Class of 1999 (1990)

FEBRUARY 1, 2018


Ideally, Class of 1999's Blu-ray release this Tuesday would have been delayed out of respect for the two students who were killed (along with over a dozen others shot) at their high school in Kentucky last week, and then possibly again after today's (thankfully death-free, so far) school shooting in Los Angeles, because that's what used to happen on the then-rare occasions this sort of horrible tragedy occurred. Anything involving students and violence was delayed or altered, sometimes for even months after such an atrocity (remember when Teaching Mrs. Tingle, released five months after Columbine, was Killing Mrs. Tingle?). But that sort of "out of respect..." maneuver is pretty rare these days, because there are so many similar events (the Kentucky incident was the 11th school shooting in the US this year so far, after one month) that they'll never be able to release it without it being "too soon". There is sadly another always around the corner, because it's not like anything will ever change.

Luckily, unlike the "original" Class of 1984 (this movie is considered a sequel, but there's nothing in common besides the general idea of schools being overrun by assholes), there's no way that this film's terrifying vision of the near future will come to pass, since we're nearly twenty years past its setting and we still don't have android teachers at all, let alone ones that murder the unruly kids. School violence is of course still a problem, but whereas 1984 dealt with it in a fairly believable manner (fed up teachers fighting back) this is straight up B-movie cheese, closer to Terminator than the evening news. With these shootings fresh in my mind (if not the minds of the news cycle, too busy dealing with whatever Donny is up to today as if it will matter in the slightest) I was never more thankful to watch a movie that was so utterly ridiculous, because otherwise I'd probably find it too hard to enjoy.

And enjoy it I did! I mean, yeah, I wish there was more killer robot stuff (this ain't a horror movie, by the way - more on that soon), but even though the best of it is confined to the last act - i.e. when their human skin starts getting shredded and they're leaking green goo everywhere - there's never any doubt that they are indeed androids. From the start we see the Terminator/Robocop-y POV shots from our trio of cyberteachers (Pam Grier, Patrick Kilpatrick, and John P. Ryan) that inform us of their non-human status (Kilpatrick also shows off his robot face under his skin for good measure), and they have superhuman strength and all that, so it's not like Alien or whatever that we're supposed to be surprised someone isn't actually human - but the kids don't know that, which is a bit odd since they don't find out for like an hour and we've known all along. In retrospect it might have been fun to try to hide it from us for a bit, if only to be even more weirded out by Ryan's first big scene, as his exaggerated cheering actually puts the movie into horror territory because it's so unnerving. Then again, knowing he's a robot adds tension to an otherwise pretty funny scene where he spanks the bottoms of two of the punk kids in his class, with a swift and mechanical smacking motion (which reminded me of Buzz Lightyear's karate chop action) that I thought was about to malfunction and impale the kid through his ass with the next hard smack.

Ryan's casting is one of the many inspired choices, as he's probably most famous to horror fans as the dad of the mutant baby in the first two It's Alive films, so seeing him tackle a different kind of evil child is of course wonderful. Likewise it's hilarious to see Malcolm "Alex DeLarge" McDowell overseeing a school overrun by modern day droogs, and it's so rare to see Pam Grier as a villain it's hard to remember we're supposed to be on the teenagers' side when she starts beating the shit out of three of them at once in her chemistry class. But the most delightful part isn't really stunt casting per se - it's just the mere sight of Stacy Keach with goofy contacts and some bizarre haircut that's a cross between a buzzcut and a mullet (and dyed snow white for good measure). He's from the "Department of Educational Defense" (heh) and is the guy in charge of implementing the robot teachers in order to bring the school in line, but sadly spends most of the movie just looking at monitors and saying sinister things, with only the contacts suggesting he too is a robot. But (spoiler for 20 year old movie ahead) he's actually just a damn nut I guess, as he bleeds red when he dies as opposed to the green-blooded robots, meaning he was human all along.

