Andrew Norris is the new music teacher at a troubled inner city school. As he arrives on his first day, he meets fellow teacher Terry Corrigan, who is carrying a gun. When Andrew asks about the firearm, Terry assures him he will learn why the protection is necessary. When they enter the school, Andrew is shocked to see everyone scanned by metal detectors and frisked. He spots a student with a knife, but the security guards let the kid go because they are so overworked.
The halls of the school are covered with graffiti. Andrew learns he is expected to patrol the halls as a security guard during his off periods. In his first class, a group of five disruptive students are roughhousing and causing trouble. The leader of the gang is Peter Stegman, the only member of the group who is actually registered in that class. They all eventually walk out, and Andrew discovers the rest of the students actually want to learn, especially Arthur, who plays the trumpet, and Deneen, who plays the clarinet.
As Andrew gets to know the school and the area, he decides that he wants to put together an orchestra with his more advanced students. Peter’s gang sells drugs, run a strip club, and cause all kinds of mayhem. They follow Andrew home and taunt him one night.
At school, Andrew is confronted with more and more evidence of Peter’s crimes. The two grow increasingly at odds. Eventually, after Stegman killed Terry’s animals in his lab, Andrew and Stegman wind up in a bathroom alone together. Peter throws himself into a mirror and beats himself, claiming that Andrew attacked him. Trying to clear things up, Andrew visits Peter’s mother at home. Frustrated when Peter still plays the victim and his mother will not hear Andrew out, he hotwires Peter’s car and drives it into a wall. During lunch, Stegman’s gang start a “food fight” and force their friend Vinnie to stab Arthur, which he does so and causes him to be sent to a hospital. Vinnie is arrested and held in a youth detention center. Terry is driven insane after the incident with the animals in his lab and is killed after crashing his car when trying to kill Stegman and the others.
Andrew’s orchestra is about to give its first concert. As his wife Diane gets ready at home, Peter’s gang breaks into the house and gang rapes her. One of them takes a Polaroid of her being raped and has it delivered to Andrew on the podium, just as he is about to start the concert. Horrified by the photo, he runs off the podium in pursuit of Peter’s gang. Andrew and the gang chase each other through the school. Andrew kills them off one by one, and finally confronts Peter on the roof. Their last scuffle ends with Peter falling through a skylight and getting tangled to his death in the ropes above the stage. His corpse falls into full view of the audience as his neck is broken by one of the ropes. Andrew is never charged because the police could not find a witness to the crime.
- Interview with Director Mark L. Lester
What was the initial inspiration for Class of 1984?
Mark L. Lester: I was visiting my old high school, and I noticed there were gangs walking around with no shirts, really tough kids, and the whole school had changed. Then I started to do some investigating, and found that there were some schools, just a couple, that were starting with security and checking for guns. I thought, “Boy, that’d be a good idea for a movie,” and started researching violence in high schools. Over about a year, I came up with the story.
I read that the dialogue the detective (Al Waxman) has is verbatim from interviews you did with cops while researching the film.
Mark L. Lester: Yes, I went to a police station and talked to the juvenile officer; I described a case like this and the scenes in the movie—“What would you do?” I just copied his answers down and put them in the script.
Psycho II and Fright Night’s Tom Holland has story and co-screenplay credit; were there significant differences between his draft and what wound up on screen?
Mark L. Lester: There was an additional writer [Barry Schneider] who didn’t take credit, but we worked on making it more like A Clockwork Orange, with the dialogue. None of that was in Tom Holland’s script, so we rewrote it to be more like Clockwork Orange, where the gang talked in their own kind of language. And then there was a large punk element added, because that movement was just taking hold in England. I got the costuming and the whole flavor of the punks from that, from British magazines and so forth.
How difficult was it to find a school to shoot in? I imagine a lot of high schools would object to a movie like this filming in their hallways.
Mark L. Lester: Well, that was Toronto’s Central High. We shot it during the summertime, so the school was available. We did put graffiti on the walls and it was very hard to get it off, so when the kids came back to school, all the graffiti was still there. It caused quite a stir.
How did you wind up casting Perry King as Andy Norris?
