They’re all part of a typical day for the students of Lincoln High. Into this academic abyss arrives Andy Norris (Slaughterhouse Five’s Perry King), an idealistic and naive music teacher who has moved into the community with his pregnant wife Diane. Appalled by the crime-infested school, Norris soon crosses sabers with its teenage kingpin, the shrewd and sadistic Peter Stegman (The White Shadow’s Timothy Van Patten). With Norris setting his sights on reforming Stegman, and the young miscreant declaring war on his teacher, the duo sets a fateful showdown into motion on the night of an important school orchestra performance.
Directed and co-written by Mark L. Lester (Commando, Firestarter), Class of 1984 is one of the seminal cult movies of the early 1980s. While its vision of a decaying, violence-plagued inner city school seemed over-the-top in 1982, it sadly prophesized the future of American education. Lester’s film – which caused a stir at Cannes and reputedly offended one of its own screenwriters – is also notable for its cast, which includes Van Patten, Roddy McDowall and a very young Michael J. Fox. Alice Cooper performs the theme song, “I Am The Future”. No longer are the students of Lincoln High the future, for the future as arrived!
Class of 1984 8.5
I saw ‘Class of 1984’ decades before I saw ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ (that classic ‘60s high school drama featuring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier – in a stand-out role!). I saw it when I was twelve, in fact, and it had a lasting impression on me: I just couldn’t get over this world where teachers and students were pretty much at war, torn by gang-related turf violence.
The story was taut, the pace was tight, and the action was gripping – and, frankly, I couldn’t possibly ask for anything better at that age. But time isn’t always cinema’s friend and, seeing it as an adult now, I recognize the editing issues, the sometimes pedestrian direction, and the somewhat off-key performances (it should be noted, however, that the movie features one of the first performances of Canadian icon Michael J. Fox; observant viewers will notice that the film was made in the Toronto-area!).
It’s a shame, but it doesn’t deter from my enjoyment. In fact, this film comes as close to being comfort food as anything does: every single time that I watch it, I get a sense that all is right in the world and it puts a big smile on my face; there’s just something about this concrete jungle tale that pushes all my buttons in pretty much the right way.
Oh, granted, it’s never going to recognized as a chef-d’oeuvre, but it thrills more than most action films of that era, it makes you think more deeply (about education, child-rearing, justice, the grey areas between right and wrong, the limits of human endurance, …etc.) than many dramas, and its gritty reality stabs right at the heart of every teenager, parent, student, teacher and authority figure.
Whether this movie was purposely fashioned after ‘The Blackboard Jungle’, or not, is irrelevant. It is still poignant and, sadly, timely enough in today’s culture to be worth a look – it was surprisingly prescient. And, personally, I think that that it’s a well under-rated film; while first-comers might not appreciate its virtues, it most certainly deserve its cult status.
Nota bene; for first-time viewers, I’d give it a 7.5… and, for the more forgiving ones, maybe an 8.0