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In the 1980s the teen film emerged as one of the most successful genres of cinema of the decade. Most will recall Porky’s, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Say Anything as highlights of the genre. But in-between the teen sex comedy phrase of the early eighties and the John Hughes tinted view of high school that would dominate the remainder of the decade, there was Mark L.Lester’s self proclaimed masterpiece Class of 1984.

Class of 1984
Feature
To say that Class of 1984 is an under appreciated film is a major understatement. Google Class of 1984 and amongst tragic pictures of people with bad ‘80s hair who graduated from high school in 1984, you may find sparse write ups about this film and maybe a picture or two. While Ferris gets many devoted web pages and almost every movie review site features a review of The Breakfast Club, Class of 1984 is shown very little love. It’s a shame that the film, while constantly referred to as cult classic, is not given more attention and praise, because despite being notorious for being banned in many parts of the world and heavily edited for a UK release, Class of 1984 is a pretty good little film.

Class of 1984 begins with a warning that it is partially based on true events. While this prologue is not particularly shocking by today’s standards, metal detectors and incidents of violence in schools were minimal in 1982. Idealistic music teacher Andy Norris (Perry King) has arrived in town with his pregnant wife Diane (Merrie Lynn Ross) to teach at the inner city high school, Abraham Licholn High. Norris is confounded by the graffiti riddled walls, metal detectors and a gun toting biology teacher, Jerry Colligan (the superb Roddy McDowall). But Norris’s initiation into his new school really begins when he enters his first music class. Norris clashes with the talented, but violent Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his cronies. Norris initially believes he can reason with Stegman and is also momentarily mesmerised when Stegman enters his classroom during a lesson and proceeds to play a beautiful piano solo (written & performed by Van Patten).

But Stegman is strong and smart and revels in his criminal lifestyle, although for most of the film the rest of the gang members appear more twisted and violent than their leader. There is ‘future’s so bright I gotta wear shades’ Fallon (Neil Clifford), who tends to beat up most of the students while also being Stegman’s right hand strong man. Next is the appropriately named Drugstore (Stefan Arngrim), who, when he not shooting up himself, is selling to the students and making wisecracks. Then we have the big guy Barnyard (Keith Knight), who is simply around to add muscle to the group. Finally, there is nasty Patsy (Lisa Langlois), probably the most twisted of the group. Caressing a female student’s neck with a broken bottle, suggesting a potential hooker take her clothes off in front of the gang and then going off to watch when Fallon tests the potential’s ‘merchandise’ are just a few of her stellar moments. She may be the only girl in the gang, but Pasty makes her presence felt. Most of the school, both teachers and students, have succumbed to the reign of the punk gang. Norris and Colligan are the only exceptions. One of the most powerful scenes in the film has Colligan trying to teach his class at gunpoint. He manages to get students who have never answered a question in class to participate and learn by pointing a gun in their face.

Class of 1984
The film successfully builds the tension and terror between the two leads and concludes in a horrific sequence of dual events. As Norris is preparing the school orchestra for their first performance, Stegman and his gang rape and kidnap Norris’s wife and bring her to the school for the final stand-off. As the orchestra plays, Norris slashes his way through the gang and finally comes face to face with Stegman on the roof. The finale is really where the film succeeds as not only is it a satisfying bloodbath of a conclusion, but Lester throws in an ironic coda to finish it off.

Performances are generally solid from everyone involved. Perry King and Timothy Van Patten play off each other brilliantly, while Stefan Armgrim steals almost every scene he is in as the out of it Drugstore. But of course attention must be paid to the one person from this film that everyone has heard of, Michael J. Fox. Playing a wimpy trumpet player, Fox displays nothing in this film that would hint at his later success. If anyone in this film was destined for success it would have to have been Van Patten. But alas he has since gone on to excel behind the camera as an award winning director of HBO shows such as Sex and The City and The Sopranos. In the end the real stand out performance of the film belongs to Roddy McDowall, whose presence in a scene makes everyone else look amateur.

Class of 1984 was born out of director Lester’s desire to create a film that would shock and horrify audiences. He began researching incidents of high school violence and became dismayed by the amount of incidents of students attacking teachers. Thus the teacher vs. student revenge scenario of the film was conceived. Lester, admittedly, was heavily influenced by previous violent high school films like the 1955 classic The Blackboard Jungle. It is often stated that Class of 1984 is a ‘80s punk reworking of The Blackboard Jungle. But Lester seems to borrow more from Stanley’s Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. In fact Lester changed a lot of Stegman’s dialogue to make him sound more like Alex de Barge from that film. The similarities between the two characters are numerous; they are charming, strong and sadistic, but also brilliant. Unlike Alex, however, Stegman does unintentionally appear humorous at times. He looks more like a member of Duran Duran than the Sex Pistols and his dialogue such as the infamous ‘I am the future’ chant boarders on the ridiculous.

