Sunday 10 February 2019

Dark Eyes Retrovision #6 - Class of 1999 (USA 1989: Dir Mark L. Lester)

Director Mark L. Lester clearly felt confident enough about the predictions of a soon come USA in his successful Class of 1984, filmed in 1982, to make some even grander assumptions about society 15 years on in the sequel, 1989's Class of 1999. Whereas the original movie anticipated rising levels of violence within the education system, this one goes the whole hog, depicting an American wasteland where schools are run by armed gangs, the police are defenceless and there ain't a whole lot of learning going on.

Oh and robot teachers are a thing. Three of 'em. And one smokes a pipe.

Set just before the end of the twentieth century, Lester's rough and ready - but enormously enjoyable - mash up of Escape From New York (1981), Robocop (1987), The Terminator (1984) and any number of 80s post apocalyptic two wheeled renegade movies, focuses on Kennedy High, a beleaguered school in Seattle, closed down because of escalating violence, and surrounded by a lawless 'Free-Fire' zone in which law enforcement fears to tread. However things are about to change, in a deal brokered by school Principal Dr Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell). The appropriately named Department of Education and Defence, responsible for the nation's schools, is about to partner up with the military hardware outfit Megatech in a ground-breaking experiment; courtesy of company head honcho Dr. Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach) Kennedy High will be supplied three 'superteachers,' humanoid battle drones, reconditioned and rewired to perform roles as 'Tactical Education Units', but with the added advantage of super strength to deal with the more forceful students.

As part of the project, some of most violent kids, previously locked up in prison, will be released back in to society and obliged to re-attend school. One of these kids, Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg), has decided to reform himself and escape the gang culture which got him into pokey in the first place, despite the stick he gets for this approach from brother Angel (Joshua Miller) who like their mother is still addicted to drugs. Befriending the Principal's daughter Christie (Tracy Lind) Cody begins to suspect that the school's new robo-teachers may be pursuing a slightly different agenda to the three 'R's, particularly when their military programme starts to short circuit their scholastic one. Cody and the warring factions must unite against the humanoid terror that threatens the school.

The sci fi elements may for the most part be slightly McGuffinesque - Lester never lets story or context get in the way of a good fight or car chase - but the director efficiently paints a picture of a future Seattle which is for the most part convincing, helped by locating the movie in an actual abandoned town, vacant pending the expansion of an airport - nice find! There's some humour in here too - the teachers' lockers are largely full of cans of WD40 and the neon signs on the school walls read 'Respect, Obey, Learn.' The effects, largely confined to the the movie's last half hour, are doubtless where most of the $7 million budget was expended, and include an unstoppable final cyborg that may take its moves from The Terminator but is a glorious mix of hydraulics and stop frame animation.

But it's the cast that make this, just keeping the right side of tongue in cheek. McDowell and Keach may have small roles but they bring a touch of class to the B pic (Keach in particular looks resplendent with white spiky hair and cats eyes contacts). Pam Grier plays it brilliantly straight as one of the teacherborgs, and Bradley Gregg, Joshua Miller and Tracy Lind are spirited teens who aren't afraid to roll their sleeves up and get with the action.

Class of 1999 is available on Blu-ray as part of the Vestron Collector's Series from 25th February 2019.

Extras include: a slightly lacklustre audio commentary from producer/Director Mark L. Lester; 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; Future of Discipline – an interview with director of photography Mark Irwin; theatrical trailer, TV Spots, still gallery and video promo.

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