|Review||Class of 1984 (1982)||Director||Mark L. Lester|
|Writers||Tom Holland, Mark L. Lester and John C.W. Saxton – Barry Schneider (uncredited)|
|Starring||Perry King, Roddy McDowall, Timothy Van Patten, Merrie Lynn Ross, Lisa Langlois and Michael J. Fox|
„I am the future!“ – Peter Stegman
Throughout the years I‘ve read countless reviews stating a number of reasons why a particular film is noteworthy; 3 reasons why „Alien“ (1979) is the greatest horror film ever – 5 reasons why „Blow-Up“ (1966) is an existential masterpiece etc. and I wanted to give it my 10 cents worth. It‘s a bit gimmicky but I‘ve always had a kind of fondness for these kinds of reviews. My choice is the cult classic „Class of 1984“, in many ways a socially irredeemable piece of exploitation fare but one that scores endlessly high on the entertainment scale and gives into the viewer’s sense of Neanderthal justice done right.
Andy Norris (Perry King) is a music teacher subbing at Lincoln High. Immediately he notices that a fellow teacher, Terry (Roddy McDowall) is carrying a gun in his briefcase and the school looks more like a battle field than a place for learning. Pretty soon Andy runs afoul with a nasty student named Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his gang of friends and their animosity only escalades. A high point is reached when Stegman and his gang go after Andy’s pregnant wife (Merri Lynn Ross) and a bloody final battle ensues on school grounds.
It’s embedded deep within most of us to see justice fulfilled and when traditional ways aren’t working we are more than OK with the fact that the good guys resort to violence against irredeemable punks. It appeals to the Neanderthal in all of us and classic vigilante fare like Charles Bronson’s “Death Wish” (1974) and its sequels channel this expertly. “Class of 1984” takes things a bit further and manipulates the viewer entirely into cheering on an adult in extinguishing a number of youths in brutal fashion. But then; next to recent fare like “A Serbian Film” (2010), “Antichrist” (2009) or the likes of “Human Centipede” (2009-2015) a small cult film like “Class of 1984” will feel very tame in comparison.
But anyway! Here’s 5 reasons for why I think “Class of 1984” is a film worth your time.
– Major spoiler alert with the rest of this review! –
5. School violence and student drug abuse was a rising problem in 1982
Director Mark L. Lester picked up on news coverage concerning school violence all over the US and wanted to make a feature about it. Public stats from 1982 stated that over 1.000 killings were perpetrated by adolescents. In “Class of 1984” the students have to walk through metal detectors and security guards confiscate a whole lot of objects that can be used as weapons. These kinds of security measures aren’t common in schools today I think (let alone in 1982) but it is practiced in some. School violence has risen in every decade and are at an all time high in many areas. Along with spotlighting this issue the film also deals with visible the usage and selling of drugs…and even the “decent kids” are tempted. Movies like “Blackboard Jungle” (1955), “High School Confidential” (1958) and “To Sir, With Love” (1963) had covered some issues in schools but none took it as far “Class of 1984” had up to then.
4. The teacher is defenseless when it comes to his students
If it‘s word against word then the student gets the benefit of the doubt. „You expect teachers to be resonsible,“ says the principal to Andy with the subtext being that the same can‘t be expected of the students. In one scene where Andy and Stegman are alone the student resorts to harming himself and a bit later Andy is charged with assault. Another scene shows Stegman and his gang torch Andy‘s car and his subsequent charge with the police is met with disinterest. „These kids can have 20 other kids swear they were with them in an instant,“ says the police officer. An even better line is when Andy is told that „you have to be holding the student‘s hand while he‘s robbing you if you want the charges to stick,“ by the same police officer. When Andy feels the full force of Stegman and his gang and is greeted with closed doors everywhere the viewer can really experience the horror he goes through.
3. Timothy Van Patten is sensational!
The entire cast does a terrific job in „Class of 1984“. King and Roddy McDowall are top notch and there‘s even an early role for the terrific Michael J. Fox who excels as always. But it‘s Timothy Van Patten as Stegman who really shines here.
Stegman resorts to a Nazi salute when he tells Andy his name and his gang do the same. You can very easily see how this guy can charm his way into a leadership role and he has the talent, brains and evil nature to assert his position. He‘s a complex persona though and this is only hinted at. A very good scene shows Stegman is exceptionally talented at playing the piano and he disarms Andy with a beautiful tune…but this lasts only a short while. It‘s the calm before the storm and the viewer gets a glimpse of the peron Stegman could have become.
Stegman is the kind of person the audience loves to hate and Van Patten was simply the perfect actor to portray him.
2. A teacher brandishes a gun in the classroom
It‘s a common joke joke among teachers that in order to get the students‘s undivided attention they‘d have to put a gun to their heads. Well here they give it a go! Terry resorts to pointing a gun at his students and as a result they are scared shitless but they do listen to him and participate in class. There’s even a semi-comic scene where one of Stegman’s gang members answers correctly a biology question from Terry.
At this point Terry has been completely broken down by the gang and the experienced teacher is finding it an impossible job to have a positive influence on developing minds when so many rotten apples get away with anything. His ideals are shattered and despair has taken over.
1. Andy kills Stegman and his gang
Not one to back down when close to the finish line; „Class of 1984“ pulls no punches in the final moments when Andy confronts the gang after they have viciously assaulted his wife. These kids are simply so despicable and the viewer is delighted when Andy mercilessly kills them in graphic fashion one by one on school grounds. This is the most basic kind of justice as these kids would have returned to former ways had Andy showed any mercy. It‘s the kind of ending most viewers crave for but my guess is you‘ll feel a little bad soon after feeling so good. I mean; it‘s kind of wrong to cheer on a teacher murdering his students, no matter how rotten they are. Right!
In the end; „Class of 1984“ is severely exaggerated, not all that logical and really quite irresponsible but is sure is effective and entertaining.