Stream to Scream: “CLASS OF 1999”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Kevin Redding
As many fright fans already know, FANGORIA offers a great selection of gruesome movies, old and new, for free at our Hulu channel. To give you a better idea of what’s available, FANGORIA is taking in-depth looks at some of the channel’s terrifying titles with Stream to Scream. Today: Mark L. Lester’s sci-fi horror odyssey “CLASS OF 1999”.
In the wake of the ’70s and early ’80s, when slasher films like HALLOWEEN, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, and FRIDAY THE 13TH were the preferred subgenre of horror, filmmakers began setting their sights on the next incarnation of fear for a new generation of fright fans. With many of the most successful slashers generating fear from the idea that the horrific events could actually happen in your neighborhood, the ’80s brought the next stage of horror by giving us a glimpse of a realistic future: one not filled with exciting gadgets and gizmos but one that’s dark, dangerous, violent and hopeless. While a bit easier to classify these gritty dystopian films like THE TERMINATOR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, ROBOCOP, THEY LIVE, and THE RUNNING MAN as sci-fi or action, there’s still a heavy horror tone that resonates under the surface, whether it be in its cold depiction of greed and desperation, or in its over-the-top and gruesome violence that the ’80s perfected with their seamless recipe of practical special effects and lots and lots of blood.
While Mark L. Lester’s CLASS OF 1999, a follow-up to his cult classic CLASS OF 1984 in name and tone only, feels a lot like a cheap knock-off of every gritty-and-dark dystopian movie that came before it, and is unarguably striving to emulate, its flaws, which there are plenty of, can be overseen because it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Between its simultaneously ridiculous and horrifying death scenes, an effective level of tension and dread throughout, and one truly scary performance by John P. Ryan as a corporal punishment-loving robot teacher, CLASS OF 1999 deserves its place on the shelf as a good old-fashioned cult classic cheap thrill ride.
Set in an unrecognizable future in 1999, more so because the fashion of this future is lazily just an extreme level of ’80s fashion which is horrifying on its own, the country’s major cities have been taken over by gangs made up of high schoolers who spend their time firing rifles in the air, fighting, taking drugs and listening to heavy metal punk. The gangs are pretty much left to their own dangerous devices, as police refuse to enter the sections where they thrive, which are regarded as ‘free fire zones.’ There is no law or order to be found. That is, until the principal of Kennedy High in Seattle, played by Malcolm McDowell who’s wasted in a boring role, partners with a military corporation called MegaTech in an experiment to clean and shape up the city’s worst school.
The film’s primary villain, Dr. Forrest, equipped with rat tail mullet and feline eyes, has designed three humanoid ‘teachers,’ who are all designed to deliver a full range of knowledge to their students, but also, and more importantly, ass-whoopings and exterminations to any who step out of line, a power that’s abused very quickly. Eventually after two brutal student murders at the hands of the new teachers, Kennedy High’s secret experiment is found out by the main characters, which leads to a final battle between the student gangs and the teachers, where we see the teachers peel off their skin to reveal their true killing machine, green slime-for-blood, no-mercy selves.
If you’re looking for something with a great script full of dimensional and fleshed-out characters, this isn’t it. Without a doubt, the weakest part of CLASS OF 1999 is its establishment of how tough and angry and wild and rebellious the school’s gang members are, which feels less like THE WARRIORS and more like kids pretending to be THE WARRIORS. We get it, you’re bad and don’t care about authority. And while there’s no real moments of caring about the teenagers, the young actors make the most of a script that only really asks that they be angry and one-dimensional. Once the going gets tough for the students and the teachers get more and more ruthless, however, the script and the students’ drive to stay alive pick up a lot and by the end, you’re rooting for them to get the job done. This also makes sense, given that the movie’s main tough teen Bradley Gregg, also co-wrote the script.
CLASS OF 1999 also takes itself too seriously, overall, even with a huge opportunity to travel down the Paul Verhoeven route and be satirical, which it hints toward in many scenes, like when over the school’s loud speaker, we faintly hear: “Any student who wishes to press criminal charges to another student, can do so in Mr. Langford’s office from 1 p.m.to 2 p.m.” It’s clear that while Lester’s directing approach in the film is not the most compelling or unpredictable, he truly shines when it comes down to filling the screen with gruesome, over-the-top and extremely satisfying violence. We see a gang member pulled rapidly through a small hole in a wall and being ripped in half as a result, and a throat being gripped to death with blood oozing from large tears in the neck, for starters. Credit needs to be given to the special effects team, just for the climax battle alone, which makes the whole viewing worth it.
Although definitely more of a sci-fi thriller than horror, CLASS OF 1999’s humanoid teachers played with such effective creepiness by John P. Ryan, Pam Grier, and Patrick Kilpatrick, and are so menacing and intimidating that it’s difficult not to be afraid of them. That goes extra for Ryan, who is the absolute scene stealer in the movie, with an unsettlingly beaming personality even when he’s exhibiting the most brutal acts. There’s also a scene where Ryan bends a gang member over his lap and proceeds to continuously spank him (loud, robot spankings) in front of the class, leaving the teen in such agony that he’s bleeding from the mouth.
Easy to be lost in the pile of similar movies released at the time, CLASS OF 1999 is well worth a watch with badass practical special effects, creepy villains, and an interesting and surprisingly dark plot. Unless you’re a humanoid death-machine targeting young gang members in a dystopian society, it’s a guarantee you’ll have fun watching this one.