Halloween Endurance Test: Class of 1999 (1990)

Italian variant poster showing off the Grier-bot.

Mix one part Escape From New York, with one part the Substitute, and sprinkle a little bit of the Terminator on top, and you’ll get today’s movie, Class of 1999. I’ve been searching for a copy of this movie since I started these Endurance Tests back in 2007. I finally gave in, and bought an overpriced Korean bootleg this year to satisfy my craving. Growing up, I had watched it religiously in junior high; effectively mis-molding my entire perception of how high school’s supposed to work.

My high school wasn’t run by gangs. Unless you consider the football team a gang, and that’s the reality in any school, anywhere. In the film, youth gangs have become so violent and powerful that they exist in “free fire zones.” Class of 1999 follows an ex-gang banger, Cody (Bradley Gregg), as he’s released from prison and he tries to reintegrate into society. His school, Seattle’s Kennedy High, is naturally in the middle of a “free fire zone.”

To combat these kids, Kennedy High has “hired” three robotic teachers from scientist Dr. Miles Langford (Malcolm McDowell): a Ms. Connors (Pam Grier), Mr. Hardin (John P. Ryan), and Mr. Bryles (Patrick Kilpatrick). Each are humanoid robots specially programmed in one area: science, history, and physical education respectively. They’re also all programmed in gross, over-the-top, physical discipline. Mr. Hardin literally spanks two fighting students into submission! Spanks them!

(It’s never explained why anyone would robotize Pam Grier. She was the world’s most dangerous woman before having her bones replaced with iron and her brain filled with (more) karate moves!)

Cody’s trying to stay clean and stay out of trouble, so he does the sensible thing: befriends the principal’s daughter, Christie (Traci Lind) and picks a fight with the local gang leader. Cody notices the new teachers’ overzealous discipline and decides to investigate. In a nice touch, the teachers’ condo is filled with nothing but pressurized air and WD-40. Christie finds it weird that a woman, Ms. Connors, would only have one lace bra, and no matching panties. Personally, I find it weird that three teachers rooming in one small condo would have zero beds.

Realizing that their covers been blown, the teachers do the natural thing next: incite a gang war between the two local gangs. Giving us images that many would’ve thought we’d never see. A teacher in a three-piece suit sneaking around a junkyard firing automatic weapons at school children.

The gangs eventually realize what’s happening, so they trash the school. Bringing back visions of the motorcycle destruction in Class of Nuke ’em High. At school we learn that the teachers are all packing heat. Ms. Connors has a flame thrower under her arm, Mr. Bryles has a rocket launcher, and Mr. Hardin, oh Mr. Hardin.

The contract money must’ve run out by the time Mr. Hardin’s battledroid was designed, because all he gets is a three-prong iron claw with a drill in the middle. Pretty lame when your friends are packing flamer throwers and rocket launchers up their sleeves.

The robots fall to their gangland opponents, though, as Dr. Langford had already pointed out, his government manufacturing contract was just about set. So one could count the days before a sequel was shipped out the door. I really can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t 10 in 1990 remembering, or even hearing about, this film.

Grade-A, trashy, low-budget, dystopian fun; though the endings kind of a mess. Are the gangs truly reconciled? And even if they are, the rest of the nation’s still a violent wasteland. It’s kind of hard to know who to cheer for when everyone’s evil. The robots are, of course, and the same with the gang members. But what about the School Board that hired the battledroids-turned teachers? Aren’t they partially responsible for of of the bloodshed too?

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