Fast Times At Westworld High… CLASS OF 1999 Reviewed

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Look Mom, no CGI!

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BD. Vestron Video / Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Region B. 15.

Did you miss the recent Channel 4 documentary Teachers Training To Kill (in which teachers in Ohio were training to take down school spree shooters)? No worries, this timely re-issue of Mark E. Lester’s 1990 edusploitation epic will being you right up to speed. What we have here is a post-Terminator reboot (from a time before our screens were littered with bloody reboots) of the director’s own Class Of 1984 (1982), a film that was inexplicably dragged into the “video nasties” shit fight (not that any of that fiasco made any sense whatsoever). In CO84, the staff and student body of Lincoln High School (including a pudgy Michael J. Fox in one of his earliest non-TV appearances) were terrorised by the lamest collection of juvenile delinquents outside of Next Stop, Nowhere (more widely and notoriously known as “the Punk Rock episode of Quincy”).

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“I’ve never been more serious in my life, Sam…”

By 1999, Lester “predicts”, things will have deteriorated to the point where many schools have become “free fire zones”…. what’s worse, many of the shanty neighbourhoods in which the school kids reside and the ridiculous fashions sported by the gang members (even more ludicrous than those in CO84) suggest that Lester had been ODing on Enzo Castellari post-apocalyptic flicks while dreaming up this one.

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Dr Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell), the idealistic Principal of Kennedy High School, is empowered by The Board Of Educational Defence to call in the shadowy MegaTech Corporation who, for a reasonable fee, are happy to supply their new line in android teachers. Gym master Mr Bryles (Patrick Kilpatrick), Chemistry specialist Ms Connors (the legend that is Pam Grier) and History teacher Mr Hardin (John P. Ryan) take a hard-line, old… er… school attitude towards discipline and have the bionic ability to back it up. Turns out that they were prototype kill droids rejected by the US military on the grounds that they were too violent and flaky. Now reprogrammed for pedagogic purposes, they revert all too readily to battlefield ethics when encountering resistance. “Students are being beaten for minor infractions… two of them are already dead!” Dr Miles whines to MegaTech honcho Dr Bob Forrest (Stacy Keach, looking significantly more scary than any of his renegade replicants, below). “Education at its finest!”, insists Dr Bob.

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While the Principal wrings his hands, one Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg, above, as the most miscast gang banger ever) is dating his daughter Christian (Traci Lin) and uniting the fractious factions of the student body against their oppressors with the memorable rallying cry: “I’m going to go waste some teachers… who’s with me?” As The Kidz fight back, the school goes up in flames and the teachers shed their synthetic skin to reveal the full extent of their android armoury… it’s a nightmare scenario but given some of the loopy stuff that Trump has been recommending on behalf of the NRA, I guess we’re going to have to get used to it.

No action fan is going to feel short-changed by this mindlessly brilliant bit of blackboard jungle brouhaha, which in all probability exerted an influence over Kinji Fukasaku’s cracking Battle Royale (2000). Blink and you’ll miss Rose McGowan in her fleeting feature debut… yep, #hertoo.

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A generous compliment of bonus features includes Lester’s commentary track and interviews with him and co-producer Eugene Mazzola, enthusing about the great times they had blowing up a derelict high school in Seattle. Lester says he was hoping that some of Malcolm McDowell’s charisma would rub off on Bradley Gregg (yeah, good luck with that!) Mazzola remembers how Stacy Keach talked him into stumping up for a $6,000 albino wig, before reminding us that Vestron went out of business shortly afterwards. Good to know that Keach was such a stickler for method acting, portraying here the only albino ever to sport bushy black eyebrows and moustache.

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C. Courtney Joyner talks about writing the flick, we also hear from legendary DP Mark Irwin and there’s a joint interview with Special FX men Eric Allard and Rick Stratton (who worked pre-CGI wonders), during which we learn that Pam Grier (who nobody has a bad word for) had to wear prosthetic legs cast from the actual pins of Michael Jackson. There’s a contemporary video promo, theatrical trailer, TV spots and stills gallery. That’ll learn ya…

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A sequel to this sequel was made (by Spiro Razatos) in 1994, entitled Class Of 1999 II: The Substitute, though its action is actually set in 2001. So go figure… I haven’t seen it but I’m not losing any sleep over that.

As companion pieces from the Vestron archive, Lionsgate are simultaneously releasing Bob Balaban’s Parents (1989, below) and Camilo Vila’s The Unholy  (1988, even lower).

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