Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factory - CLASS OF 1984 on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Scream Factory - CLASS OF 1984 on Blu-ray

CLASS OF 1984 (1982; Mark L. Lester)
Back when I was first getting into cult movies (mostly through Danny Peary's books), CLASS OF 1984 was one of the first ones I came across. It was  regular fixture in most every video store cult section I ever saw.
When I finally watched the movie, I kind of understood why it had this "cult" status. It was flicks like this, SUBURBIA and LIQUID SKY that made me start to understand that "punk" characters were part of what made them cult items. I guess that the logic I worked out in my head was that these movies were passed around by fringe/punk type folks because they identified with the fact that they had this type of character in them and had some anti-authoritarian themes. I could be wrong, but it made sense to me at the time. So anyway, when I saw CLASS OF 1984 it gave me this specific feeling that I hadn't had a lot previous to that. It made me angry and worked in the classic way that revenge movies do. I guess I had only seen the DEATH WISH films before this so it was still kind of a new sensation. In rewatching the film I started to see it as part of a kind of "gangpocalypse" period in cinema. It was a time when urban centers were portrayed in movies as dilapidated, decaying territories in which citizens feared for their safety on a daily basis.the police are overworked and cynical and pretty useless in this world. Punks and gangs were regular fixtures in this world. It all feels like and extension of the DEATH WISH universe. From DEATH WISH through DEATH WISH 3, there was a heightened evolution of this kind of gritty and violent cityscape in American cinema. If you look at something like THE WARRIORS, it plays like some kind of fantasy world of gangs. CLASS OF 1984 exists at the outskirts of that world. It's kind of the "gang minor leagues" or the "gang farm team" from which The Grammercy Riffs might have  an open audition. The gangs in this movie are kinda dorks though so they'd more likely be heading up an Orphans spinoff gang (remember the Orphans? Great gang). Anyway, it's a fun movie to watch now as it plays a little ridiculous. These gang punks are so obnoxious and dispicable that you really can't wait for them to get their comeuppance. I remember that one of my big problems with the movie when I saw it years ago was how long it took to escalate to being a full-on, knock-down, drag out revenge movie. As a kid I'm sure I was thinking, "Cut to the chase already!". This time I still felt that a little bit, but overall the buildup felt a little better. It's still a very sleazy, evil, exploitation movie world and an story arc to match, but it felt a bit better this time. The subtle incline of hatred and rage between an idealistic teacher and his psychotic student ramps up in a functional and satisfying way.
Perry King is a very good choice to play this teacher. He has a very even-keeled charm about him and quite an affable nature which makes him seem like he'd actually be an okay teacher even. And let's talk about Roddy McDowall in this. I love him. His world weary biology teacher with a chip on his shoulder and a penchant for carrying pistols to class is one of his most enjoyable performances. I would imagine his character would be quite a gleeful thing for some high school teachers to watch. This movie also features Lisa Langlois (DEADLY EYES) and a very young Michael J. Fox (credited as Michael Fox). 
CLASS OF 1984 was born of an exploitation cinema tradition that is no longer prevalent in the same way today. Movies may have been meaner back in those days. The film strays into cruel territory by the end and that's the hardest thing to take. It is a mediation on revenge and that it is designed to be bleak and to evoke an extreme response in the viewer and it does exactly that. It'll probably piss you off  (and the punks in the movie would be pleased about that).

Special Features:
-an Audio Commentary with director Mark Lester. Lester talks about the prophetic nature of the movie and the controversy that was born out of its release as well lots of specific production details and things that changed from the script to the final film.
-"The Girls Next Door" (17 mins) This piece is a new set of interviews with actresses Lisa Langlois and Erin Noble. Both talk about working with Mark Lester, the other actors and their creative contributions to their characters.
"History Repeats Itself" (21 mins) New interviews with Mark Lester and composer Lalo Shifrin. A little bit of repeated information here from Lester, but with a few different stories. It was neat to see Lalo Schifrin interviewed here too as he's one of my favorite composers.
"Do What You Love with Perry King" (47 mins) This is the best of the new features added to this disc. It's a great and lengthy chat with the actor wherein he goes through not only his recollections on CLASS OF 1984, but also his other films as well and his thoughts on acting and life in general. Very enlightening and a lovely watch. I hope I have the humility and wisdom that King has when I reach 66 years of age. 

-"Blood and Blackboards" (35 mins) - This featurette (produced for the old Anchor Bay disc) contains interviews with Mark Lester, actor Perry King, actress Merrie Lynn Ross. Lester talks about all the 50s high school movies that were big influences on him and how he researched the idea for CLASS OF 1984 as well as how he want about casting it.  Ross talks about acting in the film and her experiences as executive producer. King has lots to say about the themes and what he recalls from the shoot.

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