It’s always a good strategy for a movie to begin with a set of statistics. That way what follows afterwards becomes believable. So, you say that X number of high school students were arrested that year but then you foreground that with, “American High Schools are not like the one depicted in this movie... yet.” Ah, so your movie is a chilling prognostication of the nefarious future. Well, I better pay attention then as this is one movie no concerned citizen could afford to miss!
Class of 1984 is the type of movie that will have ex-marine gym teachers with burr haircuts snickering to their placid, frumpy wives in the cinema, “What these hoodlums need is some discipline!” Yes, high school is a nightmarish post-apocalyptic war zone in the eyes of this movie. A new teacher named Norris (Perry King who with a beard looks like a soap opera version of Chuck Norris) arrives on his first day to find that teachers carry firearms in their briefcases and students have to pass through metal detectors to get to class (Are your minds blown already by how bad everything is?). All the well-meaning pacifist Norris wants to do is teach music class, but unfortunately his authority is threatened by a gang of punks headed by the obnoxious Steggman (Timothy Van Patten) who keeps shouting stuff like “I am the future!” and “Don’t you know I run this school?” Director Mark Lester (the genius who directed one of Arnie’s finest hours, Commando) does everything in his power to have you despise these no-good deadbeats: they give Heil Hitler salutes in class, they beat up a black drug-dealer in the bathrooms, they force a willing punkette who wants to become a drug-whore to strip naked in front of them, they spray stage blood in Norris’ face when he’s out walking with his pregnant wife, and they even shank a chubby Michael Fox (before he had a “J” as a middle initial) during lunchtime. Amidst all of this brutality there is an excellent scene where Steggman, threatening Norris during one of his classes, sits down at a piano and performs a soulful concerto to everyone’s wonderment. But before you’re worried that this is one of those inspirational, based-on-a-true-story movies where the teacher turns the bag eggs around through the power of a bull-horn and Bob Dylan lyrics, it’s only a momentary deviation from Steggman’s reign of classroom terror.
Morally dubious in its right-wing fantasy of uncontrollable teenagers, Class of 1984 is a satisfyingly repugnant action movie that tries to impart important lessons as it wallows in titillation and violence. This is the type of film where a straight-laced teenager tries cocaine for the first time and winds up taking a swan dive from the school flagpole. Yet it’s also the type of film where the attractive female member of Steggman’s punk gang quivers in sadistic, lesbian ecstasy whenever a female is brutalised by the other gang-members. You also have memorable moments such as when Fright Night’s Roddy McDowall, a long-suffering science teacher, flips out in a hammy performance and teaches a class by holding the students at gunpoint. In the vision of this movie, you’re either a good student who gets hassled by the bad apples or you’re a no good punk who deserves to die. Every time Norris attempts to have Steggman arrested for the multiple crimes he commits, the principal and the local cops say, “You have no evidence! He’s just a teenager!” (the commie bastards!) Before long, we’re talking Straw Dogs territory with Norris backed into a corner after they’ve raped his wife, forced to prove his manhood by fighting Steggman and his cronies in darkened school corridors while everyone is assembled for the band performance at the school concert. Particularly brilliant is when Norris uses the classrooms he hides in as weapons, such as running one evil punk kid’s arm through a wood shop band saw, an applause worthy moment of early 1980s grotesque violence.
Lester returned to the classroom with a sequel that I must check out called Class of 1999 (1990) where this time the punk teenagers are the heroes as the teachers are all crazy robots who shoot missiles at students in another chilling vision of the educational system’s future where Malcom McDowell is a high school principal!