Class of 1984
When it was released back in 1982, Class of 1984 received a lot of attention and garnered plenty of controversy for its violence. Critics were firmly placed in two opposing camps: those who loved it (Roger Ebert is often referenced as a major supporter of the film) and those who despised it (Ebert’s movie critiquing partner Siskel comes to mind). Class of 1984 is without doubt an audience dividing film. Upon viewing it you will most likely love it or hate it, there really isn’t any middle ground for this kind of film. I picked up Class of 1984 at my local video store in 1987. I was far too young to be watching an R rated film, but my irresponsible baby-sitter thought the cover looked interesting and so it was bundled in with far more appropriate PG selected fair such as The Goonies and Flight of the Navigator. The film completed freaked me out and I couldn’t sleep for a week. Granted there is nothing especially gory or spooky about the film, but it has a raw honesty that is both confronting and nightmarish.

While the film had a lot of trouble with UK censors in the ‘80s and was banned in other parts of the world, Class of 1984 was released in Australia, both in the cinemas and on video, without any problems. As far I am aware the cuts that were made for the film to be released in the UK were not made for the down under release. However, while this DVD release is the director approved cut of the film, there are longer versions available which contain footage that was cut so the film could get an R rating.

  Video
WOW! For a film that was made in 1981, this is nothing short of a remarkable transfer, which makes the film seem like it was filmed yesterday instead of twenty four years ago. Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 16:9 enhanced, the transfer of Class of 1984 is advertised as a restored print and the resulting transfer certainly reflects this statement. The film looks rich and crisp and is only slightly flawed by some minor imperfections. Grain is occasionally visible and edge enhancement is apparent once. Otherwise, this transfer is a reference for how every ‘80s film should look on DVD. Sharpness is excellent and shadow detail very good, especially considering the film was shot on a very low budget and often on location where lighting would have been problematic. However, this superb transfer presents everything clearly and with exceptional clarity. Colours are impressive, only infrequently appearing slightly muted. Fans should have absolutely nothing to complain about in regards to the visual presentation.

Class of 1984
Audio
The high standard of the visual transfer is repeated with a just as impressive audio track. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, this clear, problem free mix serves both the dialogue and music exceptionally well. Dialogue is always clear and audible and there are no audio sync issues. The synth heavy score by composer Lalo Schifrin comes through well across all channels and the theme song, Alice Cooper’s ‘I Am the Future’, sounds solid and strong and kicks the subwoofer into gear. Directionality and sound separation are utilised well and only enhance the overall audio mix.

Extras
Firstly, it should be noted that while this is the official Australia release of Class of 1984, the disc is actually all region coded.

The most substantial extra is an audio commentary by director Mark Lester moderated by Anchor Bay’s Peter Martin, who propels the commentary along by asking obvious and broad questions. Although without these questions I doubt Lester would have spoken as much. Lester reveals plenty of information about the various Toronto locations used in the film and fondly remembers certain scenes. However, there is not enough information or interesting comment to really make this commentary a standout. Lester is certainly profoundly fond and proud of Class of 1984, but it would have nice to hear a lot more about the casting and shooting of the film.

A nicely compiled booklet contains an interview with Mark Lester and some sparse information about the making of the film and the controversy it garnered upon its release. A photo gallery of around thirty seven images of both publicity stills and pictures from the film is nice viewing. A spoiler filled theatrical trailer and two TV spots advertising the film round out the best extra features. Finally, there are filmographies for stars Timothy Van Patten, Perry King, Michael J. Fox and director Mark L. Lester.

Class of 1984
Overall
The major disappointment with this release is in the extras department. I would have loved a retrospective featurette and some background about how the film was originally received. In his commentary Lester mentions some material he gave Anchor Bay, such as a scrapbook full of the original reviews and articles about the film. Unfortunately, nothing that Lester provided is included on this release. Instead, the commentary stands as the only substantial extra and because of this it appears much weaker than it really should. But Class of 1984 is a film I never thought would receive a DVD release, let alone one with such outstanding video and audio transfers, so there is really nothing to complain about.


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