By David Grove | September 28, 2001

Then Lester was associated with “The Funhouse.” It all began with a thousand dollars and a piece of paper. “A writer friend of mine, Larry Block, he came to me with this book by Owen West(Dean Koontz’s pseudonym) and he’d written a little one page outline,” recalls Lester. “He needed money. I liked the story and gave him a thousand dollars to write a draft of the script. Of course, I ended up paying a lot more. Then Tobe Hooper came along and the movie was packaged.”
“The Funhouse” marked what would be a trademark of Lester’s later career, that of turning books into films, almost exclusively so as the President of his own company, American World Pictures. For Lester, “The Funhouse” was a hands on experience, and an enjoyable one, unlike what was described in Fangoria #11 where it was said that the film had an impossibly tight shooting schedule, largely because Hooper had to leave the film to tend to family matters. “No, I don’t remember any problems with the film. It was a smooth shoot. We had no problem selling it to Universal either,” says Lester of the 3 million dollar film. Lester even traveled to the movie’s North Miami shooting location where it was being shot at Norin Studios. “I really liked ‘The Funhouse.’ I think it’s a very underrated film,” says Lester. “It was really neat to turn an idea, a one or two page outline, and suddenly see this 3 million dollar film being shot.”
It was then that Lester had time to devote himself to the film that would define his career, the aforementioned “Class of 1984.” For Lester, who did triple duty as director, co-writer and producer, the inspiration was simple. Shock and horrify people. “I didn’t care what people thought. I wanted them to be disgusted by what they saw,” says Lester. “I guess I was inspired by the thought of making a “Blackboard Jungle”-type of film. Then, I started reading up on the incredible violence that was going on in high schools.”
Doing more research into the subject, Lester was horrified to go back to his own high school and see the same type of thing. “Oh yeah, it was shocking to see,” says Lester. “People think it’s bad now, but it’s been bad forever, mainly in these urban areas.” But as far as telling “Class of 1984″‘s story, Lester focused on two themes in particular – violence and revenge. “One of the things I found out was that a lot of high school punks would go after the teachers,” says Lester. “That gave me some of the inspiration. I thought about the students against the teachers. The teachers in real life, they’re kind of defenseless, because it’s there word against the students and what can they do?”
After coming up with the first draft of the story, Lester then brought in veteran genre scripter Tom Holland, who fleshed out the story even more and helped make “Class of 1984” into a workable script. Holland had also brought in John Saxton, one of the scripters of “Happy Birthday to Me.” “I think Tom saw that movie and that impressed him enough to bring Saxton in,” recalls Lester. “I think Saxton’s dead now actually, but anyway, there was another writer on that film who made a valuable contribution and that was Barry Schneider who I’d worked with on ‘Boogie.’ No one knows this, but what Barry did was to add all of the ‘Clockwork Orange’ stuff in the film, you know, like when Stegman acts like he’s some kind of Napoleon figure and when he says that he’s the future. I am the future, that kind of stuff. All of that was Barry’s idea.” Unfortunately, Schneider’s contribution to “Class of 1984” was never formally credited when after viewing a screening of the film, he angrily demanded to have his name taken off the credits. “Barry saw the film and he was horrified, absolutely disgusted,” recalls Lester with a laugh. “He thought it was the worst piece of garbage he’d ever seen.”
In 1981 filming of “Class of 1984 began in Toronto, at real life Central Tech High School which doubled as the fictional Lincoln High. With a budget of 4.3 million, and filmed in the middle of the infamous and cheesy Canadian tax shelter “slash for cash” genre, CLASS OF 1984 seemed to have a recipe for failure, but as Lester recalls, an aggressive and go to hell attitude lifted the film above trash and into the category of being disgustingly inspired.
“We found the school, and that was perfect, it fit all of our needs, even the graffiti,” recalls Lester. Then casting began. For the lead, vigilante teacher Mr. Norris, Lester chose veteran Perry King, then best known as the diabolical innocent who cuts off peoples heads in the Shirley Maclaine shocker, “The Possession of Joel Delaney.” Lester recognized that King was a very good actor who’d survived a lot of junk. “I hadn’t seen ‘The Possession of Joel Delaney,'” says Lester. “You know why I cast him? I saw him in ‘Mandingo’ of all movies. He really impressed me, and I thought he’d be perfect for the role.”
Even more arcane then the casting of King was the casting of his arch nemesis, the brilliant, sneering sadist Stegman who terrorizes Lincoln High with his cunning and his violent outbursts. Lester, in a gutsy choice, picked Timothy Van Patten, then best known as a “nice guy” on the cult basketball drama “The White Shadow.” “I had seen him do some edgier stuff,” says Lester. “He just looked right to me, and I’d seen him do some stuff when he was angry and bad, so I was confident he could play the role.”
Get the whole story and read part four of DIRECTOR MARK LESTER AND THE CLASS OF 2002>>>

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