Class of 1984 (1982)
Back of the box...
“One of the most violent films of all time, Class of 1984 is a brutal portrait of a tyrannical gang of school bullies who will stop at nothing short of murder in their savage victimisation of music teacher Andy Norris—and all his nearest and dearest.
The Peter Stegman gang, comprising Patsy, Fallon, Barnyard and Drugstore, are out to carve an indelible scar on the face of modern history. In practising for adulthood, they deal drugs. Limbering up for leadership, they wield power with threats of rape, death and mutilation. They say they represent our future. Well. . . who’s going to argue?”
Director: Mark Lester
Starring: Perry King, Timothy Van Patten, Michael J. Fox, Roddy McDowall
Watch the Trailer
Remember the song Gangsta’s Paradise from the Dangerous Minds soundtrack? Remember Coolio in the music video with his nu-metal hair and indoor sunglasses as Michelle Pfeiffer does the “I’m a hip adult who you can talk to” chair spin before sitting in it backwards, a la Uncle Jesse? Of course you do! Who doesn’t love an inspiring “new teacher reaches troubled youth” movie and they were everywhere in the 90’s, rarely deviating from their tired, cookie-cutter formula. We all know the teacher will eventually break through to that particularly troubled student, helping them realize their full potential, and typically ending with that changed student reading an essay at graduation that highlights all the lessons they’ve learned. Well this isn’t the 90’s, this is 1982, bitch, and Class of 1984 goes in a very different direction where nobody learns a goddamn thing.
While the 90’s tended to lean on stereotypes of black and hispanic gang members, Class of 1984 does it a little different. You see, in the 80’s, film and television found a new source of evil to threaten our Judeo-Christian sensibilities. Violent, anti-social deviants were spouting rhetoric to recruit our children and turn them into ugly, disrespectful, morally bankrupt criminals. We’re talking about, gasp. . . PUNKS! This brand of troubled youth wasn’t unique to Class of 1984, it was everywhere at the time. When Johnny Depp went undercover to take down a local drug ring on 21 Jump Street, he dressed like a punk. When Shredder recruited henchmen to turn into mutants he chose Bebop and Rocksteady, who were punks. There are seriously hundreds of examples of this from the 80’s, which in the year 2017 may seem a little strange. Today, most people probably view punk as a hair style or Green Day ad at a bus stop and might chalk up these deviant portrayals as a case of (as the Fresh Prince would put it) “parents just don’t understand.” As it turns out, there is some truth behind it. In punk’s early years, while there was the element of free expression in a DIY culture that continues to this day, there was also a lot of violence and even organized crime, but we’re here to talk about movies! Check out this VICE article, “Unearthing the Secret History of ‘L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang,’” if you want to learn more about punk criminals.
Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new music teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School and the morning bell has hardly rung before he’s witnessed the full gamut of what the school has to offer. A gun toting biology teacher (Roddy McDowall), a teacher’s pet (Michael J. Fox), and a punk rock gang lead by sadistic music prodigy, Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) fill out the roster. It’s not long before Norris takes a stand against Stegman and his gang of punk rockers that includes fellow degenerates Patsy, Drugstore, Barnyard, and Fallon. The drug dealing, hooker pimping gang strike back, leading to a quickly escalating battle of retaliation and it doesn’t take much for Norris to sink to their level. We’re not going to get too deep into a synopsis because the snowball of ridiculous events is really what makes this movie great. Let’s just say, punk rocker and teacher alike take things a little too far.
Class of 1984 is a violent, campy, piece of nostalgic exploitation gold. As connoisseurs of 80’s high school movies and former high school punk rockers ourselves, we feel we can speak with some authority on this subject. We won’t tell you the film isn’t deeply flawed, because it definitely is, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. Norris is ostensibly the hero of the film but because he’s such an awful teacher and all around lame guy, we found ourselves rooting for the punk rockers and wishing we could be at the punk venue with them, dancing to Teenage Head with all the other “scumbags.”
Like many of the movies we post on this site, Class of 1984 had distribution problems, was subjected to heavy censorship, and was banned in a number of countries. In addition, the film wasn’t received particularly well, although it did get one surprisingly glowing review from Roger Ebert who gave it 3 ½ stars out of 4. In his review, he addressed other critics negative response to the film and offered some words of wisdom that seem just as relevant today. “[U]nless we can accept talent wherever we find it in the movies, and especially in smaller genre movies without big stars, we're going to be left with nothing but overpriced lead balloons and delicate little exercises in sensibility. "Class of 1984" is raw, offensive, vulgar, and violent, but it contains the sparks of talent and wit, and it is acted and directed by people who cared to make it special.”
Let’s be honest, you already know whether or not you’ll like this movie. It’s not something we’d necessarily recommend blindly, but if you like 80’s high school movies, exploitation, and punk rock, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Class of 1984. If those things aren’t for you, maybe it’s time to rewatch Dangerous Minds instead.