“Mr. Noooorris, I am the future!” Said repeatedly as Stegman and his gang of punk thugs stalk the new, well intentioned and seemingly innocent, teacher down the halls of Lincoln High where weapons are passed through metal detectors with little anybody can do to stop it from happening. With a calculated look in his eyes, Stegman pushes forward, making Mr. Norris believe that the worst is yet to come.
Life is pain, a motto Stegman makes crystal clear from the beginning. Today school violence is epidemic. We’re headed down a pretty scary road and this movie proclaimed that before it had become so wide spread and universal. Class of 1984 speaks louder today to an audience because of how our society has degenerated over the past 25 years. It’s scarier than ever to be a teenager.
Andy Norris (Perry King), the new teacher at Lincoln high has the best intentions in the world, wants to teach and reach the youth of the school not yet corrupted by the overwhelming crime and violence stationed therein. He thinks the best of everybody, a pacifist by nature, someone who believes in peace and the good in developing young minds the right way. Greeted by another teacher upon his arrival Mr. Norris asks, “What’s the gun for?” and in response Mr. Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) says, “Where have you been teaching lately?” which at the time is a pretty telling response to what’s in store for our hero. He unknowingly enters a violent world where he takes it upon himself to make a difference. What could he possibly do to curb the crime, violence and overall negativity that plague the school?
Class of 1984 was shot in 42 days in Toronto, Canada where the filmmakers intended for the scenery to be very American. What’s interesting is the fact that the school they chose for the shoot, Lincoln High in the film, was actually called Central High. Now, I’m sure there are many Central High schools around the country, which makes it an even better homage, but one of my favorite high school violence “revenge” flicks is Massacre at Central High where there’s a dissent among the student body and a new student takes it upon himself to enact revenge on his fellow classmates for the betterment of the entire school. This “statement”, being violence on violence as a last resort “solution”, is prevalent in Class of 1984 but it draws heavy influence from many high school flicks of the 50’s such as, Blackboard Jungle with Glenn Ford, Jack Arnold’s High School Confidential, and Rock Around the Clock.
Director Mark L. Lester (Steel Arena, Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw, Roller Boogie) showcases a very concentrated and focused view of high school life in the world he’s created with fluid direction and great atmosphere. Among some of the other high school flicks that an influence was drawn, what I find even more apparent is Lester’s creation of Timothy Van Patten’s (The White Shadow) character Stegman as sort of an Alex DeLarge counter part from A Clockwork Orange. Tim Van Patten creates a scary yet sympathetic character, one who isn’t simply a thug but has another side buried deep inside, a brilliant side.
Tim Van Patten did what Malcolm McDowell did for Alex DeLarge, he created a captivating portrait of evil yet we as an audience refuse to believe that he couldn’t be more because he’s interesting and charismatic. We enjoy the intensity he brings to the role and as a character we don’t want to give up on him, much like Mr. Norris near the beginning of the film. Dealing with a punk rock infused cast and even real punk kids during some of the concert scenes puts a Warriors feel into the film. The Warriors having come out just three years prior to the release of Class of 1984, this was the time when the punk rock movement was getting popularized. The soundtrack to the film is epic. There’s a lot here to dig and among the best is Alice Cooper’s “I Am the Future” used as the title track to the film.
Stegman has control over everything in, and around, the school. We see him set up shop, Godfather-esque, as sort of a high school Caesar with hookers working for him for dope, the sale of narcotics in a designated “office” setup with many punk kids working the halls and selling in the school bathrooms. Michael J. Fox plays a pretty significant role, one which if done by a lesser actor could have just been throwaway, but Michael J. Fox really adds life to a seemingly dry and hollow character, adding sympathy for the good of the school. One scene plays out as Fox and his buddy enter the school washroom where his friend buys some narcotics and begins to freak out, wandering outside where he feels the urge to climb the school’s flagpole and wrap himself in the American flag, a scene with much controversy upon release. What we see here is innocence corrupted, seemingly good kids being drawn into Stegman’s world. What’s more is the way these events are able to go on for so long, the principal proclaims, “How can you prove it?” after Mr. Norris catches Stegman and his dealers working in the bathroom.
“Teacher, teacher, you ever come here again and I’ll kill you. You’re mine asshole, all mine…” says Stegman after Mr. Norris attempts to get through on the home front due to an altercation in the washroom earlier in the day. What Stegman does in the washroom at the time was quite shocking and nobody believes Mr. Norris once confronted about it. It’s yet another way Stegman manipulates the situation in his favor, showing Mr. Norris and everyone else that nothing can stop him. The only saving grace for Mr. Norris is his friendship with Roddy McDowell’s character Mr. Corrigan but even that begins to wear thin as Roddy begins his descent into madness, feeling he can’t get through to the kids anymore, he simply wants to teach.
The classroom scene with Roddy McDowell really defines the entire film with high philosophical subtext dripping from every shot. By bringing a gun to the classroom and threatening the lives of the students, then and only then, do they learn anything. Roddy really took the material seriously and gave such energy to the role. Compare this with his role in Fright Night, you can really see his dedication and enthusiasm. He’s such an underrated actor.
War between the teenagers and teacher escalate, it’s a building war with the present vs. the future in constant battle. At one point something happens that changes the complexion of the film entirely. At this point Mr. Norris goes berserk, transforms his thought process into that of a much more primitive being and all bets are off. It’s the breakdown of good for the takedown of evil. It’s not gratuitous because there is a message, but that doesn’t cut down on the violence quotient. The film is truly excellent with an entertainment factor as well as the thoughtfulness you want to see in a film like this. It gives it a lot more weight.
The one scene that sends chills down my spine every time I see it yet also makes me grin like a mad hatter is the scene where Stegman is in the school’s hall with his gang of thugs and Mr. Norris is at the other end of the hall, Stegman fixes his eyes on Mr. Norris and walks forward while repeating over and over, “I am the future!”