In my search for interesting post apocalyptic films Mark L. Lester´s thriller Class of 1984 caught my eye. Not that it is post apocalyptic, but it was labeled as such by a list I found this title on. Besides, I did see its cheap looking sequel Class of 1999 that was made in the spirit of a world gone bonkers, so I had little reason to doubt the truthfulness of the list anyway. Although Class of 1999 (also directed by Lester) may provide a small chuckle because of its Terminatorlike teachers, its predecessor is a lot more fun.
So no robo teachers in 1984 and as stated no post apocalyptic setting either. The picture is highly entertaining nevertheless. We follow the flesh and blood music teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) on his first workday at an urban school. He is wondering why his colleague is carrying a gun to the job. Little does he know about the nazi punks that rule the school at knifepoint, literally. Led by the psychotic Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), the group of juveniles deal drugs, rob and even kill other students. They apparently see a future in their anarchistic behaviour. After Norris tries to get them expelled or jailed he finds himself alone in his battle, as the principal and the cops can not help him unless he catches the punks in the act of the crime. Faeces really hit the fan when the bastards turn their focus towards Norris and his wife, leaving the teacher no choice but to retaliate. Luckily for us that is where the film really gets interesting.
What strikes me the most is the discrepancy between the look and feel this film has about it. It looks like a typical eighties production, which is only logical since it was produced in 1982. The cars, clothing and hairstyles remind of a time we can look back on with a smile and probably with a bit of shameful recognition too (be glad proof of our former selves resides in musty photo albums nowadays). But although Class of 1984 looks like a timepiece of the eighties, it feels like it was made in the seventies due some raw and direct terror that could have come from a director like Sam Peckinpah. Let it be known though that Lester is a bit more… blunt. His main source of inspiration was Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (now there’s a film that’s ahead of its time), but Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs is never far away.
Because of that the feeling of this picture is much more realistic than its looks suggest. The punks may present themselves like a bunch of mirrored swastika wearing lunatics (save for Stegman, he’s a prettyboy that just likes to wreak havoc), they act like the larger than life maniac we grew accustom with following Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange (who sadly played a large part in Class of 1999 too). Much like Alex DeLarge, Stegman is presented as a misguided genius through music. This film’s antagonist beautifully plays a piano symphony before he storms out of the classroom, leaving the teacher as well as the viewer flabbergasted. But having no boundaries at all, his behaviour becomes more and more grim as the plot goes on. That will result in some situations where the viewer may feel pleasantly helpless or uncomfortable, although an ever present cheesiness can rapidly pull us out of these short lived moments.
Take the scene where the school’s biology teacher gets dealt with. The punks heavily mutilate his lab animals by skinning a pet rabbit, hanging a cat by its neck and smearing blood all over the walls. For this scene real dead animals were used, so it can’t be hard to imagine a gruesome sight right there. But how can we not laugh when the same teacher later cries out to the sky that he just wants to inspire one single student as if he were Danny DeVito in Renaissance Man? This melodramatic tone points towards a not so serious statement, although I am afraid it wasn’t meant as corny as it seemed.
Another example is the role the cops have in this story. Their usefulness is marginalised to make it look like Norris really is on his own and they can only help the teacher if he offers them direct evidence to a crime. The police in this film apparently is not capable of doing any research on their own. It makes it a bit harder to look at this story as a realistic view on the near future. But in the film’s defence, not long after its release some schools really did check their students for weapons.
So although Class of 1984 looks like the cheesy fun that is an eighties film with a punk theme, it tries to be a seventies film providing the raw and realistic violence that is shown without remorse. It never gets to be that in full though, so most of the time we have to settle for the first bit. But who cares. It provides some nudity, exploitational violence and it’s pretty much unique in its presentation about a topic that was already well known. If you sit back and don’t take it as seriously as it once was intended you’ll have lots of fun.