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Anchor Bay Entertainment presents
"Life is pain. Pain is everything."
DVD ReviewAs far as seminal cult classics go, Class of 1984 is one of the more influential of the lot. If this movie had not been made and subsequently praised by film critic Roger Ebert, similar fare (The Substitute, Dangerous Minds) might never have been conceived. This tale of violent gangs in the classroom isn't exactly the first of its kind (Blackboard Jungle first springs to mind), but looking back now, over 20 years later, it's an entry that has held up surprisingly well.
New teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) descends upon Lincoln High on his first day. He's the new head of the music department, who, after bonding with fellow teacher Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall), walks into his classroom and straight into hell. Wrecking havoc in the room is the school's most powerful gang, headed by Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), who doesn't take any crap from anyone, whether they're a student or an adult authority figure. This initial encounter sets the tone for the hate/hate relationship between Norris and Stegman, one that could threaten all of those close to the teacher, including his wife, Diane (Merrie Lynn Ross).
From the opening shots of the high school in turmoil (complete with what had to be some of the first in-school metal detectors), the perfect tone is set for director Mark Lester to craft his grand guignol of revenge. Usually, in films like this, the "bad" kids pick on the "good" ones, and physical harm is rarely an issue. But here, these gangs don't discriminate, using knives, guns, or whatever they can get their hands on, to actually murder other people, often in gruesome ways. This gore and graphic violence has always been a major draw for fans of this film, but for the uninitiated, there's much more to it than just intense slasher violence.
The Stegman character is beyond evil, but Lester gives him the slightest bit of sympathy; he's also a talented pianist, and we see that his mother truly loves him. Still, just when Stegman earns our sympathy, Lester pulls the rug and Stegman commits an even more heinous act of terror towards Mr. Norris or any other innocent that gets in his way. Timothy Van Patten does a nice job bringing Stedman to life, and Perry King's work as Mr. Norris is powerful, despite quite a bit of over-acting. We are also treated to one of the earliest performances by Michael J. Fox (credited here as Michael Fox), who shows us just how talented he is, even at such an early age.
Lester gets the best out of all of his actors, but it doesn't get any better than Roddy McDowall's performance as the mild-mannered biology teacher. He is involved in what is arguably the centerpiece of the film; a shocking sequence involving a teacher with a gun that immediately follows an even more jarring series of events. In this 15 minutes or so, McDowall makes the seamless transition to a revenge-seeking madman, filled with nothing but rage after the core of his daily work is destroyed by Stegman and company. McDowall's performance toes a fine line between serious emoting and pure camp, but he handles this task quite well.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: This anamorphic 1.77:1 widescreen transfer gives us Class of 1984 in the best presentation it's ever enjoyed. Quite a bit of clean-up work has been done, with almost no grain and dirt left. The color-rendering is excellent, bringing out each and every hue of the wild '80s fashions, and avoiding any blemishes such as bleeding. The image isn't as sharp and detailed as newer films, but this is more than forgivable, given the overall stellar transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The new Dolby Digital 5.1 track features surprisingly active surrounds that provide a great deal of depth to the proceedings. Wide dynamic range brings quite a bit of ambient sound to all of the speakers, and there's deep, aggressive bass during the action scenes. The dialogue is integrated well into the overall mix, and is always easy to hear and understand.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Vice Squad, Bad Boys, Heathers
2 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Writer/director Mark Lester and DVD producer Perry Martin
Packaging: Keep Case
An audio commentary track includes writer/director Mark Lester and DVD producer Perry Martin. This covers much of what we hear in Blood and Blackboards, but there are some new tidbits about the cast and what it was like to deal with such sensitive subject matter.
There's also the great theatrical trailer, a pair of TV spots, a poster and stills gallery, Mark Lester biography and filmography, trailers for other Anchor Bay DVD releases, and a DVD-ROM feature that grants access to the film's screenplay.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsWith the Columbine Massacre still looming over us, watching a film like Class of 1984 today is still moving and scary. This dark look at school violence rings even more true now, and Anchor Bay's excellent new DVD captures this powerful movie in the best way it has ever been presented on home video.
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