I LOVE THE 80s
Horror cinema in the ‘80’s was dominated by the slasher film and, with it, heavy metal. From Freddy Krueger — who palled around with everyone from Iron Maiden to Dokken — to Jason Voorhees (who can forget Alice Cooper’s “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)”?), metal was the sound of the bloody late ‘80s. But earlier in the decade, Punk and New Wave had their day in horror movie court with slasher films like 1980’s New Year’s Evil and the 1982 revenge thriller Class Of 1984. Before ‘90’s bands like Rancid, The Offspring and Green Day co-opted punk rock and made it mainstream, the genre was could be threatening and nihilistic— ranging from angry ‘70’s punk forefathers the Sex Pistols to ‘80’s thrashers like Minor Threat to the more metallic Misfits. Throwing a punk vibe over a genre film was an easy and economical way to make the situation scarier and more menacing— at least that was the intention.
New Year’s Evil is an entertaining but largely incoherent slasher where TV personality Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly, formerly Fonzie’s girlfriend “Pinky Tuscadero” on TV’s “Happy Days”) is essentially a New Wave version of Dick Clark, with her TV show topping the charts. It’s New Year’s Eve and she’s so preoccupied with her “countdown” show that she ignores her unstable actor son Derek (Grant Cramer of Killer Klowns From Outer Space fame) and doesn’t pull herself away from the cameras until she’s threatened by a scary voice on the other line who tells her that he’s going to kill someone at midnight in each time zone— ending with her. There’s a twist as to the identity of the killer, but it, like most of the story, is fairly pedestrian and the only truly scary moment comes when the murderer surprises Blaze wearing an oversized clown mask.
But what early-80’s cheese it is! Director Emmett Alston, a documentary filmmaker by trade, shoots great coverage of Hollywood Boulevard at its sleaziest and indulges actors like Sullivan and Kip Niven, as Blaze’s husband, to ham it up as much as possible. The music is ostensibly “punk,” but it’s as tame as it gets—songs such as “Cold Hearted Lover” and “Dumb Blondes,” by the likes of go-nowhere bands like Shadow and Made In Japan, are as bland and forgettable as the titles and the tough, switchblade-wielding kids who force their way into TV studio in the opening are barely to be found once the story gets going— the “countdown” audience looks about as edgy as Sha-Na-Na. Scream Factory delivers with a clean transfer— colors, such as the red panties Derek tears into at one point, are bold. Extras include a commentary with writer/director Alston, a trailer and a fun, nearly-forty minute documentary where actors Cramer and Niven come off as unpretentious and accepting of the material for what it is.
Much tougher and grittier is exploitation veteran Mark L. (Firestarter, Commando) Lester’s Class Of 1984, a tale of schoolhouse dystopia which holds up well today. As Lester mentions in the commentary — carried over from an earlier Anchor Bay disc — much of what seemed over-the-top here, particularly the notion that schools would be outfitted with metal detectors, are commonplace in modern schools. Here, a perfectly-cast Perry King stars as Andrew Norris, a mild-mannered high-school teacher who’s been transferred to a problematic inner-city school plagued by a punk gang led by Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), a charismatic sociopath who sells drugs and runs a small prostitution racket. Norris and Stegman lock horns almost immediately despite Norris’ efforts to reach out to the smart, talented teen and things head into grisly Death Wish territory when Stegman’s gang — including Lisa Langlois as Stegman’s girlfriend Patsy, Fear No Evil’s Stefan Arngrim as junkie Drugstore and Meatball’s Keith Knight as beefy “enforcer” Barnyard — go after his wife. The film is smarter and sharper than expected, with excellent performances all around, including terrific supporting roles from Roddy McDowall as a science teacher who pulls a gun in class and holds his pupils hostage and a very young (and chubby) Michael J. Fox, pre-“Family Ties.” Here, the punk threat feels real, with the bleach-blond Stegman coming off as a flashier, more manipulative version of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Alice Cooper — in his post-glam, pre-metal phase — sings the opening track, “I Am The Future,” and the effective punk “concert” sequence —apparently filled with Toronto punk kids pulled off the streets— showcases real Canadian punks Teenage Head.
Scream Factory has put together a fine package for Class Of 1984, which, given a new high-def transfer, looks solid. Extras include the commentary with Lester, new interviews with actresses Langlois (who deliberately took the tough role of Patsy to get out of being pigeon-holed as a goody-two-shoes) and Erin Noble, Lester and composer Lalo Schifrin, and a lengthy one-on-one with Perry King, in which he details his entire career. Trailers, a still gallery and an older retrospective fill out the disc, which unfortunately lacks any participation by Van Patten, now a very-in-demand TV director.
Shout Factory has also released a double-bill of Breakin’ and its awesomely-named sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, two titles which are as far from punk as you can get (does New Year’s Evil feature the poppin’ and lockin’ of Boogaloo Shrimp or Shabba-Doo? I think not). The plots of both films — which were made back-to-back and both have street kids break-dancing their way to love and respect from the community — are uninspiring and the acting, by and large, even worse. But both films are charming and look better than ever here; while the extras are a little underwhelming (the two featurettes about hip-hop have little connection to either film), the very notion that you can own Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo on Blu-Ray is cause for celebration. Class Of 1984 may be the real deal here, but as a throwback to the early ‘80’s, these films — all showcasing music as a lifestyle (for better or worse) — open a window to a past world full of day-glo colors, Mohawk hairdos and Chess King clothes that often feels like it’s from another dimension.