Release Date(s)1982 (April 14, 2015)
Studio(s)Guerilla High Productions (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A
Class of 1984 is at once an odd duck of a movie because of how its tone shifts from that of a troubled teenager movie into a gratuitously violent and disturbing revenge film. Although it’s mostly viewed as an artifact from the 1980’s, its subject matter continues to be relevant. One could even argue that it’s quite tame compared to what is currently taking place in schools around the country.
In all honesty, I hadn’t seen this film prior to this review, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from it. I thought that it might be a bit fun and tongue-in-cheek, in the vein of something like Repo Man, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Class of 1984 is a film that goes right for the throat, unrelenting in its quest to push and push its lead character (who is nothing more than a wide-eyed teacher who thinks he can make a difference) straight into the role of a vigilante. I was actually shocked at how dark and violent the film actually became, especially during the rape scene, which left an intensely bad taste in my mouth (as it would anybody, I suppose).
Although Class of 1984 is basically an exploitation film, director Mark Lester intended it as a cautionary tale about the rise of violent teenagers in the real world. It’s basically a build-up movie that doesn’t get all that violent until the final act when all hell breaks loose. All of the actors, including Perry King and Mark Van Patten, turn in some terrific performances. There’s even a baby-face Michael J. Fox as one of the main characters. One might think that since it’s a film early in his career that he doesn’t have much to do, but this is a film that depends on its performances, and Fox delivers as well. But if you want to talk about scene-stealing, or rather flat-out movie-stealing performances, look no further than Roddy McDowall. His performance as an alcoholic teacher who wants nothing more than for his students to pay attention and learn is very much the best performance in the film. The last portion of the film may be the most talked-about due to the violent content, but McDowall’s performance in the classroom scene in which he holds his students at gun point is the most effective scene in the entire film.
With a budget of about four million dollars, Class of 1984 didn’t do an amazing amount of business at the box office, but it managed to make back its budget plus a little extra. It was successful enough that sequels were made later. And although the film is very much a snapshot of Reagen-era youth angst gone wrong, it certainly speaks volumes to the way that society has indeed become consumed with violence in all tiers of society. Perhaps Mark Lester might have felt that he was making a somewhat educational film in retrospect.
Scream Factory’s “new high definition transfer from the interpositive” of the film yields some excellent but imperfect viewing results. Grain levels fluctuate from shot to shot, but given the film’s low budget nature, it’s unsurprising. The visuals, overall, lean toward the soft side, but the level of detail is still quite deep. Colors are recreated quite well, and skin tones are mostly pleasing, although a bit too light from time to time. Blacks are very good, without being incredibly deep, and contrast and brightness levels are very satisfying. There’s also been no attempt do digitally enhance or remove any of the elements on display, as evidenced by the damage left behind. It’s miniscule most of the time, amounting to nothing more than black flecks and dirt, but the sequence involving Roddy McDowall’s character attempting to run down teenagers in his car has some more obvious blemishes to it. During his close-ups, there is often a very thin black line running through the middle of the frame which transforms into full-blown frame damage in one of the shots, running from 01:07:00 to 01:07:03, or three seconds (72 frames). It’s the only major blemish however, and the overall presentation is still quite satisfactory.
For the disc’s audio selection there’s English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks. Between the two, I found the 2.0 track to be more effective as it leans more toward to film’s original mono nature, but the 5.1 track does have some advantages. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and both sound effects and score have a bit of weight to them. Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of surround activity, outside of light ambience. There isn’t much speaker to speaker activity to be had either. It all sounds dated and stems from its low budget sources, but two listening options are welcome instead of just one. Which one you prefer will depend upon your tastes, but both are very good. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
In the supplemental department, almost all of the previous extras from Anchor Bay’s previous DVD release of the film have been carried over including an audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester and DVD producer Perry Martin, the Blood and Blackboards featurette, the film’s original theatrical trailer, a set of TV spots, and a still gallery. New to this release are three sets of interviews: The Girls Next Door: interviews with actors Lisa Langlois and Erin Noble, History Repeats Itself: interviews with Mark Lester and composer Lalo Schifrin, and Do What You Love: an interview with Perry King. The only extras missing from the previous DVD release are a Mark Lester bio and the film’s original screenplay, which was accessed via DVD-ROM.
Although it might seem an odd choice for the Scream Factory label, Class of 1984 deserves some high definition treatment, and this Blu-ray release is sure to please fans of the film.
- Tim Salmons