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).
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
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.
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
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!
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.
CLASS OF 1999
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