The episode of Revisited covering Class of 1984 was Written and Narrated by Andrew Hatfield, Edited by Ryan Cultrera, Produced by Tyler Nichols and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.
In an upcoming video, we will be looking at the modern genre classic VFW. I say genre because while my wife astutely pointed out that the drugged-up gang in VFW kind of act like rage zombies and the movie has that great over the top gore and characters, its not really horror. Its gritty action like the movie that inspires it, Assault on Precinct 13. Genre encompasses multiple things like horror, exploitation, and any other type of movie that just has that feel to it. While today’s movie isn’t horror, though it does have situations that would be scary in real life, it is genre. It’s school-ploitation at its finest and has a pedigree both in front of and behind the camera that fits wonderfully with many of the greats we usually talk about. While it could probably fit well with our Test of Time series or even as a Best Movie You Never Saw, I don’t want to talk about what works and what may not from that critical lens. I want to revisit a movie that is a classic and hope that it gets more people to put it on their radar or even revisit it themselves.
Class of 1984 (watch it HERE) is the 1982 movie brought to us by a really fun creative team. First is the least known in co-writer John Saxton. No, not John Saxon, the horror legend who showed up to fight Freddy Kruger, cannibals, and Giallo villains, and everything in between, but a man that only had 8 projects to his name. Now three of those are Happy Birthday to Me, today’s flick, and frickin Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS but still a small sample size. The other writers are director Mark Lester who we will get to in a minute, and legend Tom Holland. This was only his third screenplay, and it was before his directorial debut. That debut, Fright Night, would also have a connection to this movie with Roddy Mcdowell coming back to play Peter Vincent after playing one of Class of 1984’s best characters. Holland, besides the ones you know him for, also wrote Cloak and Dagger and Thinner. Mark Lester is much more of a producer now more than anything but is also quite the acclaimed writer and director. Well director mostly. While this is my favorite film he has directed, he also did classics like Firestarter, Commando, Armed and Dangerous, and Showdown in Little Tokyo.
The other behind the camera guy of note is Alice Cooper who contributed the awesomely 80s opening tune that will make you cringe slightly but also stick with you. Perry King plays Lincoln Highs new music teacher Andrew Norris who moved to the city with his pregnant wife to teach a rougher crowd the joy of music. He’s in for a wake-up call when on his first day he sees kids with weapons, a full-on security team, and a staff that is either too scared or defeated to do anything about it. King was the first and only choice for the role and he had been around for about a decade with his first major role being in slaughterhouse five. While the only horror project he has done is an episode of Tales from the Crypt, he has a long and storied career that is still active today.
The teacher that shows him the ropes, and becomes his closest friend at the school, is biology teacher Terry Corrigan played by the legendary Roddy Mcdowell. The role was offered to Duel’s Dennis Weaver, but he turned it down when he found the script to be too violent. I like Dennis Weaver but I’m also thankful for him turning down the role as it gave us one of the quintessential Roddy parts. The film itself was heavily inspired by true events with it also being a loose remake of Blackboard Jungle with Lester citing A Clockwork Orange as his other cinematic influence for the movie. The movie wasn’t just too violent for Weaver as other countries gave it their hardest rating due to the content and the creators found it hard to find a distributor. Roger Ebert did say it was the best movie he saw at Cannes that year which is high praise both for the critic that typically didn’t get into these types of movies and for the fact that it made it to Cannes at all.
Andrew doesn’t like the idea of how reckless and violent the students are and really doesn’t care for the fact the school is run by one gang in particular. Stegman is the leader of this quintet of scumbags that also includes Fallon, Drugstore, Barnyard, and Patsy. They all serve a purpose within the gang as driver, muscle, drug dealer, and consort. While this sort of gang mentality certainly isn’t new, they do something a little different with the gang leader Stegman. Instead of being just the generic bad kid, he’s a genius who chooses to be bad but part of him also wants to succeed in the traditional way. Andrew Norris is the music teacher and while the rest of the gang isn’t supposed to be in his class, Stegman is. At first it doesn’t seem to matter but the second time we see an interaction in class, Stegman plays the first part of a beautiful piece of music before sincerely asking to be a part of things. Norriss says no based on previous transgressions and it seems to push our young criminal mastermind over the edge.
