Presented as a twisted sort of cautionary tale, Class of 1984 is one of those dark, violent movies no video rental store in America knew how to categorize. Based on the blood-red font on the packaging alone, it usually found its way to the horror section, and rightly so, as it’s a pretty blatant rape revenge story. Nothing unscary about that.
Mr. Norris, a simple minded, salt of the earth teacher arrives at a notoriously out of control high school, overrun by a vicious gang of drug dealing thugs, led by gangly Peter Stegman (played by award winning television writer/director Tim Van Patten). Stegman is a laughably intimating master pianist, who refers to himself with offensive racial epithets that don’t even apply to him. I doubt there’s a single viewer that doesn’t wanna slap this guy silly, and it’s painful to watch no one stick up to him or his band of misfits. The movie toys with the notion that Stegman is perhaps just a lost, misunderstood teenager crying out for help. This notion, like Stegman himself, is laughable, but I like this approach and makes you genuinely believe Norris wants to help these kids more than harm them, he’s just left with no choice.
Initially, Stegman’s gang is relatively harmless. Sure, they’re rude and crude, but their only “attack” on Norris is squirting stage paint in his face, arguably a prank. It’s not until Norris sets out to have the gang expelled altogether that Stegman takes things violently too far. His gang beats and stabs their way through the movie, targeting everyone from rival gangs, animal labs, and a young Michael J. Fox.
They even manage to kill a student and teacher without laying a finger on them: the student high on drugs, and the teacher, played by Roddy McDowall, dies in a car wreck while attempting to take down the thugs himself. Things reach a disturbing breaking point when Norris must avenge the brutal attack on his wife, which occurs inside his own home. The final showdown is worth it, for the most part, as these bastards deserve everything that’s coming to them. Certainly not a feel-good, Class of 1984 is one of those movies you’d rent as a joke with your friends, but end up thoroughly engrossed and perhaps even deeply disturbed.
It deserves its place in the horror section.
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