Mark L. Lester: I just interviewed him; I had seen him in Bad, the Andy Warhol film. But when it came time to do the scene in the wood shop, it was a mini-revolt. He said, “No, I can’t kill a kid on a table saw! That’s too gruesome, with the blood splattering on my face… That’s beyond anything I could do.” I said, “But Perry, don’t you remember, you boiled that slave alive in Mandingo!” He said, “Oh, that’s rightI guess it’s OK then.”
How about Roddy McDowall? He’s terrific as Corrigan.
Mark L. Lester: I just knew him from Planet of the Apes and had always wanted to work with him. So I asked him to do it, and he was fantastic.
McDowall drove the car himself for the scene where Corrigan tries to run Stegman down. Was that his choice?
Mark L. Lester: I was gonna use a stuntperson, but he said, “No, no, I want to drive, and I’m gonna drive really crazy.” I got in the back seat to do the sound, and he just took off and started driving insane, right up to the crash point. It was unbelievable; he was swerving all over the road.
So he didn’t have any qualms about the film’s violence?
Mark L. Lester: No, he was a real professional. Everyone wanted to be involved in a hip, young movie that was different, and cutting-edge at the time. Even Lalo Schifrin, who was considered a very prestigious composer, wanted to do it, and he brought in Alice Cooper to do the theme song (“I Am the Future”).
That was quite an odd match of musical talents…
Mark L. Lester: Yeah… Schifrin brought in a guy named Gary Osborne to write the song with him, and brought Alice Cooper in to perform it, and he did a really good job.
Another musical highlight is when Stegman surprises Andy by playing a piano concerto in his class. According to the credits, Van Patten wrote that piece himself.
Mark L. Lester: That’s right. I was going to use another piece of music, and then he said, “No, no, let me use my own.”
How did Van Patten wind up being cast?
Mark L. Lester: I saw him on a TV show, The White Shadow. He was playing a bad kidnot like he does in this movie, but he was perfect. This is his best work ever as an actor; he actually directs now. And Michael J. Fox I saw on TV also; it must have been Palmerstown, U.S.A. I hired him based on that, and it was only his second feature film.
Merrie Lynn Ross, who plays Andy’s wife, was also a producer on Class. How did that come about?
Mark L. Lester: She put up some money for the film. I had worked with her before; she was in Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw for me.
It’s interesting that she would help with the financing of a movie in which she’s so rudely treated on screen…
Mark L. Lester: Yeah, but she never complained. She’s not naked in [the rape scene], she’s fully clothed… Also, the Canadian producer, Arthur Kent, became the “Scud Stud.” During the first Gulf War with George Bush, he was the guy reporting for the TV news on the rooftop [from the war zone), and became known as the “Scud Stud.” Then he protested a dangerous assignment and started picketing the network that was Arthur Kent.
Your stunt coordinator was Terry J. Leonard, who had just done Conan the Barbarian and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Were there any stunt scenes that posed particular challenges?
Mark L. Lester: In those days, there was no CGI, so the whole ending on the rooftop was actually a stunt guy crashing through glass and right into the auditorium. We flipped a car in another scene—but the movie revolved a lot more around the thriller aspects than any big stunts, so in that sense, it was different from films today. It didn’t rely on big action gags through the whole movie, it relied on the suspense of the teacher and what was going to happen to him.
Speaking of potentially injurious situations, you’ve said that a lot of extras in the club were real punk kids.
Mark L. Lester: Yeah, I actually held auditions for them. They came in and were all handpicked; they had to have certain hairdos and all that, so it was very carefully done. And then they were really slam-dancing hard into people, hurting them, and we had to carry a few people out of there!
As far as the staged mayhem goes, were there concerns about the film’s violent content while you were shooting it?
Mark L. Lester: I didn’t have any, but later on it was banned in certain countries, like Switzerland. It was considered too controversial, with the teacher killing the kids like that. But the wood-shop scene became the biggest crowd-pleaser of the movie. When the teacher and the boy go at it with the table saw, the audience just went wild every time that scene played; they couldn’t wait to see him kill that kid.
Class of 1984 was released in the U.S. by United Film Distribution, which had sent out movies like Dawn of the Dead and Mother’s Day unrated. Was there ever talk of releasing Class the same way?
Mark L. Lester: No, they wanted to cut down the table-saw scene and a bunch of others, and it ended up getting an R rating. But the funny thing is, by mistake the prints ended up getting struck with the X version; those were the ones that got released, and no one ever questioned it.
