Director Mark L. Lester is known for many things. Roller Boogie, Pterodactyl and Showdown in Little Tokyo are one side of this iconoclastic coin. The other side includes movies like Firestarter, Armed and Dangerous and the legendary Commando. Yes, for all that Mr. Lester has given the world of cinema, he helmed this Arnold Schwarzenegger kill-fest, which saw that iconic actor head to Latin America on a death mission after some bad guys kidnap his daughter. The action is tight, on point, and this film works in just about any era because it is so visceral. In fact, Lester acquits himself so well here that one wonders why he didn’t make Predator or Total Recall?
However, somewhere amidst the big budget Hollywood films and the cult classics, Mark L. Lester managed to helm a film called Class of 1984. This gem from 1982 is neither big budget nor as fun as any of the films already mentioned. What it is is a genre take on “at risk” teen films seen through the eyes of a man approaching middle age. Perry King stars as Andrew Norris. He’s a good teacher in a bad school. Norris teaches band and after dealing with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) and his band of troublemaking students, he comes to realize that the band students are actually pretty good. The fact that Norris wants to do something positive naturally puts him at odds with Stegman. Norris also realizes that Stegman and Co. are pushing drugs. Suddenly, Class of 1984 becomes a game of tit for tat. However, Norris gives up trying to reach Stegman. This is made even more complicated when Norris realizes that Stegman is also an accomplished pianist. In addition to this Norris has seen one of his pupils, Arthur (Michael J. Fox, then credited as Michael Fox), stabbed by another one of Stegman’s cronies. Things take a savage turn on the night that the school orchestra gives a performance. Stegman and his thugs brutalize and rape Norris’s wife. Norris then goes after each one of the thugs who have inexplicably come back to the school. He murders each one of them with the final kill coming in the form of Peter Stegman who more than deserves it.
Made for $3.2 million this film tripled its budget by bringing in $7 million. If you throw in home video and all the other ancillary markets, Class of 1984 had to at least have made $15-20 million, right? From the first frame it is obvious that what we are watching is a low budget affair. Still, this movie had many things going for it. It was filled with solid performers like King, Fox, and Van Patten. The film was on the cutting edge of punk rock music and actually portrays that subculture in a frank and honest way. Class of 1984 is so frank in terms of its violence and sexual content that it both repels and draws you to it at once. In many ways, it is easy to write a low budget movie like this off as merely a violent, fun, teen flick. The reality is that Class of 1984 led no less a movie authority than Roger Elbert to call its ending a “Grand Guignol conclusion.” That alone is reason enough to call Class of 1984 the coolest teen flick ever.