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Class of 1984

Shout Factory // R // April 14, 2015
List Price: $29.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 26, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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When Class of 1984 roared into theaters thirty-three years ago, legions of parents were incensed. Metal detectors, omnipresent camera surveillance, armies of security stabbing each other, shooting up, and slinging dope on-campus: despite the just-off-on-the-horizon year in its title, Class of 1984 seemed like some distant dystopian nightmare not the least bit grounded in reality. We all know how that turned out.

Andy Norris (Perry King) doesn't get it either. This wide-eyed, idealistic music teacher is setting up shop in some nameless inner city for the first time, and like the man says, he ain't in Nebraska anymore. He's in Lincoln High all of fifteen minutes before seeing a biology teacher (Roddy McDowall) pack a pistol in his briefcase, a gang of thugs slip a straight razor past the metal detectors, a music room that's plastered in graffiti and rotting from the inside, and, well, the inmates generally running the asylum. Lincoln High isn't a place of learning; it's a warzone, and these teenaged hellions have all but won. The system is rigged so that the teachers, administration, and even the police can't really do anything. The staff of Lincoln High spends so much time and energy fending off the most vicious of these monsters that there's nothing left for the tiny handful of students that want to learn. Oh, or maybe that's just ol' Mr. Corrigan rambling again from the bottom of a bottle of Jack. Mr. Norris proudly marches forward anyway, content to ignore Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) so he can better focus on elevating his hardworking-but-not-quite-there-yet orchestra towards something truly special. The more Norris shrugs off Stegman, the harder the ringleader of Lincoln's most notorious gang shoves back. It's a war of escalation. Sternly worded notes home to Mom or a trashed classroom...? Try kidnapping, rape, dismemberment, and murder.

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Think Blackboard Jungle for the 42nd St. crowd. This is a movie with a message to convey, and its skewering of parents who routinely look the other way, a largely impotent system whose use of extreme force achieves basically nothing, and an educational culture of fear and mistrust all look more than a little prescient. This isn't a story of gallant teachers in white hats being poked by the pitchfork-wielding demons enrolled in their classes. Scene-stealer Roddy McDowall's Mr. Corrigan is a cynical lush who tries to use a pistol as an instructional tool. Stegman isn't an underprivileged kid lashing out the only way he knows how. He's rich, he's wickedly smart, he's enormously talented, and...well, he's living this life because he wants to. He knows how to game a system that's already engineered to let him do whatever he wants with impunity. Hell, Andy Norris is the hero of the piece, and he has a violent, destructive streak that looks like it'll torpedo his career before Stegman could ever see a day inside juvie.

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This isn't some lazily shat-out exploitation flick. Despite its seemingly straightforward premise, clearly a great deal of thought and consideration went into making this more than just a Beware! High Schoolers at Play teachers-versus-students splatterfest. Shooting in an actual school, filling it with who knows how many extras, having Canadian punk icons Teenage Head tear it up on screen, lining up a pretty talented cast (including Michael J. Fox in his second ever film/TV role!), directing the whole thing with a more artful than average cinematic eye: we're talking about a genuinely well-crafted movie. At the same time, you've got kids beating the ever-loving shit out of each other, overdoses, stabbings, shameless nudity, and a perfectly innocent pregnant woman being gang-raped on-screen. When Stegman and his flunkies succeed in pushing Mr. Norris past the breaking point, the hunters become the hunted in a series of deliriously over the top kills that outclass a lot of early '80s slashers, even. I mean, we're talking about a rampaging-students-versus-teachers flick written by the guy behind Child's Play and Fright Night and helmed by the director of Roller Boogie. Unrepentantly sleazy and smarter than it ought to be, of course Class of 1984 comes Highly Recommended.

Maybe my perception is skewed because I watched Class of 1984 pretty much back-to-back with Vinegar Syndrome's 4K-sourced Blu-ray release of Graduation Day, another independently-produced cult classic from the dawn of the '80s. Despite the rave reviews this disc is getting elsewhere, I found Class of 1984 to be softer and not nearly as well-defined as I'd expect. It's appreciated that its filmic texture hasn't been digitally smeared away, and yet the grain isn't as distinct or tightly rendered as the best-looking genre releases from the era. That sheen of grain spikes heavily and looks far more coarse under low light. The palette is dull -- very possibly by design -- dominated by those prison-like grays and metallic blues. There are a number of scratches and specks, but all of that is too mild to really get in the way. As thoroughly okay a presentation as this is, this release of Class of 1984 just doesn't hit the marks I'd expect from a shiny, new HD transfer from an interpositive.

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Class of 1984's AVC encode is lavished with an impressively high bitrate, and the movie and its extras devour just about every last byte of capacity this dual-layer Blu-ray disc has to offer. This presentation of the film opens up the mattes slightly to reveal an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

There are two 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: one in 2.0 and the other remixed to 5.1. I spent most of my time with Class of 1984 listening to the remix, and it's...hmmm. On one hand, the six-channel mix does a tremendous job filling the room with sound. There's an attention to atmospherics that helps Lincoln High feel that much more sprawling and prison-like. It seems like there's not much in the way of discrete placement of effects, though, and I hear such elements as footsteps and creaking doors simultaneously in both of the front mains and both surround channels. Frequency response is extremely limited. It's all mid-range, lacking meaningful highs and nearly devoid of anything in the lower frequencies. Even a fiery explosion and occasional Carpenter-esque synth bass in the score don't bother with any real bite. A couple of more loudly shouted lines suffer from some mild clipping as well. I was surprised to hear director Mark Lester marvel at the film's score since so much of it sounds to me like microwaved leftovers from some forgettable '70s cop show, and the Alice Cooper number over the opening credits is somehow even worse. I'm obviously not grading Class of 1984 the way I would a lavishly budgeted sonic spectacle from last summer -- I mean, I'm going in with realistic expectations -- but I really don't think this disc would sound all that different if I'd pumped it through the built-in speakers on my TV rather than through a meaty home theater rig. Remix or not, this track is very thin and very dated.