As for the teens, they're a pretty generic lot, and unlike Class of 1984 there are no "good" students to be seen with the exception of the main guy's love interest, who is also McDowell's daughter. Otherwise it seems like everyone in the school belongs to one of the two rival gangs (the Razorheads and the Blackhearts), making them not exactly the kind of people you want to root for. The main guy is named Cody and is played by Bradley Gregg, aka Philip from Dream Warriors (the one who dies as a "puppet"), doing some weird Corey Feldman-y kinda shtick that got old fast. But I kind of liked how the plot unfolded, with the teachers staging some of their kills to incite a war between the two gangs, only for Cody to catch on and band together with his rivals (led by James Medina, who was the most charismatic actor of the bunch but unfortunately passed away in the 90s) for an all out assault on the school. This is when the movie really starts earning its placement in a few issues of Fangoria, with the three androids (particularly Kilpatrick) taking a beating but never stopping, and procuring weapons from their limbs - if you ever wanted to see Pam Grier's arm turn into a flamethrower, this is your movie.

It was during these scenes that I was not only having the most fun with the flick (which I want to stress I had never seen before; it seems like the sort of thing that would have been on Cinemax during my formative years but even if I caught a few minutes at one point, I do not remember it) but also lamenting how far the concept of a "B-movie" has fallen. Not only is the script a step or two above what you'd expect from this kind of junk, but director Mark Lester put together a real crew (including DP Mark Irwin, who used to be Cronenberg's go-to cinematographer and went on to shoot a number of Wes Craven's films, including Scream) instead of blowing the meager budget on cameos and other bullshit like today's Asylum/Syfy level crap. The stunts, practical FX, and pyrotechnics are on par with any studio movie, and it's a shame so much of today's stuff can't be bothered to put that kind of effort into things. It's unfair that this will be lumped in with the likes of Sharktopus or whatever by future generations - there's a distinct difference in the quality and presentation that should be noted, and celebrated in turn.

Speaking of celebrating, it's being released by Lionsgate as part of their ongoing Vestron Collector's Series, which is sort of the studio's answer to Scream Factory and the like - giving the royal treatment to less prestigious fare such as this. It's got a commentary by Lester (I didn't bother to listen, having learned my lesson with Firestarter and Class of 1984 - nothing against him, it's just that some folks aren't that interesting/fun to listen to) and some interviews, including one with the FX guys Eric Allard and Rick Stratton, who did a pretty great job I think and reveal that the robot flood was just transmission fluid (and glitter was put in the squibs for when the robots got shot!). All the other titles are more traditionally horror (such as Gothic, which also hit this week - I wrote about that over at BMD since I already reviewed it here), but even IMDB calls this one an "action-horror" movie so I dunno. I got in a brief Twitter skirmish last week after crying foul at people celebrating that a "horror movie" (Shape of Water) got so many Oscar nominations, when it's not a damn horror movie at all (even Del Toro said as much, and last I checked he's not exactly a snob about horror), primarily because I feel trying to claim films like Shape of Water (which I quite loved, for the record) as horror is just as obnoxious as someone saying something like It is a "psychological thriller". Ultimately it doesn't really matter, but I just wanna do my due diligence - this is "of interest" to horror fans because of the makeup work and the horror-friendly label that it's being released on, but please don't be expecting Chopping Mall set in a school.

I really hate that even escapist fun junk like this has to remind me of the real world, since it kind of defeats the purpose of it. The fact that a screenplay like this wouldn't get considered by even the trashiest producers nowadays is incredibly depressing to me, and what's worse is that I don't see the situation changing any time soon. As of next year my son will be going to school and less than two years from now he'll be the same age as the victims of Sandy Hook - and there's literally no reason to think that by then he and his classmates will be any safer than a child in a classroom today (or a movie theater, or a church, or a mall, or...), due to the fact that our government seems to have no interest in exploring better gun control laws. I want him to grow up watching goofy shit like this and having fun with it the entire time - not just when it reaches the point of absurdity and we can temporarily keep our minds off of the real-world parallels drawn up by the first hour. Ideally, someday, we can be just as amused by the "far-fetched" idea of kids walking around their school with guns as we are to see them get burned up by Pam Grier's flamethrower arm. Let's keep hoping.

What say you?


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