Friday, October 30, 2009

Random Film Review #1: Class of 1984 (1982)

Andy Norris (Perry King) is starting his first day as the new music teacher at Lincoln High School. He is an emergency replacement for Mr. Goldstein, who had an "accident." Right from the start he is told by fellow teacher Terry Corrigan (the excellent Roddy McDowall) that if you want to survive at Lincoln High, you better learn to look the other way because many of the students are split into violent gangs that run drug and prostitution rings and all but rule the school. Of course, Andy Norris is an idealist, if not just wet behind the ears, and ignores said warning thus igniting a feud between himself and one particular gang of punks led by Stegman (Timothy Van Patten). One thing escalates into another until Norris' primal instincts take over and he becomes as savage and unrelenting as the gangs...and then they rape and kidnap his wife. It should be pretty clear what happens after that.

I actually watched the sequel (or more appropriately, the continuation of themes) to this gem many years back when Cinemax was worth the trouble of sneaking out of bed for late at night, six inches from the screen with the volume just loud enough to not wake the parents. Class of 1999 was basically set in a post-apocalyptic future where teenage gangs ruled vast expanses of land and the school system resorts to employing three military-grade androids to act as teachers and maintain order, that is until their war games training takes over...just try not to dwell too long on why such powerful teenage gangs would bother showing up to school in the first place.

But of course, before there could be cyberpunk, there had to be punk and like most every great 1980's movie, Class of 1984 is firmly rooted in the movement. Nevermind the incredibly lame Alice Cooper song that opens the film, we are soon awash in a sea of thunder face paint, torn sleeves and graffiti'd leather. At the same time, though, writer/director Mark L. Lester (who also was the driving force behind the sequel) understands that it is key to build sustainable characters as the tenuous relationship between Norris and Stegman must be a believable one. While Norris is a bit cliched as the teacher who wants to "make a difference," Stegman is well-drawn out as a genuinely intelligent and sensitive young man who has latched onto his outsider status as so many others did in response to the dynamics of the No Future 1980's. It also has an interesting commentary on how the administration and police are basically helpless in punishing the gangs since the administration is tied down by school politics and the police by the fact that they are all juveniles (not to mention foreshadowing the episodes of extreme school violence that would arise in the coming years). The tension builds through most of the first hour as Norris' frustration grows with both his lack of help in dealing with the youth gone wild and the lengths that they will go to draw out his own baser instincts. The third act is significantly more violent than anything before it and for good measure as there is nothing more disappointing than a slow build to nothing.

Class of 1984 also contains a brief appearance by a somewhat pudgy Michael J. Fox who learns the hard way that snitches get stitches.

Check it out or else I'll cut you, white meat!

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