27th Feb2019

Vestron Video: ‘Class of 1999’ Blu-ray Review

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Bradley Gregg, Traci Lind, Malcolm McDowell, Pam Grier, John P. Ryan, Stacy Keach, Patrick Kilpatrick | Written by C. Courtney Joyner | Directed by Mark L. Lester

class-1999-blu-cover

Ever wondered what Mark L. Lester did after Commando? Well, he directed a terrible John Candy comedy called Armed and Dangerous. But then he made this bizarre mashup of Escape from New York, The Warriors and Robocop. It’s not as good as it sounds, but like Arnie’s finest 84 minutes, it’s a barrel of stupid fun – and it’s another Vestron “classic” wrenched from the archives and given a remaster we never expected.

In 1999, youth gang culture is so prevalent that all major conurbations have become “free fire zones”, meaning there is no police presence. They’re essentially lawless. The result is that all the youngsters in 1999 wear S&M leather and wield automatic weaponry. It’s not clear where they get all the ammo and bazookas.

One beacon of hope in Seattle is Kennedy High School. Megatech, represented by the astonishingly mulleted Mr Forrest (Stacy Keach), has fused their education robots with their military model, making the ultimate disciplinarian. It’s a last roll of the dice for the desperate school principal, Dr Langford (Malcolm McDowell). So, he agrees to the deployment of three robo-tutors: History (John P. Ryan), Chemistry (Pam Grier) and P.E. (Patrick Kilpatrick).

Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg) is just out of prison. Uncharismatic yet morally superior (a true American hero), he wants to go straight but he’s drawn back into the old gang war. His crew, the Blackhearts, are fighting an eternal fight against the fearsome Razerheadz. Cody also has the hots for Christie, the remarkably well-adjusted daughter of Dr Langford.

The cybernetic professors start off okay, using their bionic strength to break up fights and, in one bizarre scene, spank students’ behinds. But in classic Westworld style, these oily overlords start overreacting, killing the students. Langford is concerned, but nothing will stop Megatech. The kids must fight back. Can the gangs put aside their differences to overcome this mecha-existential threat?

As a piece of world-building, Class of 1999 is a bit of a mess. The rules really aren’t clear. Outside the school gates the world is lawless, but there’s a massive, fascistic security presence inside. Corporate efforts are being made to improve education at any cost – but where’s the profit opportunity for military provider Megatech? Omni Consumer Products made this very clear with its motive of gentrification, of course.

Speaking of which, C. Courtney Joyner’s blunt script could use some of Robocop’s wit and satire. It’s not like he’s going for authenticity. For example, “Inside this school are three inhuman teaching monsters!” is how Cody opens his rousing final speech. There are flashes of genuine humour, though, like when Cody and Christie break into the robots’ lair and find cupboards full of WD40. Or, during a car chase, when the history teacher recites the Highway Code from the back seat.

Lester uses the same blend of naturalistic location lighting and gaudy cheap sets that made Commando look so fantastically cheap. The production design is all over the shop: a chaotic blend of other, superior dystopian visions. I can’t say I remember Class of 1999 from the time, but it must have looked dated even in 1990. Still, at least the final sequence – a satisfyingly all-out, gross-out assault on the school – features plenty of appropriately grisly, Terminator-like effects, and some preposterous one-liners.

Ultimately, Class of 1999 positions itself as some kind of counterculture gesture against the System – the sort of message McDowell himself might have delivered two decades earlier – but it isn’t convincing or smart in its polemic. Indeed, in the end, precious little is actually solved. Plenty of death and gore; little in the way of ideas or reconciliation. But hey, we came for the former, and in that regard this is a class act.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Audio commentary with 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
  • Video promo

Class of 1999 is out on Vestron Video Blu-ray now.

Off

Comments are closed.