Judge Dennis Prince has only one question at this point: what was Alice Cooper thinking?
Take a look at my face,
Take a look at my face,
Well, seems we were all preoccupied with the potential omnipresence of Orwellian predictions such that we let a pretty-boy punk and his few feral attendees take control of the world.
Well, not quite. Nice try, though.
Facts of the Case
Idealistic educator Andy Norris (Perry King, Titans) has arrived at a new teaching assignment: music instruction at Lincoln High School. Apparently, graphic arts is more the rage, as the hallowed halls of this woefully decaying institution are rife with graffiti and infused with a delinquent decadence that threatens to overrun any form of adult-led education. Immediately, Norris is confronted by vicious punk Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten, The White Shadow) and his band of four toughs who proclaim they run the school. Despite their blatant affronts of assault, extortion, drug-trafficking, and prostitution on school grounds, Norris determines to thwart the thugs and lead the school band into what will be a highly visible and well-attended symphonic performance. Meanwhile, fellow staffer and Biology teacher Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes) has taken a different tack on dealing with the insufferable students—he packs a gun and keeps it at the ready in case of unwanted encounters. Norris continues to upset the gang's exploits and unwittingly entangles himself in a brutal showdown with the under-aged assailants. Who will survive and what will have been learned at the end of the day in this Class of 1984?
During the waning days of summer of 1982, studios had either enjoyed a windfall or a withering. Going up against the likes of blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Poltergeist, many filmmakers fumbled in the aftermath of a man named Spielberg. Of course, the mondo-plex cinemas of the day needed something to flicker on their silver screens and that gave opportunity for underachievers like Mark L. Lester and his Class of 1984. The film was a one-off cheapie and theater-goers of the day knew it when they bought their $4.00 ticket. Really, it was a recipe for mild success for Lester as box office patrons queried one another, "You wanna go see Raiders again or this Class of 1984 thing?" (The statistics of those patrons who would soon walk out of Class to ride the Raiders rollercoaster once again are not available at the time of this writing.)
The picture plays like your typical cracker-box theater filler or drive-in dreck, the sort of low-budget fare that either duped unwary ticket buyers or was actually sought out as a potential for laughs following an ad hoc pot party in the parking lot. Both scenarios were valid and audience members either loathed the heavy-handed histrionics on screen or belly laughed at the absurdity and cheered on the demise of the delinquents.
It was August of 1982 when Class of 1984 was in session, and movie patrons were certainly experiencing a hangover from the previous months' high-tilt offerings (also including the likes of Rocky III, The Thing, or even Annie). As they sleepily ambled into auditoriums to watch the unfolding of this high school under attack by five youths that somehow couldn't be stopped by the mass population of other students and faculty combined, viewers realized the sun wouldn't come out tomorrow for these unfortunates, nor would a refund be coming for the paid ticket price. Instead, those seated in the auditorium either curled their lip in disaffection and disapproval, or took part in the interactive entertainment whereby the audience enjoyed verbally assaulting the punks' hijinks and the flaccid faculty's reactions. If the film has ever been regarded a "cult favorite," it's because the audience is laughing at the picture.
Perry King plays his role rather steadily, albeit not believably. His character of Andy Norris is to be cheered as the only one in the film to have the 'nads to confront the punks. His naïve nature is too pure to be considered acceptable, apparently having no clue of the situation he was stepping into as he took the job at Lincoln High. He cluelessly endangers his pregnant wife (Merrie Lynn Ross, General Hospital) and never feels compelled to vacate the position regardless of the mounting tension and deplorable doings of the creepy kids. Timothy Van Patten is too much of a pretty boy to be taken seriously as the ringleader of the gang, his nouveau-'80s zipper shirts and perfectly coifed bouffant 'do (a la The Romantics) making him appear more likely to be a victim rather than an instigator in this crumbling school. His entourage is made up of actors who aren't very intimidating, including a rag-wearing drug dealer, a tough-guy Mad Max wannabe, an obligatory fat dude, and a pasty-faced lesbo skank. One look at these anemic assholes and you'll immediately wonder why the rest of the student body hadn't already stomped them into oblivion. Roddy McDowall does the best among the cast, clearly going above and beyond to make something out of nothing here. His is probably the most satisfying confrontation as he attempts to actually teach these cretins by way of his own brand of learning aid. Oh, and who's that pudgy-faced trumpeter, favorite of Mr. Norris? It's Michael Fox (before he inserted the "J."), giving his Alex Keaton character from the upcoming Family Ties a test drive, armed with just a learner's permit and dutchboy haircut that will uncomfortably remind you of Mary Lou Retton.