The film got widely mixed reviews when it first came out-but surprisingly, one of the raves was from Roger Ebert, who was on a tear against “dead teenager” movies at the time.
Mark L. Lester: Yeah, Ebert really kicked things off; he saw it at the Cannes Film Festival and gave it a great review. About half the reviews overall were great, and then some people didn’t like the violence and so forth. Newsweek was a bad review, Time was a good review, the New York papers liked it-and it did huge business.
Did you think that when you made this way back in the day, that it would have reached cult-status, much like it has now?
Mark L. Lester: No, I had no idea that it would take off like it did, although until it opened, it was very controversial when it came out. It was in Time Magazine, and Ronald Reagan once had a speech about education, and they put the pictures from the movie into an editorial, and it had such controversial press, so it took off back then, and at the beginning of the film, I’d put a warning to the country that this would happen, the future couldn’t get much worse I don’t have the EXACT wording.
“Class of 1984” is not a great movie but it works with quiet, strong efficiency to achieve more or less what we expect from a movie with such a title. It is violent, funny, scary, contains boldly outlined characters, and gets us involved. It also has a lot of style. One of the reasons for the film’s style may be that it was made by people who knew what they were doing. …It tells a strong, simple story. It is acted well. It is not afraid to be comic at times and, even better, it’s not afraid at the end to pull out all the stops and give us the sort of Grand Guignol conclusion that the slasher movies always botch. You may or may not think it’s any good, but you’ll have to admit that it works. Roger Ebert – CLASS OF 1984 (1982) January 1, 1982
- Interview with Actress Lisa Langlois
Class of 1984, you played Patsy the Punk. A completely different character…as rotten-of-an-apple as you can get. Was it fun to be vicious and terrorizing rather than terrorized?
Lisa Langlois: Well, it’s so much more interesting. Although understand, they brought me in to play the nice girl, Michael J. Fox’s girlfriend. I went in and they told me they really saw me in that part. I said, “You know what? Would you just let me come back dressed and acting like the other character?” I explained that I grew up with four brothers. I’ve been around a lot of their friends and I’ve seen these kinds of tough people. I know how to do it. So I came back in, did the role and they loved it.
You really stand out in that film. How much of your characterization was in the original script?
Lisa Langlois: I’ve gotta tell you…there was really not a lot of dialogue for me in that film. Everything that I did was improv and they kept it in the final cut. That’s what I liked about the director, Mark Lester. He didn’t have an ego about you throwing a line in or some business. He loved it.
What was the experience like for you making Class of 1984?
Lisa Langlois: Not good. One was that all the Canadians (not the Americans) got asked to work for scale. They said they would give us a buyout later because they didn’t really have the money to make this film. And then the movie became this big hit and none of us ever got paid any residuals for television or video, etc. The extras really got mistreated. They hardly got paid. They got peanut butter and jam sandwiches. That scene where the girl takes her clothes off in front of the punks…that was really hard to do. It involved real acting for Tim Van Patton and me because she didn’t want to do that scene. She didn’t want to take her clothes off. She was shaking.
It reminded me of what happened to me in Phobia. You get intimidated and you don’t want to make waves. You’re young. You want people to like you. And they make it sound like it’s no big deal. That poor girl was literally shaking. I remember it was so sad, my makeup artist was making her up and I was sitting next to her. She told the girl, “Don’t worry, I’ll make you up so that no one will recognize you.” And I thought, that’s NOT just the issue. It doesn’t matter whether someone can see your face…in front of everybody, you’re taking your clothes off! Right. Timothy and I were talking about how uncomfortable we were with that. He said something to Mark because that guy was a gentleman. I just loved him.
There’s an almost lascivious nature to your character Patsy in that scene with the naked girl…almost lesbianic…?
Lisa Langlois: That was an acting choice I made. Like I mentioned, I made the choices with Patsy because in the script she was just…standing there. That was one of my complaints. We had this really terrific stunt coordinator with Terry Leonard, and he never gave me anything to do in the fight scenes. Nothing. I decided I would be this character who’s really perverted in that I got off on sex and violence. What I would do is, when they were beating people up, I would jump up and down, and dance around. And when someone had to take their clothes off, I would get excited.
