There is a moment early in the film Class Of 1984 where you think the young, idealistic teacher – fighting against all odds at a dangerous inner city high school – is about to reach a troubled student and help him turn his life around. You know, a feel good moment that pushes the movie into “laughter through the tears” territory. And then quickly you realize this is not that movie.
What does happen is limb severing, death by burning, sadistic torture and a crushing by car. Even Michael J. Fox takes a beating. There’s definitely some tears…of pain. It all adds up to a lot of violent fun and it’s all yours in this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray from Scream Factory.
This was a first time viewing for me and I have to admit I did not see the escalation in this film coming. It starts off with a title card tossing around some statistics about violence in schools. Remember this was produced in 1984, and in the Reagan era there was a perception that violent crime was on the rise. While I suppose the numbers do support that idea, this film takes great liberties with the truth and drops us into the fictionalized high school Lincoln High in Urban Jungle City, USA. The school is a gluttonous cesspool of drugs, prostitution and, of course, gang violence. This is most telegraphed at the very top when our heroic music teacher Andy Norris starts his first day and he meets biology instructor Terry Corrigan (the always great Roddy McDowall) who flashes a gun he hides in his briefcase. This is followed by Norris’ walk into the school through metal detectors where he witness a gang member sneak a switchblade past oblivious security guards. The film gets progressively darker and more violent as it moves along, exploding in a complete bloodbath by the third act.
I would suspect that at the time of its release, this film’s depiction of gangs and punks might have rang a little false to ACTUAL gangs. The costumes and make-up feel a little Fame meets “Beat It”, but in hindsight I think the heightened nature of the film enhances the violence while making Lincoln High its own culture, mirroring style and attitudes of the era. The film’s exploitative nature might be upsetting for more sensitive viewers. However, director Mark L. Lester (Commando) and the cast nicely balance the gratuitous images with a human story about a man determined to do the right thing until he realizes that his only choice is survival. This is a film that wants to shock, but not without purpose. It’s smarter than most exploitation flicks and you know this because you are rooting for Norris the entire time. You want to see him succeed and when it’s time to fight, you want him to win and make it hurt a little. The end of the film knocks you like a .357 slug to the heart and pays off in a big way.
Scream Factory has put together a great Blu-ray for fans of the movie. It boasts a beautiful looking and sounding high definition transfer of the film and a batch of new interviews with Lester, composer Lalo Schifrin, actors Perry King, Lisa Langlois and Erin Noble. There is also a documentary from 2006, Blood And Blackboards, which is well produced and has insightful interviews with the cast and crew. Along with the ubiquitous trailers, posters and still gallery, there is also an audio commentary with the director. For the hardcore fans or the casual viewer, this Collector’s Edition has everything you need to pass graduation.
Strap on those studded leather wristbands and pocket that switchblade, it’s time to join the Class Of 1984.