An allegory in which the subtext out-bullhorns the text itself, the punk trend-hitching, teen actioneer Class of 1984 skimps on little, and even jabs a serrated knife into a pre-stardom Michael J. Fox’s gut. Perry King plays “Teacher-teacher” Andy Norris, a pentagon-jawed new hire at an inner city high school and is shocked to discover that the kids not only run shit, they’re also smug little criminals who the administration, the parents, and even the police aren’t about to discipline. Like the Terry Malloy of the detention hall, Norris turns his untenured trial year into a one-man crusade to either save or vivisect the school’s own baby Scarface. It’s unrelentingly brash, plows toward its climax of repugnant retribution with as the same mononucleic cause-effect obviousness as I Spit On Your Grave (alternate title: I Mark “F” On Your Report Card), and gives effete Roddy McDowall a brandy flask, a 9mm, and not one, not two, but three showstopping crack-up scenes. But no matter how much director Mark Lester attempts to hide his sermonizing behind sensationalistic-pedagogic terrorism, he does himself in whenever a jaded cop shrugs his shoulders and grunts, for the umpteenth time, “What can we do, they’re juveniles?” Or whenever one of the punks slobbers at the mouth and reminds their offended elders, “We are the future, the world is ours.” Or whenever a “good kid,” loopy off a ride on the white horse pushed on him by the “bad kids,” climbs a flagpole and pledges allegiance to his own tragically symbolic death. Class of 1984 is a film that, like Jerri Blank, hollers, “I’ve got something to say!” Only with a little less tact than Jerri. Credit Lester where the guy’s due: the movie works at the base, gristly level to the extent that you watch a teacher saw off his student’s arm in the shop classroom and want to give him tenure. And Timothy Van Patten makes an attractive, intriguingly invincible antagonist (Rosemary’s Post-Adolescent?). He’s a slamdancer without a single scar on his golden visage, a vinyl-and-safety-pin fashion icon who dons prep sweats when lounging around his house so as not to freak out his mom, a monster with a secretly sensitive side that only reveals itself when he sits down to serenade Mr. Norris’s band class with his surprisingly shitty piano playing. But all the skin-tight sleeveless black tops in Hot Topic’s discount bin can’t disguise the fact that it’s a Van Patton, and likewise even cheapshow propaganda hounds for whom Michael Moore is too milquetoast would probably feel Lester’s bid for social insight is compromised by his bloodlust.
For an early '80s B movie, Class of 1984's new DVD transfer actually appears to have a few primary colors among the beiges and grays. Still, it's got a pretty grainy picture-more so than many a New Line production of the decade, though maybe less than most Troma joints. Overall, they sponged off a vibrant transfer from a pale source. The audio comes in the original two-channel stereo and a 5.1 remix that sounds sort of glassy, as though the dialogue had been filtered through a synthesized flange effect. Not helping matters is Anchor Bay's continued subtitle negligence.
Class of 1984 is a certified cult film, so Anchor Bay had no choice but to roll out the special edition treatment. Unfortunately for Mark Lester, the two-pronged forum of commentary track and retrospective documentary gives the director the chance to hang himself with his own overweening confidence. I can't argue with his enthusiasm when he cites Class as his best film (what, against Firestarter?!), though I should admit that I haven't seen that masterpiece of political muckraking Roller Boogie. But laying down the Columbine card and tsking, "I saw this coming decades ago, but y'awl didn't listen to me" is pretty crass, especially coming from a director who had audiences howling for students' blood to be shed. Perry King and Merrie Lynn Ross (who executive produced the film and, taking one for the team, acting the script's most underwritten, tokenistic role so that no one else would have to) seem at least cognizant of the possibility that, if nothing else, the movie's ethical problems are what has kept its cult status healthy. The disc's side dishes include a fantastic trailer (it would've been difficult not to sell this one), TV spots, still galleries, and an endless Mark Lester biography undoubtedly written by Mark Lester.
If Mark Lester really believes Class of 1984 prefigured Columbine, then he must truly believe some kids really do deserve to get taken out. Sick.