Escape from New York was one of those 80’s films that had a massive influence on the genre. The opening of 1990’s Class of 1999 is obviously inspired by the introduction in that movie.
We start with animation intended to look like a computer display as narration informs us there are “free-fire” zones in every American city in 1999. These are areas where the police won’t go. Despite the police refusing to venture into these areas, there is phone service. Even weirder, there are schools in areas where law enforcement dares not tread.
Nature abhors a vacuum, so private security contractors police these areas, though they are little more than thugs. This seemed rather prescient to me, as we now live in an age of wars being fought by contractors and prisons being managed by companies.
Stacy Keach heads a firm that makes cyborgs indistinguishable from humans. He has a prototype program to place three of these robots as teachers in what appears to be the only high school in Seattle’s free-fire zone. Obviously, nothing here go possibly wrong can.
We know we’re in dodgy territory when we first see Keach. An extra feature on this disc informs us the actor wanted to play this role as an albino. While that may explain the white hair, it doesn’t explain why he wears it as a mullet, and one that ends in a rat-tail. Nor does it explain the white contacts he is wearing. If he’s an albino, shouldn’t he have pink eyes?
The robots that are the school’s newest teachers/security are played by Patrick Kilpatrick, Pam Grier and John P. Ryan. All three seem to having a good time here, especially Grier, whom I am always happy to see. I forgot Ryan was the lead in Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive. I was amused to see him mechanically spank (yes, spank) two thugs here.
This corporal punishment soon escalates into capital punishment. Not sure why cyborgs employed to make the school more secure are instead so focused on reducing the student population. Ryan even keeps a memento from his first kill, so these robots have the tendencies of serial killers (?)
Even more unusual is how the robots start a war between the two main gangs in the area, only to go on a murderous spree, slaughtering the people who are already killing each other. Why wouldn’t the cyborgs just wait it out and wipe out the survivors?
But what I found strangest in this whole affair is that Malcolm McDowell’s principal makes his daughter go this dangerous school. It is obvious they are well-to-do and live outside the free-fire zone. At one point, we see her walking to school, so does she walk god-only-knows how many miles from home to cross a lawless area on foot?
It is eventually discovered the three robots all live together in one apartment, also outside the free-fire zone. First, why would the cyborgs “live” anywhere, anyway? There’s no reason for them to leave the school and, even there, they would only need a closet each.
Class of 1999 is deeply stupid, but I am glad it exists and I wasn’t bored at any point. Perhaps the saddest aspect of it is it is a horror movie about teachers killing students, when it couldn’t foresee what would be the real horror facing students today: mass shootings.
Dir: Mark L. Lester
Starring Bradley Gregg, Traci Lind, Malcolm McDowell, Stacy Keach
Watched on Vestron blu-ray