Class of 1984 Mark Lester

Shot in Toronto during the summer of 1981, Mark Lester’s (Commando, Firestarter) vision of a school losing control to a gang of punk thugs comes off as a both a riveting and humorous exploitation film for its time — anarchic students defying school authority — and a clever depiction of gang-driven school violence. The story is nothing we haven’t seen over the years — Dangerous Minds, Lean On Me and The Principal have followed more predictable but comparable stories tackling the rehab of depraved students — but aside from preceding those films, Class of 1984 also chose an unconventional plot. Perry King plays Andrew Norris, a well-meaning music teacher who starts his first day at Lincoln High all starry-eyed. When co-worker Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowell) bursts his bubble and reveals the blunt reality that the school is overrun with crime and violence, Norris believes he can change the troublemakers. Well, one thing leads to another, a young Michael J. Fox (as nerdy Arthur) gets stabbed, Corrigan pulls a gun on his class, Norris’s wife gets raped and the nature of the film becomes centred on swift, blinding revenge. While the build up to the climax isn’t as implausible as today’s films would likely strive for, it does manage to go off the rails enough to cross over into the thriller genre with validation. Though set in Middle America, Class of 1984 doesn’t try to hide its palpable T-dot location, from the giant A&M Records signage on Yonge Street to the cameo by Teenage Head in a guttery club, which is, you know, amusing for us attention hungry Canadians. The accompanying Lester commentary and featurette "Blood and Blackboards” attempt to paint the film as a spot on forecast of the imminent crisis with school violence, but despite their passion in such claims, the film hardly plays out as the pre-Columbine social commentary they desire. Instead, what we have is an enjoyable, sometimes gratuitous, but often-intelligent exploitation flick shot during a time when films such as this could still maintain refreshing innocence while taking some chances. (Anchor Bay)