Tim was generally unhappy on this shoot. At the time, the movie was very violent. To me, it seemed so surreal and over-the-top and exaggerated because where I came from, I could never imagine kids behaving like that in school or having to go through metal detectors to get into class. Again, it was the wild, wild west we talked about earlier. The punk rockers that were hired to be extras…they weren’t really extras, they were real punks.
Did they cause any problems on the set?
Lisa Langlois: Well, for me personally, they knew I wasn’t a real punk rocker. I had my hair purple, pink and some other colors. So a) they knew I was an actor and not one of them, and b) they didn’t appreciate me wearing a dress. Several times, I had punk rocker women come up to me and say, “We’re gonna get you…”
Lisa Langlois: Mark really wanted reality. It would have made more sense for me to have a wig than to dye my hair all those colors anyway. It was hell getting my hair to look normal again. But I was terrified. You won’t notice in the movie, but whenever there were big scenes like in a club or whatever, you wouldn’t see me. Because I would literally disappear.
For your own safety…
Lisa Langlois: Yes. I was afraid. When they were slamming people, they were actually doing it. It was for real. They were really hitting each other. The punk extras got off on it.
Lester has talked in documentaries about going out and finding these punks for the film.
Lisa Langlois: It wasn’t well thought out for the actors. It wasn’t taking care of us. I was afraid because I knew there was no protection on that set.
Did the female punks consider you a poser?
Lisa Langlois: I think that would be the term you would use now. They just felt I was a fraud, I guess you would say. We were embarrassed to be in that film and it ended up being this big, big hit.
What did you think when you saw the finished product?
Lisa Langlois: I didn’t go see it for a long time. However, I remember my mother saying that it was the quintessential moment for her when she knew I had done a good job as an actress. Because she was in a theater watching it, and when I got killed at the end, the audience got up and cheered. It was a real memorable moment for her.
Great! The audience was so engaged, they cheered.
Lisa Langlois: Although, honestly…I don’t think I’m killed. I think I survived.
A car comes crashing down on your head! We’d have to side with the people who think you died. It’s pretty extreme.
Lisa Langlois: Yeah, but it IS the movies. And I’m still talking. Which reminds me, I had completely forgotten about the part where the gang members killed Roddy McDowall’s animal in the biology lab. That was horrible. That was really, really horrible. I watched it and just thought, “Oh, wow…” But it was really great to act opposite Roddy in that movie.
The scene where he has the gun pointed at you is quite a good moment.
Lisa Langlois: It was one of those things where you’re thinking, “Oh my God, I have this scene with Roddy McDowall…how am I going to do this?”
Do you think Roddy was one of those people who was unhappy making this movie?
Lisa Langlois: I don’t know. Because the scene with the gun was really the only one I had with him. When there’s a big scene like that with lots of people, you don’t get any instant one on one time.
We wanted to ask you about one of the most powerful, unnerving scenes in the movie. The sort of Clockwork Orange scene where the gang goes in and rapes Perry King’s wife. Was that difficult?
Lisa Langlois: So upsetting. I just saw it. Again, that was my idea to get a Polaroid camera and take a picture of it.
That was a good idea. It’s certainly revolting!
Lisa Langlois: It’s really revolting. And then to give the Polaroid of his raped wife to Perry at the event. It was also my idea to put my finger in my mouth…my middle finger…and summon him with it. I came up with the moment when Patsy, like a little juvenile delinquent, takes her finger and pushes it through a hole she makes with her index finger and thumb.
You should be really proud of yourself, Lisa.
Lisa Langlois: You know what? I had to find something to do because they never gave me any lines. In fact, before I thought of lines and things to do, my boyfriend suggested I wear a chain that makes noise. So whenever the audience would hear that chain, they would know that character is present. I thought that would never fly because the sound department wouldn’t go for that. We have to say the choices you made are fantastic. We couldn’t take our eyes off you. Even in the scenes in which you aren’t necessarily supposed to be the focus of attention. There was a certain…unpredictability to your character that made us always want to watch you.
Was the “kissy kissy” thing your idea as well?
Lisa Langlois: Yes, that too. Ironically, they gave me a Marilyn Monroe shirt to wear. I’m wearing a shirt with her face on it. I also really hated my makeup in Class of 1984 because in my mind, that was so not punk. The makeup artist that I had was this woman who was not a young person. Privately, I thought, “She doesn’t know what punk is.” She kept bringing out all the glitter stuff and everything. It was so not the character.
