Blu-ray Review: Class of 1984 (Collector's Edition)

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Mark L. Lester’s 1982 cult classic Class of 1984 imagines a public school system completely overwhelmed by violence, drugs, and racism. The teachers pack heat in their briefcases. Metal detectors are in place, but students routinely bypass security measures. “Everyone’s carrying something,” says one particularly cynical teacher to a recently-recruited newbie. This is no “inspirational teacher” movie, not by a long shot. It’s debuting on Blu-ray via Shout Factory on April 14.

Truth be told, as violent and over the top as Class of 1984 is, Lester (with co-writers Tom Holland and John Saxton) manages to keep things relatively reigned in. For better or worse, this lacks the anarchic kick of Troma’s best films of the era, though it shares a similarly wild ambiance. In fact, even though the third act does reach slasher flick gore levels, the entire film could’ve probably benefited from being just a touch more extreme.

Idealistic music teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new kid on the block at a notoriously crime-infested high school. Mr. Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) is a veteran of the school. He’s seen it all and has come to blithely accept what he perceives as unchangeable circumstances. But Andrew wants to inspire his kids (including a boyish, Beatle cut-sporting Michael J. Fox as an earnest trumpeter). Though he tries his best to be tough, he’s initially hopeful even the worst of the bad seeds will shape up—namely gang leader/drug dealer Peter (Tim Van Patten), who turns out to be a virtuoso pianist.

Unfortunately, Class of 1984 never transcends its pulpy, exploitation flick vibe. There’s never any real point behind the mayhem. It would be easy to proclaim Lester’s work as a prescient vision of today’s world of distressingly increasing on-campus violence. But to do so would be to marginalize those real life horrors. There’s no social commentary or true satire to be found here. It’s almost like a severely dumbed-down Straw Dogs recast in a school setting. How much carnage will it take before the pacifist teacher is reduced to the same level as the delinquents surrounding him?

Though the students are portrayed by actors generally too old for the roles, the performances are strong. Perry King is especially good as the teacher who gets pushed too far. So is Lisa Langlois as Peter’s trashy girlfriend and partner-in-crime Patsy. There’s a certain amount of enduring entertainment value here. As simple as the narrative is, Lester presents it compellingly. The garish ‘80s fashions—sort of hyper-‘80s, given that Lester was imagining a highly stylized near-future environment—and soundtrack (including the Alice Cooper-sung theme “I Am the Future”) make it a true time capsule piece.

Shout Factory offers a very good, though not stunning, high definition transfer. This was struck from a clean print (splice dots are visible at reel changes, by the way, something younger viewers might mistake for some sort of flaw) and it retains a touch of natural grain. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is quite good, with a surprisingly effective expansion of ambient effects to the rear channels (the audio is also available as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, for a presentation more faithful to the original theatrical release).

A mixture of new and old supplements accompanies this Blu-ray edition. There’s almost an hour and a half of brand new interview material presented in high definition. “The Girls Next Door” focuses on cast members Lisa Langlois and Erin Noble, “History Repeats Itself” features director Mark Lester and composer Lalo Schifrin, and “Do What You Love” boasts an interview with Perry King. Carried over from the older DVD edition are the 36-minute featurette “Blood and Blackboards” and an audio commentary with Mark Lester.

Shout Factory’s Class of 1984 collector’s edition Blu-ray will please longtime fans. The awesome cover art (a massive improvement over Anchor Bay’s standard DVD edition) is replicated on the slip cover.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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