CLASS OF 1984 **** USA 1982 Dir: Mark L Lester. 94 mins
A latter-day BLACKBOARD JUNGLE for the post-DEATH WISH vigilante cycle, this alarmist exploitation picture – written by Tom Holland – opens with Alice Cooper’s “I Am The Future”, named after the main villain’s catchphrase. Nice-but-dull music teacher Perry Lang transfers from Nebraska to Lincoln High, where students pass through airport-style security, biology teacher Roddy McDowall carries a gun in his briefcase and sneery Timothy Van Patten leads a neo-Nazi gang of coke whores and junkie thugs.
When Lang’s pregnant wife falls victim to a suitably unpleasant home invasion gang-rape, he resorts to extreme measures. This has a fabulous cast, including Michael J Fox as a good kid with a bowl haircut who gets knifed in a cafeteria brawl and 80’s sexpot Lisa Langlois as a bad girl who fellates clarinets. Van Patten is splendidly mean as a brilliant pianist who prefers to divide his time between slaughtering McDowall’s beloved lab animals, grooving along to Teenage Head and, in an echo of DIRTY HARRY’s Scorpio, beating himself up to frame Lang. The future star of Holland’s FRIGHT NIGHT, McDowall is poignant as a doomed teacher who goes off the rails, asking key curriculum questions at gunpoint and mowing down rogue students after hours in his car. The movie is unapologetically supportive of Lang’s climactic mayhem, which veteran B movie director Lester stages with typical brio: most remember the table saw dismemberment, but you also get a bravura full body burn and a showstopping moment in which a character is spectacularly hung in front of horrified parents and kids on the school orchestra’s big night. The opening title card notes this is “Based Partially On True Events”, though no one involved could have predicted the horrific, unending wave of American school violence since the film’s release.
Review by Steven West