Title: Class of 1999 (1990)
Director: Mark L. Lester
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Pamela Grier, Traci Lind, Kirk Kilpatrick, John P. Ryan, Stacy Keach
Mark L . Lester’s Class of 1984 (1982) was a film that addressed issues concerning gang violence in schools, something that was getting out of control during the late 70’s and early 80’s. As far as I know, school gangs and gangs in general have died out, not many people go around wearing ‘gang colors’ and wanting to beat the living shit out of anyone who doesn’t belong to their gang. Personally, I always thought the whole gang thing was so stupid, but back in the 70’s it was a huge problem. Gang wars and this violent behavior amongst young people caught the eye of various filmmakers who went on to make films addressing this issue through films like The Warriors (1979). Lester’s Class of 1984 starred Roddy McDowall as a teacher who is pushed to the edge by his out of control students, so much so that in one pivotal scene of the film, the teacher holds his entire class room at gunpoint. Films like these demonstrated the frustration felt towards youth going out of control in schools and performing acts of brutal violence on each other and upon teachers. Suddenly, a teacher could not feel safe in his or her own classroom. Class of 1984 wasn’t just a film we were watching in a movie theater, this was happening in the real world. Actually, that scene in which the teacher pulls out a gun on his students was based on a real life event, so the film doesn’t stray that far off from real life events. Students can and do get rowdy and out of control and in a very dangerous way. So, it’s 1990 and here comes the sequel to the cult classic. How was it?
Class of 1999 starts out a whole lot like John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981); first we hear a voice over narrator telling us how violence in schools has gotten out of control, and how some schools exist behind these walls that separate the schools from the real world, behind these walls there are “no police, no rules” and only the strongest survive. These areas are called ‘Free Fire Zones’, which means that anyone can carry a gun and shoot it. This is the kind of town where when the students have a party, they randomly shoot their machine guns in the air as the dance! The students are divided into gangs, and of course, all gangs hate each other, defending their respective territories and so forth. In order to attack this violent environment, the Department of Educational Defense are bringing in three prototype teacher/robots who have a new way to teach these violent students: by using good old fashion physical discipline! Will these students make their teachers go crazy like in the first film? Or will these new teachers show these youngsters a lesson in respect and humility?
So yeah, basically what Class of 1999 does is it turns its teachers into villains, which is kind of a complete reversal of what we saw in Class of 1984; a film in which the students drive their music teacher to his limit, pushing him to the border of temporary insanity, in that film, the teacher was the victim and so when he pulls out a gun on the students, you see where he is coming from, you feel a bit of compassion for the teacher going berserk. Class of 1999 is the other way around; it’s the teachers who push the students’ buttons. These students might be out of control and totally anarchic (even more so then on Class of 1984) but these teachers are freaking terminators with flame throwers for hands and drills with which to “mold young minds”! So on this one, it’s the teachers who have the edge. The three robo-teachers are played by Pamela Grier, Patrick Kilpatrick and John P. Ryan and they all do a great job of coming off as cold, robotic beings following their programming. My favorite being P. ‘Mr. Hardish’ who picks up one of the rebellious students and actually begins to slap his ass to submission!
The students are played by a group of young actors whom you might remember from other sci-fi horror films of the eighties. For example, you’ll probably remember Bradley Gregg who plays ‘Cody’ as one of the sleep walking kids in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987), he’s the kid that Freddy manipulates like a puppet. Tracy Lin plays the principals daughter here, but you might remember her as Alex, Charlie’s girlfriend in Fright Night II (1988). Joshua John Miller plays ‘Angel’, Cody’s younger brother, but you might remember him as ‘Homer’, the child vampire in Near Dark (1987). To top things off we also get the great Malcolm McDowell playing the school’s principal; this is an interesting casting choice as well because early in his carrier McDowell was known for playing rebellious youth in films like A Clockwork Orange (1971) and If…(1968). On this one he is playing the school principal who’s trying to keep the students under control by implementing the disciplinary robots. So we have a pretty decent cast rounding out this film.
Thematically speaking Class of 1999 is shallower than its predecessor. While the first one contains some social commentary on violence amongst students, this sequel is simply a movie where the teachers are the monsters, so it’s a monster movie in the sameway that The Terminator is a monster movie. Actually, Class of 1999 feels like a mix between Robocop (1987), The Terminator (1984) and a little bit of Escape from New York (1981) for good measure. There’s a side plot about kids being on this new drug called ‘edge’, but that goes nowhere. There’s a Romeo and Juliet thing going on between Cody and the principals’ daughter, but it goes nowhere as well. My point is they had a couple of sub plots that could have served to flesh out some of the characters, but the filmmakers did not pursue them, instead they went for the wow factor, the whammy, the cool stuff, killer robots on the loose and I’d say that this is the way the film is meant to be enjoyed, as a sci-fi/horror film with scary robo-teachers and nothing more. While I did enjoy those moments when the teachers confront the rebellious students with extreme disciplinary actions, the best thing about this movie is the last half hour, when the teachers show their true colors. Then the film becomes a showcase of decent effects work. This is in my opinion an underrated sci-fi flick from the 90’s that is often times overshadowed by the more recognized original. Give it a shot for a decent slice of 90’s sci-fi; just don’t expect anything to deep.
Rating 3 ½ out of 5