Friday, September 23, 2016

Class of 1984

Ah...the 80s…movies from this era are near and dear to my heart, bringing nostalgia and a bit of longing for those days when I lived at home with my parents.  I don’t know how many times I had sat on that sofa in our family room and put on a video rental of a film from that decade.  Maybe hundreds…?  Hmmm…it boggles the mind.  So many silly, yet awesome, horror movies were seen on that small television…I just couldn’t get enough!  Just about every day, before the Blockbuster Video craze—and WELL before DVDs were a concept—my brother, sister and I would go with our mom to the local video rental store and rent a few movies—usually a couple of videos for the family to watch and one or two (horror or sci-fi flicks) for me. 

I’ve never stopped that journey, that drive to see so many films—either newer ones or trying to see if there are any gems I’d missed in my youth—and I don’t think I’ll ever stop chasing that dragon.

Usually, I think about films I’d seen in my teenaged years that I remember as pretty good, but not good enough to own on Blu-Ray or DVD, and how I’ve forgotten the plot or if it was a better film than I’d remembered. 

Besides my patronage of Netflix, there’s a company that has been doing the Lord’s work with films from the 80s—as well as other eras—and that company would be Shout! Factory.  Their subsidiary department, Scream! Factory, has been securing home media rights (actually, I’m not sure how that process works, so don’t quote me on that aspect of it) and has released some excellent special edition Blu-Rays.  I’ve purchased quite a few from their catalog of releases and I know there will be so much more I’ll be tempted to purchase, so I’m always checking.  I implore you to take a look at their web site and take it all in.

Not too long ago, I think it was just last year, Scream! Factory announced the release of Class of 1984 and it immediately brought me back to the days of high school, spending my weekends in front of the TV as I’d go through a marathon of movies.  I hadn’t seen the film since it came out on VHS back in the mid-80s, so I decided to place it in my Netflix queue to familiarize myself with it again before purchasing this classic. 

With that, let’s get into the summary of Class of 1984

A new teacher, Andrew Norris (Perry King), transfers to a troubled inner-city high school and soon ends up clashing with the delinquent leader of a punk gang, Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) who runs the school.

Okay, I’ll get it out of the way, now, since it’s such a minor piece of trivia.  Michael J. Fox has a very small part here as Arthur, one of the students of the high school.  This was before his notoriety on the hit television series, “Family Ties,” and a few years before his fame as Marty McFly in Back to the Future.  He’s barely in this movie and really doesn’t add anything to it besides a minor subplot, so don’t think you’re going to get some sort of lost Michael J. Fox feature.  Okay, I’ve said it, it’s out of the way…let’s move on.

I remember back in 1982, when this film was in the theaters, that I’d thought it was some futuristic film…the previews I’d seen scared me a little and made me wonder if that was how high school was going to be like by the time I’d get there.  But even though it was 1982, it seemed like so far away to be talking about 1984 or starting high school.   Anyway, I’d been too young to see this film by myself and didn’t get to see this in the theater, but finally had gotten to watch it when it was released onto video.  

As I’d mentioned that I had been thinking of this movie as some ultramodern dystopian story, it had been hammered further in by some of the scenes witnessed just in the first part—namely, at the beginning where we see the students enter the school building through metal detectors.  Now, maybe there were metal detectors throughout the school system in the Los Angeles area at the time, but for me, a kid growing up in such a utopian city of Santa Clara, that appeared to be something out of a science fiction flick.  Looking back, however, I can believe it…hell, my wife’s high school now has metal detectors and has steel-barred gates to keep students in and other people out.  So either Class of 1984 made a bold prediction of the future or it was something very commonplace that opened the eyes of my 14-year-old self.

So about the movie…

Class of 1984 is a common trope we’ve seen in plots for many years by the time this movie was released.  From 1955’s Blackboard Jungle to 1997’s One Eight Seven, there have always been films with the teens-versus-adults theme and that’s exactly what we have here.  The extremity of what each side has—or feels they need—to do is pretty dialed up here and that’s what makes this film interesting.  It goes from a high school drama (by today’s standards anyway) to a horror movie at times and it’s a really interesting time capsule to witness in any case.  The dialogue is pretty well-written and, speaking from experience, what you see in this film feels like the days of high school in the 1980s.

So the antagonist of the story, Peter Stegman, played by Timothy Van Patten, is a good character study of a typical high school bully, but turned up to 10.  Though there’s really no answer as to why he is how he is, considering he displays intelligence and comes from a well-to-do family, it leaves no reason except to deduce that he just wants to be immoral.  Of course his underlings are here in this film just to be background characters and remain unimportant, but they do help build up his character just by the fact that they’ll do whatever he tells them to do—that’s what makes him frightening in this film.

Perry King, as the teacher that wants to make a difference—Andrew Norris—was really good in this feature.  Even though this film is the typical revenge story, it easily could’ve been an archetypal teacher-that-makes-a-change flick where he’s able to change the troublemaker to end the film on a high note.  Though the film does go through those motions at first, it’s more of a high note for a fan of horror by the end of the movie.

I can’t let this piece of information pass—the awesome Tom Holland (writer of Psycho II, writer and director of Fright Night and Child’s Play) penned this script, so it makes this movie just that more special for me.  He definitely had a handle on how the angst-ridden teens of the 80s acted and knew how to write the perfect dialogue for the characters in this flick.  Holland made this believable and relatable, never writing anything that would make the audience laugh when they shouldn’t.  I don’t think this movie would be as memorable if it weren’t for him and it could’ve easily went that way as Mark L. Lester was the director who had helmed this movie.  Lester is known for making quite a few movies that are in the so-bad-they’re-good category, like Commando and Showdown in Little Tokyo.  He had returned for the semi-sequel to this film, Class of 1999, but that film is not as notable as this one.

So…like I’d mentioned, Scream! Factory has done it again, releasing a distinguished film from the 80s with awesome artwork and great extras within.  The package includes the Blu-Ray and the DVD, with some cool bonus footage.  However, I was just a little bummed that there wasn’t an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Ground” with Sean Clark giving us a tour of the filming locations, but that’s just a minor disappointment (I guess you really can’t call this a horror movie, so maybe that’s why he hadn’t created an episode for this film).  Do yourself a favor and not only purchase Class of 1984, but go through the long list of their discs to see what else you can pick up…you won’t be let down.

I’ll leave you with a little trivia about an act in the film: Within the film, Andrew Norris teaches the group of students—who actually want to learn and behave civilly—music and is getting them ready for a school concert.  In one key scene, Stegman walks in and decides to show off that he can play the piano, performing a wonderful concerto that impresses Mr. Norris.  The music that the actor performs in the classroom was written by Timothy Van Patten himself.

My final “bit” on Class of 1984?

Travel back to 1982 and see what was so remarkable about that decade of movie-watching.  The film is a great popcorn movie, lots of underrated acting from the leads (especially the great Roddy McDowall as Terry Corrigan, the teacher who goes a little nuts).  With all the back-and-forth between the antagonist and protagonist, the film ends on a high note and you’ll love where the story goes.  The movie looks beautiful with the clean-up Scream! Factory has done with this collector’s edition Blu-Ray.  If you haven’t seen this iconic 80s flick, go out and get it.

Thanks for reading!

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