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BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE? “CLASS OF 1984” BEGS TO DIFFER

Friday, March 8, 2019 | Blu-ray/DVD

By ALEX DELLER
Starring Perry King, Roddy McDowall, Timothy Van Patten, Michael J. Fox, Lisa Langlois and Erin Noble
Directed by Mark L. Lester
Written by Tom Holland, Mark L. Lester and John Saxton
101 Films

If there’s a lesson to be learned from Mark L. Lester’s 1982 trashploitation effort CLASS OF 1984 it’s that the kids most definitely aren’t alright.

Beginning with a stark warning that attacks on teachers by students are on the rise, the film drops us off at the gates of Lincoln High – a school seemingly held together by little more than bad graffiti and years of hairspray residue.

The dead-eyed student body collectively curls its lip as it passes through metal detectors, much to the horror of wide-eyed and idealistic music teacher Andy Norris (Perry King, THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY). It’s his first day on the job, and by way of staff induction he catches alcoholic co-worker Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall, PLANET OF THE APES; FRIGHT NIGHT) stashing a handgun into his briefcase and has the school’s stuffy, head-in-the-sand principal tell him that “teaching is something you do in spite of everything else.”

“It’s not long before Norris has his own confrontation with the school’s ruling droogs.”

We learn that the former music teacher “fell down the stairs,” and it’s not long before Norris has his own confrontation with the school’s ruling droogs: a motley gang of Swastika-draped brutes led by the manipulative Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten, who’d later go on to direct episodes of BLACK MIRROR, GAME OF THRONES and THE SOPRANOS). The mob’s racket runs from petty thuggery to drug-dealing and sexual exploitation, and over the course of the film’s lean 94 minutes they’re responsible for a student death; a pudgy, pre-DeLorean Michael J. Fox taking a shiv to the kidney; the transformation of a biology lab into a kebab shop and, most unsettlingly, a protracted gang rape. Ultimately, a tether’s-end Norris finds himself with his back to the wall, and fighting back against Stegman and his goons on their own feral terms.

Director Lester shows off the brisk pacing and eye for a setpiece he’d later bring to FIRESTARTER and COMMANDO, and there’s something enjoyably archaeological about sequences like the club scene, which sees the cast caught in a mosh and slamdancing with genuine punx going off to Teenage Head (“the thing got completely out of control,” chuckles Lester during the audio commentary). There’s also a lot to be said for the jarring transitions from puerile grabassery to extreme violence, and while things might not reach LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT levels of grimness there was enough here to ensure the film faced a tough time with European censors.

While it was likely played for shocks and comes off somewhere between WARRIORS, 187 and THE BREAKFAST CLUB, the film also possesses a definite mean streak. There’s a casual attitude to race and sexual violence that’ll serve as an obvious goad for modern viewers, but the most hackle-raising aspect is also perhaps the most numinous – a simmering undercurrent of right-wing, youth-fearing reactionism that suggests there’s more at play than just shits, giggles and teenage kicks gone wrong.

This new edition from 101 Films’ Black Label imprint uses the same master as Shout’s US reissue. It includes a wealth of extras, including new interviews with director Mark L. Lester, screenwriter Tom Holland (PSYCHO II, FIGHT NIGHT, CHILD’S PLAY etc.) and a booklet investigating the collision of punk culture and 80s sci-fi. Additional extras include an audio commentary with Lester (his memory of the lengths their prop guy went to for the biology lab scene is particularly pungent…) and interviews with actors Erin Noble (THE STRAIN, THE INCUBUS) and Lisa Langlois (DEADLY EYES, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME), along with the regular trailers, TV spots and stills.  

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