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CLASS OF 1999

What do you get when you pair Malcolm McDowell as the principal of a school, in the “future” year of 1999, with Stacey Keach and Pam Grier as android teachers on a killing rampage?  A: Lots of ultra-violent fun, especially when the director is Mark L. Lester (CLASS OF 1984, COMMANDO). 

The Package 
     Mark Lester, a thirty year-plus moviemaking veteran, is a director whose flicks I tend to enjoy.  Most of them are modest, unpretentious B-movie fare that can always be counted on to deliver the exploitation movie goods in welcome abundance, from early efforts like TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974) and BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW (1976) to the Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot-‘em-up COMMANDO (1985) and the loony BLOODY MAMA knock-off PUBLIC ENEMIES (1996).  (I’ll politely overlook lesser Lester projects like ROLLER BOOGIE and FIRESTARTER.) 
     Lester’s masterpiece is arguably CLASS OF 1984 (1982), a deliriously violent, socially conscious updating of THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE that served as the template for quite a few subsequent high school exploitation flicks (see THE PRINCIPAL and THE SUBSTITUTE).  CLASS OF 1999 (1990) was intended as a sequel of sorts, but with a splatterific TERMINATOR make-over: this time it wasn’t the students who were the heavies, as in the earlier film, but the teachers, who happen to be literal killing machines.  The results are mighty solid, bolstered by a slick and efficient script by C. Courtney Joyner (a B-movie specialist whose other credits include PRISON and PUPPET MASTER VS. DEMONIC TOYS) with uncredited assistance from horror novelist John Skipp (a forerunner of the splatterpunk movement, which explains the unusually high level of bloodletting).  Yet CLASS OF 1999’s viewership was miniscule, possibly because it was released in the US around the same time as another, far more expensive sci fi-splatter epic: TOTAL RECALL, which ate it up and spat it out at the box office.

The Story 
     Cody, a wayward young man living in the far-off year of 1999, is released from prison to rejoin his gang banger buddies.  Almost as soon as he steps outside the prison gates Cody finds himself in a high speed car chase with rival gang members; he very narrowly survives the melee, but the real craziness begins when he reports to school.  The establishment’s kind-hearted but none-too-bright principal Miles Langford has employed Dr. Robert Forrest, a robotics specialist who brings three androids to the school to pose as teachers in a misguided effort at combating student disobedience.  The androids, adorned as two stocky white men and a statuesque black woman, waste no time disciplining their students through unadorned brutality.  The students, of course, don’t know their teachers are robots, and that those ‘bots started out as weapons for the military.
     Cody becomes suspicious, especially after he witnesses a teacher murder a classmate.  Cody tracks the androids to their base of operations, a townhouse where all three teachers live, but they intercept him, leading to an all-out war in which Cody’s little brother and several of his gang-banger colleagues are offed.  He and his surviving buddies show up at the school to do away with the robot teachers for good--not that this will be an easy task, as the ‘bots are waiting for ‘em, drill-hands and laser beam shooters at the ready! 

The Direction 
     If nothing else, CLASS OF 1999 gives us exactly what we want in a B-movie: lots and lots of action and violence (albeit no T&A)!  The film is expertly paced, so much so that even in the “slow” bits the forward momentum never flags--not that Mark Lester ever allows things to slacken, as he’s careful to include a beating and/or shootout at a rate of about one every three minutes.  Of course the proceedings are a tad derivative, of virtually the entire pre-1990 filmography of James Cameron--I won’t go into details, but can assure you that the original TERMINATOR and ALIENS are “referenced” an awful lot.
     The elaborate stunt work is impressive, and so are the prosthetic effects, particularly considering the evident low budget.  The actors all acquit themselves well, with Pam Grier being the stand-out: those familiar with her early roles in classic sleazers like COFFY and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE will welcome the sight of Pam kicking the shit out of errant students.  The film even contains a social conscience for those who care to look for it: as he did with CLASS OF 1984, which expertly tapped into the law-and-order craze of the Reagan years, Lester captured the zeitgeist of the early nineties remarkably well in this film, which appeared on US screens less than a year before the Rodney King beating thrust issues of authority run amuck into the public spotlight.  Not that CLASS OF 1999 needs or deserves to be taken that seriously, as it was and is exactly what it presumes to be: a killer android blow-out, and a good one.


Vital Statistics 

CLASS OF 1999
Lightning Pictures 

Director: Mark L. Lester
Producer: Mark L. Lester
Screenplay: C. Courtney Joyner, John Skipp (uncredited)
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Editing: Scott Conrad
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Stacey Keach, Bradley Gregg, Traci Lin, John P. Ryan, Pam Grier, Joshua Miller
 


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