Andy Norris has been transferred to a troubled school in a bigger city as a band teacher. To Andy’s surprise; the students are selling drugs on the property, carrying weapons, and getting away with everything! The other teachers and principles just turn their heads because they feel there is never enough evidence to put a stop to the gangs. Even the police and parents look the other way. After a brutal attack and tragic death after a kid couldn’t handle his ‘high’, Mr. Norris has had enough and decides to take matters into his own hands.
Mark L. Lester’s (Commando, Fire Starter, Roller Boogie, Truck Stop Women) ultimately ignored cautioning to the teachers and the parents that the students will soon be out of control, was deemed a joke for its time. Even though it was the number one film, they thought it was too far fetched and that something like this couldn’t possibly happen in high school but look at the atrocities that have happened since. All the school shootings and bombings. It could happen. Maybe not duplicating this exact portrayal. Hell, I think far worse has happened to teachers and students in the following years. These students commit everything from vandalism, drug dealing, rape, and murder. The film also touches the sensitive issue America is currently dealing with – Should teachers bring guns to school? In a way, we see that it’s needed here but then we see Roddy McDowall completely lose it and hold his class by gun point, forcing them to learn. This teacher had suffered so much damage, he’s borderline mental. You cannot blame him after the gang slaughtered all of his animals in class. I don’t know if something like this could actually happen and the kids could get away with it. Cats are hanging by their necks. Other animals are skinned alive and their blood splattered all over the class room. This was an intense and powerful scene because of its brutality and McDowall delivers such strong emotion. This is such a rare talent and probably the best role I have seen him in. He can cry on the spot and his facial expressions match perfectly with his tone.
The flag pole scene was a little silly. I am not educated in the world of cocaine and drugs but I doubt it will make students climb a flag pole and fall to their death. Michael J. Fox was quite powerful in this particular scene as he had just lost his friend. Fox actually became the biggest star in the film, to the directors amazement. The cafeteria fight scene was influenced by prison cafeteria scenes and putting a new member through an initiation. That cruel initiation includes stabbing a snitch.
Then we have the over-the-top finale where Norris battles the teens and there are some pretty entertaining death scenes including; death by table saw, nasty car wreck, a brutal hanging, and one is even burned to death. I wouldn’t say that the scenes are far too brutal or that gore fans will be pleased but there’s a good amount of bloodshed. The film was even given an X-Rating from the start.
The school’s main gang is led by accomplished punk pianist Peter Stegman. This kid has a whole bag of issues he needs to work out. There’s a scene where he beats himself up in the little boy’s room only to place the blame on the teacher. It’s just too bad that he didn’t have better lines. He has some of the most hilarious quotes I have ever heard, “What’s the matter with you? What’s the matter with me? What’s the matter with matter?” Timothy Van Patten (Stegman) has such a strong, dominating presence for a teenage boy. He’s a mommas boy with the community wrapped around his little finger and a skilled piano player. They did a great job developing that character. For a second, I actually began to care about him. Even though Van Patten hasn’t had much of an acting career since, he has been spending quality time in the director’s chair.Â Perry King was the perfect choice for the incredibly naive lead man, Andy Norris. He has had quite an interesting career. Mostly TV Movies and of all things, 1976’s thriller Lipstick. The two had great chemistry on set and actually became good friends.
Lisa Langlois was adorable as Patsy. I really liked her in The Slugger’s Wife. Although, I didn’t care for her singing voice. She had a few cheesy lines she sporadically spewed throughout the films duration but I wouldn’t call her performance anything special.
So what makes Class of 1984 so special to me and why is it a classic? I will tell you. First of all, the cover art always stood out on the shelves at the local Mom and Pop store. I actually remember picking it up thinking, “This looks really cool.” It IS cool. Second, there’s something about punk teenagers and defiance that we all love deep down. Third, the films ignored message. Things like this happen and not even the cops can save you. Four, The wardrobe overflows the film with such style for its time. Five, Clockwork Orange was heavily influenced in this film. Last but not least, the score is pretty immaculate accompanied by Alice Cooper’s “I am the Future” theme.