Class of 1999 (1990), directed by Mark L. Lester.
Written by Mark L. Lester and C. Courtney Joyner.
Starring Bradley Gregg, Traci Lind and Malcolm McDowell.
Follows Class of 1984 (1982)
Followed by Class of 1999 II: The Substitute (1994)
Class of 1999 is a spiritual successor to Mark L. Lester’s Class of 1984 (1982); a tale of revenge that depicted an increasingly violent gang clashing with the music teacher of a troubled inner-city high school. The tagline for Class of 1984 – “Look at us. We are the future. You can’t stop us. Don’t even try.” – was derived from a comment made in the film by the leader of the gang, Peter Stegman (played by director Timothy Van Patten): “I am the future!”
Class of 1984 was a troubling observation of the increasing violence in schools that was occurring in America, in the early 1980s. The film was controversial, but remains a cult favourite; one that director Mark L. Lester considers the best in a career that has spanned decades. Indeed, Class of 1984 sits alongside such cult classics as Truck Stop Women (1974), Firestarter (1984), and Commando (1985).
But that was 1984. The year is now 1999…
“In 1992, there were 543,767 violent incidents in American high schools. In some cities, the areas around these schools were beginning to fall under the control of violent youth gangs. By 1997, the number of violent incidents had tripled. Gangs had taken control of large sections of these cities. Some schools were shut down.”
Welcome to Seattle; specifically Kennedy High School. The surrounding area of this school has become known as a “free-fire zone”, an area controlled by gangs of adolescent punks: mainly the Blackhearts and their rivals, the Razorheads. The police will not enter. There is no law. Thus the Department of Educational Defense (D.F.D.) has been formed to reopen the school and control the gangs.
Kennedy High School’s new principal, Dr. Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell – A Clockwork Orange), has agreed with the Department of Educational Defense and MegaTech, a cybernetic weapon manufacturer, to deploy, not only security guards to the premises, but also to discuss the deployment of three former military cyborgs as android educators.
Dr. Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach – The Ninth Configuration), the head of MegaTech, introduces Mr. Bryles (Patrick Kilpatrick – The Toxic Avenger), Mr. Hardin (John P. Ryan – Futureworld), and Ms. Connors (Pam Grier – Foxy Brown) to the Board of Education. They are each programmed with one of three skills: physical education, history, and chemistry. And, most importantly, each educator will discipline their students if necessary.
Impressed by what MegaTech has accomplished, Dr. Langford agrees to their terms and announces that all imprisoned juvenile delinquents are to be released as part of this new experiment. If MegaTech’s “teachers” can discipline and educate the worst that Seattle has to offer, this could be the future of education! What could possibly go wrong?
Fresh-out-of-prison, Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg – Stand by Me) – a former member of the Blackhearts – intends to keep a low profile, avoid any gang warfare that the Blackhearts or Razorheads may become involved in, and return to the re-opened Kennedy High School. His new “teachers” are indistinguishable from humans, so for Cody and the students of Kennedy High, it is just another school day. That is until the cyborgs begin to revert to their original military programming…
“I operate from a model of absolute zero tolerance.”
Class of 1999 is a far cry away from the horrors displayed in its predecessor. The violence of Class of 1984 has been turned up a few notches, but don’t expect the same disturbing realism.
The punk rock aesthetic from Class of 1984 has remained intact, but Class of 1999 is sci-fi schlock executed with technical precision. A cyberpunk pseudo-sequel that allows the action, horror, and special effects to take center stage. The work that both Eric Allard and Rick Stratton’s All Effects Company have put into Class of 1999 should be admired. The practical special effects – particulary the “teachers” cybernetic inner-mechanisms – have aged incredibly well despite their budget, and Seattle looks almost post-apocalyptic; clearly inspired by the visual style of Mad Max 2.
The entire cast in Class of 1999 are spectacular and really elevate the subject material. With the exception of Patrick Kilpatrick’s campy portrayal of a P.E. teacher gone rogue (not really a criticism – Mr. Bryles is badass!), and perhaps the hilarious John P. Ryan spanking scene, each actor tackles their role with a level of seriousness that you wouldn’t expect from a script involving an oppressive futuristic society of cyber-teachers, and their penchant for one-liners!
“The mind is a terrible thing to waste – don’t make me waste yours.”
Courtesy of Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series, Class of 1999 is presented on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer – restored and remastered from the original film elements – along with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and English subtitles for the deaf or hard-of-hearing. Class of 1999 has a somewhat rougher presentation than other releases that form the Vestron Collector’s Series. This is not a complaint, but rather an observation. There are a few scratches, but overall Lionsgate have done a decent job with this transfer. Dust and scratches are the staple diet of any cult film aficionado after all.
The included audio commentary from Mark L. Lester is an informative nostalgia trip for the director, as he reminisces on the production; touching upon the cast, plot, and special effects. Also included on this Blu-ray release are various featurettes produced by Red Shirt Pictures, like School Safety, interviews with director/producer Mark L. Lester and co-producer Eugene Mazzola; New Rules, an interview with screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner; Cyber-Teachers from Hell, interviews with special effects creators Eric Allard and Rick Stratton; and Future of Discipline, an interview with director of photography Mark Irwin. Finally, Lionsgate have included the original theatrical trailer, TV spots, a video promo, and a still gallery.
Class of 1999 was released during a time when gang violence in America was still of major concern. But rather than attempt to mimic the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), or his own Class of 1984, Mark L. Lester and co-writer C. Courtney Joyner have crafted a distant future that displays more exuberance than shocking violence. Class of 1999 is The Bronx Warriors (1982) x The Terminator (1984); a exploitative mixture of dystopian action and cyberpunk schlock.