Of note to many folks familiar with this film is the title song sung by none other than the legendary Alice Cooper. Unfortunately, Alice was in a bit of a "reinvention" period here. He had kicked his substance abuse troubles several years earlier (chronicled in his excellent album, From the Inside) but was struggling to emerge in the wave of industrialized rock. His 1980 album, Flush the Fashion, made it clear he was in between personae, evidenced further by his soldier-of-fortune foray with 1981's Special Forces. He ultimately morphed his act into "splatter rock," taking a cue from all the on-screen bloodletting of the new decade and incorporating sangre spillage in his concerts. This likely made him a decent candidate for laying down a track for this film but, woefully, it was not of his penning and clearly maestro Bob Ezrin was nowhere in sight. The result, "I Am the Future," is a tepid tune that left most puzzling, "Alice…why?" You'll hear it twice in a screening of Class of 1984.
Despite all of this, Anchor Bay Entertainment has seen it fit to issue a special edition of Class of 1984 on DVD. The packaging is slick and the promise of special features is alluring enough. Unfortunately, the feature itself still hasn't been able to shake loose of its low-budget look. The picture quality is mediocre, very soft with colors that tend to seep into one another when they're not obscured in uncontrolled areas of murky blackness. The widescreen presentation gives you a look at the entire frame (unlike earlier VHS releases), but you'll quickly find you weren't missing anything.
The audio is just as bad, maybe worse. The disc features a new 5.1 mix that is heavy on ambient noise at the expense of intelligible dialogue (I honestly thought my center channel had crapped out). The 2.0 stereo track is even worse. Still, if you're looking to relive the drive-in experience, well, then consider this a stroke of engineering genius on the part of the Anchor Bay team. If that's the case, then bravo!
But is the special edition all that special? Well, that part of the program begins with a running commentary featuring director Mark L. Lester, accompanied by Anchor Bay DVD producer Perry Martin (I guess no one else associated with the actual film wanted to traipse down this particular memory lane). It's an odd commentary—even unsettling—as Lester unabashedly congratulates himself for having uncanny foresight to predict the sort of events that would ultimately unfold in the tragic Columbine incident. He seems happy enough to proclaim he had the precognitive power to anticipate metal detectors and armed guards within the school halls but, as stated repeatedly in this commentary, it's rather creepy and largely inappropriate. The 35-minute featurette, Blood and Blackboards, culls current interviews with Lester along with Perry King and Merrie Lynn Ross. It's mildly interesting as far as nostalgic jaunts go but, again, is rather self-congratulatory. A widescreen trailer of the film is here (looking better in quality than the film itself) as well as a still gallery chock full of film frames and marketing material. And, if you're still not satisfied that you've seen and heard everything about the film, the disc's DVD-ROM content includes the screenplay.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Class of 1984's redeeming quality is its existence as an artifact of the emerging 1980s culture. Still in a somewhat daze from the disco '70s and approaching a plasticized pop culture of the new decade, this picture is one of those films that will likely be recalled during VH1-type retrospectives, held up as an oddity or maybe guilty pleasure. It's certainly enjoyable on that level and, if that's your indulgence, you should enjoy this look back, 25 years after the fact.
It's not yet evident that Class of 1984 has garnered bona fide cult status except within a small circle of moviegoers who recall the summer evening when they stumbled across this one while gulping down a Tub O'Coke. It's enjoyable to hiss and cat-call and you'll likely join in the fun of rooting on one character or another throughout the proceedings. Lower your expectations, and you'll likely get a few kicks out of this minor motion picture.
While this court cannot condone the childish outbursts of the characters of Class of 1984, to give them much more attention than that would certainly just feed their need to be noticed. Not gonna do that.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Feature Commentary with Director Mark Lester
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