I admit I wasn't expecting the extreme violence of the ending...once Mr. Norris went off the deep end, he decided he might as well do a couple of somersaults and jack-knives on the way down!

    I always have a good time watching this one. Great review!

    Also, my comment confirmation code is "Pordfan." I don't know what pord is, but it def sounds like something I'd like! ;)

  2. Very true my trusted friend, this was a kinder time. But still, after this gang BLOWS UP YOUR CAR, wouldn't you start to use a *little* more care in how you dealt with them? Also, have you experienced the wonderment that is Class of 1999? Pam Grier plus the dad from It's Alive as robot teachers, it's beyond amazing.

    I don't know if I'm a fan of Pord. I think I used to be, but then it got really commercial and the makers of Pord forgot what made it so special to begin with. Sad really...

  3. I still haven't seen this or Class of 1999. I'll rectify that asap though, since I need something to lighten my mood. I accidentally went past my 666'th tweet, instead of doing something fun, I was just talking about Roger Moore (although maybe it's fitting, since that number and Roger Moore's Bond probably have a lot in common, haha).

  4. Yay! Love both this film and Class of 1999. Which reminds me... there is an episode of 21 Jump Street called After School Special that seems to have borrowed elements of it's plot from Class of 1984. The episode even features a put-upon teacher pulling a Roddy McDowell and holding his unruly students hostage (at gunpoint, natch) in the classroom.

    And it's also kind of funny how both films employ a British genre actor with the surname McDowell as educators (Roddy in Class of 1984, Malcolm in Class of 1999), something that hadn't dawned on me until now--what can I say I'm a little slow sometimes :)

  5. Oh Chris, I hope you love Class of '99 even 1/99th of how much I do, because that will be enough. And maybe Roger Moore was a closeted Satanist, one never can tell these things.

    Dorian: I am FASCINATED by the idea of a Class of 21 Jump Street episode! On the 1984 commentary, the director talks a bit about how happy he was to get Malcolm McDowell in the sequel since he considered Class of 1984 so heavily influenced by A Clockwork Orange. But hey, even HE didn't acknowledge the McDowel squared coincidence, so you're clearly faster than someone!

  6. It would have gotten more points if Mr. Norris' name was Chuck. Way cooler than Class of Nuke'Em High.

  7. I didn't even realize that Class of Nuke 'Em High was made in direct response to this one! '84 is certainly superior, even in fashion sense.

  8. Great review! I loved this movie since the first time I saw it -- to me it's pretty much perfect! And I love that Alice Cooper theme song. :D

    I must point out, though, that actor John Saxon had nothing to do with the screenplay -- the co-writer is actually John C.W. Saxton, who also wrote Isla, She-Wolf of the SS (!) and co-wrote Happy Birthday to Me.

  9. My wishful thinking has been illicitly transformed into wishful misreading! I could've SWORN the credited writer was "John Saxon," but I now hang my head in shame that no Tenebrae style John Saxon hat dance can cover. I shall edit when I get home, thanks for pointing it out!

    And yes, I can't decide if the theme song is amazing because it's actual quality product or because it's ridiculous, but either way, I adored it!

  10. I ALMOST watched this for a B-movie challenge. Alas, didn't get around to it. But your post will serve as a reminder. I'll need to get it in before gearing up for October.

  11. Highly recommended Burgundy! It's a rare combination of cheese and quality that's both a blast to watch and actually good enough to sit back and admire.

  12. I cannot believe I have never heard of this film. Roddy McDowall waving a gun at students would have been awesome enough, but what you have described sounds amazing. I must see this one.

  13. Indeed you must! HOpe to read your review soon!

  14. Class of 1999 was a bucket of awesome for sure. I wasn't expecting much from that flick, but it had tons of stylish action.. definetly a must watch.

    Mark lester also directed Firestarter, a personal favorite of mine. He was/is a good action director.

  15. I forgot that Lester directed Firestarter! I've been meaning to revisit that one for ages, haven't seen it since I was a kid, back in the good old days when the blond me even bore a strong (according to my mom) resemblance to lil Drew herself.

    That also explains why Cat's Eye was truly terrifying to me.

  16. agree with this review, and your final point was quite right. this was a film that everyone involved in really did put there fullest into. and it shows.

  17. Thanks Adam! It's not a perfect film, but I love that everyone tries to make it one.