Among the great cinematic achievements of the '50s are the mini-masterpieces known as Juvenile Delinquency films. This underappreciated genre, which includes such greats as High School Caesar and Blackboard Jungle, features slick cautionary tales of youth gone wild, warning us against the perils of drug abuse and violence. For better or worse, the '80s saw a resurgence in this genre, with offerings such as 1987's The Principal starring James Belushi. But these latter-day yarns of reactionary violence all pale in comparison to Mark L. Lester's incredible Class of 1984.
Perry King (The Day After Tomorrow) plays Andrew Norris, an uptight and idealistic square who has just moved from the Midwest to serve as the new music teacher at the inner-city hellhole known as Lincoln High School. On his first day, Norris is shocked to see the complete disregard for authority running rampant among the students--standing in disbelief as they pass knives to each other to get around the metal detector at the main entrance. Unfortunately, poor ol' Andy has only seen the tip of the iceberg, because he soon has a run-in with tough guy Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his gang of no-goodniks, who have been running an organized crime ring within the halls of the school.
At first, Andy tries to reach out to the little shitheads. After discovering that young Stegman is a piano prodigy, he resolves to try and set him straight. Now, in today's sugar-coated, lame-ass Hollywood formula films, Stegman and his nefarious ilk would see the wrongs of their ways, and Stegman would belt out a bitchin' piano solo at the senior assembly as the music swells and credits roll over a triumphant freeze frame. Luckily, we are spared such feel-good theatrics and are instead treated to copious amounts of sex and violence.
For some strange reason, Norris just can't get it through his thick skull that dope-pushing racists might not be model students. The poor dumb bastard even goes so far as to confide in fellow teacher Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) that he thinks “Stegman's actually a good kid.” But then Stegman and his gang mutilate Corrigan's biology animals and smear their carcasses all over the school lab--yeah, great bunch of kids. This heinous act pushes Corrigan over the edge, driving him to pull a gun on his class when they won't listen to his pleas for discipline. The braindead principal refuses to lay any blame on the students, and Norris starts to come around.
Our hero finally starts to kick ass and take names when Stegman and his cohorts rape and kidnap his wife, initiating a pretty suspenseful game of cat and mouse. Norris tracks the thugs through the school halls, leading to a dramatic face-off with Stegman.
While the drug use, racial tension and violence depicted in the film must have scared parents shitless back in the day, they are pretty tame in comparison to the realities of our modern world. Still, the film makes a strong case without becoming all preachy, providing some solid thrills and even a bit of nudity. We also get a pudgy Michael Fox (sans the “J” that we know and love) sporting an awful Davey Jones haircut and belting out atrocious one-liners.
Anchor Bay has done an excellent job on the transfer, giving us a freshly restored print and a 5.1 surround sound mix. Extras include the original trailer, TV spot and a commentary track by director Mark L. Lester. Also included is a cool featurette exploring the making of the film and its predictions of school violence. I suggest watching both this film and its bizarre sci-fi sequel Class of 1999, in which teachers are replaced with ass-kicking cyborgs!
So what are ya waiting for? Class is in session! (Anchor Bay)
February DVD releases:
R-Point (Tartan Asia Extreme)
Saw II (Lion's Gate)
Up the Academy (Warner)
Action! The Complete Series--Uncut and Unbleeped (Sony)
Class of 1984 (Anchor Bay)
Memory of a Killer (Sony)
The Avengers Emma Peel Collector's Edition Mega-Set (A&E)
A History of VIolence (New Line)
The Ice Harvest (Universal)
Lady and the Tramp: Special Edition (Disney)
Werewolves on Wheels (Dark Sky)