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Also included is a set of English (SDH) subtitles. The disc's audio commentary, for reasons I will never understand, is listed exclusively under the Audio submenu and not with any of the disc's other extras. You can list it in both places, y'know.

Class of 1984 carries over pretty much all of the extras from Anchor Bay's 2006 DVD and piles on nearly an hour and a half of new interviews while it's at it.
  • Audio Commentary: The tremendous slate of extras opens with this audio commentary featuring director Mark Lester and Anchor Bay DVD producer Perry Martin. It's about as perfect a commentary as I've ever come across, with no lulls in the conversation and a determination to answer most every question that anyone could think to ask. Among the highlights are plastering an actual high school in Toronto with graffiti that didn't quite wash off in time for the fall semester, drawing inspiration from '50s drive-in flicks about violent high schoolers, using actual animal carcasses in one unforgettable sequence of bunny carnage, Roddy McDowall's ability to repeatedly cry on demand, the final stalk-and-slash act being shot in sequence over the course of three weeks, and how one eleventh hour punch may have made an eight figure difference at the box office. Martin makes for a phenomenal moderator, encouraging Lester to speak at length about the original concept, the research that went into the screenplay, financing, distribution, the cinematography, the score, and even scouting for locations throughout Toronto. Perhaps a bit too self-congratulatory at times but still a very rewarding listen.

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  • New Interviews (84 min.; HD): The feature-length assortment of newly-conducted interviews begins by aiming the spotlight towards actresses Lisa Langlois and Erin Noble. A good bit of "The Girls Next Door" (16 min.) is understandably spent reflecting on the rest of the cast, from Timothy Van Patten's disinterest in acting to Neil Clifford not being allowed to leave the set as his wife was giving birth all the way to Michael J. Fox asking Noble to front him some cash when their paychecks came in. Langlois chats about how she was initially pursued for Noble's squeaky-clean girl next door part and the threats of violence during production from hand-to-God punk rockers. The two of 'em also touch on why they think Class of 1984 has endured so well over the past thirty-plus years.

    "History Repeats Itself" (21 min.) is primarily a conversation with director Mark Lester, and although nearly everything he says has already been covered in his audio commentary, some of it is greatly expanded upon here. Lester recounts a more detailed version of a disastrous test screening with a gaggle of 12 year old girls and their moms, and there's quite a bit more to his story about lining up distribution with United Artist Theatres. If you don't have the time or inclination to sit through an audio commentary, "History Repeats Itself" works really well as a sort of Greatest Hits collection, breezing through many of its highlights. Although the director is very much the focal point of this retrospective, composer Lalo Schifrin also pops up from time to time to speak about his approach to Class of 1984's score and his composing process in general.

    Perry King only speaks about Class of 1984 for four minutes or so, but the wildly charming actor still had me hanging on his every word throughout "Do What You Love" (47 min.) just the same. King runs through his entire career in front of the camera, from the many dizzying highs to the standing-in-the-unemployment-line lows, lobbing out one spectacular story after another. From making his official screen debut masturbating in Slaughterhouse Five to marveling at Sly Stallone's four hour Edgar Allan Poe screenplay to an unforgettable conversation about acting with Claude Rains, King is engaging to the point of approaching Tobolowsky-esque heights, something I'm not sure was possible for anyone to pull off. Despite its focus only briefly being directed towards Class of 1984, I'd probably argue that "Do What You Love" is the most essential extra on this disc. It's also kind of interesting how King's perception of the way Lester directed his cast differs somewhat from what Lester himself notes elsewhere.

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  • Blood and Blackboards (36 min.; SD): Embarrassingly misspelled as "Blood and Backboards" on the menu, this half-hour-and-change retrospective is another holdover from the Anchor Bay DVD. Although it's nice to hear from producer/actress Merrie Lynn Ross along with King and Lester, nearly every last topic of conversation has already been addressed elsewhere on the disc. A few are tackled in greater detail, such as the more in-depth notes about location scouting in Toronto, and there are such additional splashes of color as King laughing about accidentally lighting his foot on fire, but there's not enough unique material to demand a look. Still, as a completist, I'm thrilled that "Blood and Blackboards" is along for the ride, and it's well done enough that I surely would've had a different reaction if I'd watched this retrospective before some of the others on this disc.

  • Still Gallery: Class of 1984's still gallery heaps on somewhere in the neighborhood of 53 different images, including production stills, lobby cards, magazine covers, one-sheets from all across the globe, and international home video releases. It's a nice selection but provided at a disappointingly low resolution.

  • Trailers and TV Spots (3 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras are a standard-def trailer and a couple of TV spots.
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Class of 1984 doesn't get the combo pack treatment, surprisingly, so there's no DVD riding shotgun this time around. It does still get the deluxe Scream Factory slipcover love, though, and the cover art is reversible.

The Final Word
Although its extras have a tendency to retread the same ground and the presentation is no great shakes, I had a blast reuniting with Class of 1984 on Blu-ray. It's brutal, it's stylish, and it's at least a little more complex and thoughtful than you might expect from a seemingly straightforward teacher-versus-psychopathic-students revenge yarn. Highly Recommended.
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