- Interview with Actor Timothy Van Patten
How did you get cast in Class of 1984?
Timothy Van Patten: I have to go in the wayback machine; it was 1980 or ’81 when we made it. I think it was just a routine casting call. You know, the part couldn’t have been further, at that point in time, from the person I actually was, which was sort of a health fanatic. The character was a thrasher, a total punk rocker. In order to prepare for the movie, I went up to Toronto and started hanging out in punk clubs, which was a whole new experience for me (laughs).
Did you get into any hairy situations doing that?
Timothy Van Patten: I was with some other actors who were sharing the experience. I never got into any major situations.
What was your working relationship with Mark Lester?
Timothy Van Patten: Mark was a very good director, very capable. Decisive. He had a vision, and has turned out quite a few memorable films. He absolutely knew what he wanted, and I remember the entire experience going smoothly.
You’ve got that great scene with Michael J. Fox in the bathroom. What do you remember from shooting it?
Timothy Van Patten: Michael was the first person I met on the film. We befriended each other immediately and started hanging out. Actually, we went to a pawnshop and each bought a guitar, and in our free time we’d go to the park and play. We became pretty good friends. Man, so much time has passed. Michael was playing the opposite of me, sort of a clean-cut kid. You could tell the guy was really good even then. He made his small part memorable. As the years go on, I appreciate him more and more because of his body of work.
In a interview Lester talked about the scene where you play the piano concerto, which you’re credited with composing yourself. Is that true, or did you work with the film’s composer Lalo Schifrin at all?
Timothy Van Patten: You know something, it was totally improvised. I play the piano, but I don’t read music. At the time, it was just some sort of song I was fiddling around with; there was nothing written down for it. I was under the impression that I would play that piece, and they would replace it with different music by Lalo or something. They ended up keeping it, and they paid
me a whopping $50 Canadian for it. I don’t think I even cashed the check. I may still have it somewhere.
In those days, was that like $15 American?
Timothy Van Patten: Exactly! It’s hysterical. It totally works for the character. It totally works.
It’s clear that you’re really playing—your fingers are hitting those keys and that really adds to the scene.
Timothy Van Patten: I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, but I think they left in the production sound. The sort of music-class, banged-up piano sound.
Do you recall the scene where you beat yourself up in the bathroom to get Andy Norris (Perry King) in trouble?
Timothy Van Patten: All those scenes, they were all so heightened that for an actor, they were fun. There’s a lot of stuntwork in the movie, which I loved doing when I was that age. Perry was a very experienced actor, and I had just started acting three years before that. I had come off a television series called The White Shadow, and I wasn’t that experienced. Working with a guy like Perry made it easy. The writing was good, and those scenes worked between Perry and I. That bathroom was rigged, but I remember hitting the mirror as hard as I could, and it didn’t break. I said, “F**k it! I’ve got to stay with this!” and slammed my head into the mirror again, and it broke. If you look at the film, I’m a little bit dazed after that first hit.
Did they give you a stunt bump in pay for that?
Timothy Van Patten: No! We all sort of did our own stunts in that film. The big fight with the African-American gang under where the highways converge, that was mostly us. The great Terry Leonard was the stunt coordinator. He was a legendary stuntman; he was Harrison Ford’s stunt double in the first Indiana Jones film. This guy has had every bone in his body broken twice, including his back and his neck. That was a thrill for me, working with Terry.
McDowall’s character “Mr. Corrigan” is shown pointing the gun at the class is an alternate poster. Have you seen that one?
Timothy Van Patten: No! I’d love a copy of that. I just thought that scene was extraordinary. I remember looking at his copy of the script, spying it when it was on a desk while he was rehearsing. Every page of scenes he was in was covered, front and back, with notes. Small, small handwriting, top to bottom. It just impressed the shit out of me. That guy was a total pro. He and Perry really anchored the movie. All the other actors like Stefan Arngrim, Lisa Langlois, Neil Clifford and those guys—they lifted me up. I was the oddest piece of the puzzle, because I really wasn’t as experienced as all of them. I didn’t relate to the material as much as they did; Stefan Arngrim had some experience in his life in that world. They were all totally invested in their characters, and they carried me along and taught me a lot.)
Mark L. Lester
Merrie Lynn Ross
Timothy Van Patten