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BLU-RAY REVIEW: “Class Of 1999” takes us to rock ‘em sock ‘em high school

Monday, March 11, 2019 | Blu-ray/DVD

By ALEX DELLER
Starring Bradley Gregg, Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, Patrick Kilpatrick, Malcolm McDowell, Stacy Keach, Traci Lind
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by C. Courtney Joyner
Lionsgate UK / Vestron Pictures

If Mark L. Lester’s CLASS OF 1984 painted a picture of the US education system that wasn’t exactly rosy, his 1990 follow-up sees things tipping into full-on dystopia.

CLASS OF 1999 drops us in the middle of a Mad Max-style wasteland wherein lawless ‘free fire’ zones are overrun by colourfully-attired teenage gangs armed with automatic weapons and improbably tricked-out cars. The kids while away their days by taking designer drug ‘edge’ and kicking the sand out of each other, though they also (somewhat mystifyingly) make time to pop along to school.

Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE) is the principal of Seattle’s beleaguered John F. Kennedy High. Seemingly running out of options, he and his staff slide into bed with MegaTech, a shady corporation whose head honcho Dr. Robert Forest (THE MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD’s Stacy Keach, looking like the world’s most visibly-evil human thanks to pale, silvery eyes and a snow-white rat tail) is keen on solving the school’s discipline problem by deploying three reprogrammed battle droids as teachers: stony Miss Connors (Pam Grier, JACKIE BROWN, COFFY), the avuncular Mr Hardin (John P. Ryan, IT’S ALIVE) and roid-rage martinet Mr Bryles (Patrick Kilpatrick).

“Cody becomes increasingly leery of the school’s new teachers and their bone-crunching approach to classroom discipline.”

It’s into this soup that fresh-faced young Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS) stumbles, just out of clink and determined to keep his nose clean – even if it means being kicked out of the gang he once led and earning the disdain of his hamster-cheeked kid brother Angel (Joshua John Miller of NEAR DARK and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, later screenwriter for THE FINAL GIRLS and QUEEN OF THE SOUTH).

While Cody tries to balance conflicts with his former gang, his fucked up family and antagonism from rival mob the Razorheads, he’s also becoming increasingly leery of the school’s new teachers and their bone-crunching approach to classroom discipline – did his pal really gargle all those glass vials of edge, for example? And why do the teachers share a sparsely-appointed flat with nothing but WD-40 in the cupboards?

If it’s less edgy and less mean-spirited than its predecessor, CLASS OF 1999 makes up for it with heaps of goofball gusto and a cast who live the sheer OTT ridiculousness of it all. The three androids are a particular joy to watch, with Pam Grier’s icy-cool, effortlessly badass science teacher taking centre stage and John Ryan’s quietly psychotic history teach a close runner-up.

Things build a good head of steam, lobbing in some neat setpiece deaths, an out-of-control gang battle and a truly gonzoid final act that haemorrhages creaking robotics, gouts of neon-green battery acid and, it appears, a good chunk of the film’s modest budget.

In his tidbit-strewn commentary, director Mark L. Lester uses the term “exaggerated reality” to describe his approach to storytelling. In the same way he viewed the idea of metal detectors at the school gates as ludicrous when he was putting CLASS OF 1984 together, this sequel followed tales of gang-controlled no-go zones to their (il)logical conclusion. Whether we’ll someday witness Lester’s strange teenage wasteland where A CLOCKWORK ORANGE meets CHOPPING MALL is open to question, but for now we can enjoy this gore-slicked slice of action and cross our fingers for the generations who follow in our wake.

This EU blu-ray ports over the generous extras available on the earlier US reissue, including the aforementioned audio commentary with Mark L. Lester (where he casually lets slip that he popped backstage to see a then-unknown Nine Inch Nails and persuaded him to let him use their tunes in the film for a hundred bucks a pop); interviews with Lester, co-producer Eugene Mazzola, screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner (PUPPET MASTER III: TOULON’S REVENGE), DOP Mark Irwin (SCREAM, WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, ROBOCOP 2) and special FX guys Eric Allard (SHORT CIRCUIT, THE BLOB) and Rick Stratton (THE STUFF, TRUE DETECTIVE), along with an array of trailers, stills, promo spots and whatnot.

Alex Deller
Alex Deller writes about films and music. He doesn't get much sleep. Follow him on Twitter here: @dellerrr