Stegman is played by Timothy Van Patten, he of the famous Van Patten acting family, no seriously, look it up, and while his acting career really never happened, his directing resume is quite impressive. Since the early 1990s he has directed over 100 episodes of television including the most episodes of the mega hit The Sopranos of any director. He is a mix of menacing and tragic here as the lead bad guy and while none of these actors look like high schoolers, Van Patten does the best job humanizing his role. These little transgressions with Norris continue back and forth. Little things at first like the gang looking up where their teacher lives to spray him with fake blood to Norris trying to catch them dealing drugs and get them kicked out of school. That may sound like more than a minor feud but compared to what comes later, it’s minuscule.
The attempted drug bust is what really escalates tensions between the two teachers and the gang. A young Michael J Fox, here going by just Michael Fox, is with his friend who wants to buy drugs to enhance his scholarly performance. Fox did this movie at the same time he started his 172-episode run on Family Ties and this character has the smartass and sarcastic attitude we would come to love in the Back to the Future movies as well as much of his later career before he had to step away for medical reasons. His buddy dies of a drug related incident and both the police and Norris want him to snitch on the gang for selling the drugs. He won’t out of fear, but the gang isn’t convinced. They corner him and a band classmate in an alley and threaten them before Andrew and Terry come to the rescue. The kids escape but both teachers come out of it with wounds.
Now that Terry is officially involved in the gang’s mind, the kill all the animals in his biology lab. An already fragile Terry holds his class at gunpoint in not only a prescient scene in 1982 and 41 years later but one of the best scenes in the movie. Terry feels like he can’t get through to the kids anymore but when their lives are on the line with how they answer, they miraculously come up with the right answer. In what could have been an after-school melodrama moment, Roddy McDowel makes it as tense as possible. Andrew is able to stop him from killing Stegman, something he probably regrets later, and Terry ends up trying to kill the gang with his car before dying in a car crash. That would be enough to push Andrew over the edge, but Stegman also beats himself up and blames the teacher and then has Michael J fox’s character stabbed after he thinks he’s snitched to the police officer that isn’t willing to do anything.
The gang has big plans for Mr. Norris and while he is attempting to show off what he and his music students have learned this year, the gang sneaks into his house and assaults his pregnant wife. They take turns doing it and even takes pictures before kidnapping her and taking her to the school. They lure Mr. Norris out with the photographic evidence, and this is where the movie takes everything to its violent and sadly natural conclusion. The assault scene is also the biggest giveaway that A Clockwork Orange was an influence. The scenes could be put next to each other to show off its homage. From that point to the end of the movie is where the movie really earns its R and its banning and extremely high content rating in other countries. While Norris is ambushed and beaten a few times at first, he quickly gains the upper hand and realizes he can trap them rather than continue to walk into their traps.
He kills Fallon by cutting off his arm and impaling him on a table saw, Drugstore by immolation, and Barnyard and Patsy by way of crushed car. It’s brutal stuff especially when you remember these are supposed to be high school kids. With just Stegman remaining, the two men fight on the roof where Andrew wins but is still willing to save his young nemesis. Defiant to the end, Stegman tries to cut Mr. Norris with a knife who then punches him with an expression of both seething anger and shocked disbelief that he killed another kid. Stegman falls through the remaining roof panels of glass and ends up caught hanging in a rope in front of the whole school. The movie ends with a note that Norris was never charged because nobody saw him do it and we get Alice Coopers one-of-a-kind song again.
I LOVE this movie. It doesn’t pull punches even if its concept and execution are over the top. And make no mistake, the movie is over the top in the most enjoyable way. While most would mark Commando as the director’s finest hour, a film that itself is over the top in its action, dialogue, and body count, Class of 1984 is, well, it’s in a class of its own. It spawned two sequels including the stupid but way too fun Class of 1999 directed again by Lester and it holds up like fine wine today. Stream it on Tubi or Shudder with Joe Bob’s commentary and add a gem to your physical media collection by picking up the Scream Factory Blu-ray release that’s loaded with features and has made the film look better than ever. Horror sometimes needs good old fashioned genre films to balance it out and there’s fewer examples finer than Class of 1984.
Two previous episodes of Revisited can be seen below. To see more of our shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals channel – and subscribe while you’re at it!
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/class-of-1984-revisited/