By David Grove | September 28, 2001

Joining King and Van Patten in the cast were former Lester collaborator Merrie Lynn Ross, as Norris’ wife, who gets a little too close to Stegman and his clan, in the film’s shocking rape scene. Ross also served in a background capacity, helping raise money for the film. “Fear No Evil” star Stefan Arngrim played Stegman’s right hand man Drugstore. Then there was the casting of Hollywood and horror legend Roddy McDowall, as King’s only ally in the film, a terrorized teacher who in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, holds his students hostage at gunpoint and forces them to learn or else. For Lester, working with McDowall was a true joy. “Roddy was amazing, a real class act,” recalls Lester. “You know, he amazed me in one scene. When King and him are walking in the park and he breaks down and cries, we did that over and over and Roddy, he could just cry on cue. It was unbelievable. He’d be stonefaced one moment, then you yell action and he burst into tears. Roddy also helped me by being very supportive. He didn’t look down at this movie, you know, as being filth, or beneath him. I think that’s because Roddy had been in so many horror movies. He didn’t judge.”
Of course, there was another prominent cast member in the film, a pudgy character who gets beaten up, knifed AND gets his lunch money stolen all in one day. The character was played by none other than Michæl J. Fox. “Oh yeah, I discovered Michæl J. Fox,” says Lester with a laugh. “No, I just remember he was a very nice kid, very professional. Although I must say, I never thought he’d do as well as he did.”
For supporters of “Class of 1984,” including critic Roger Ebert, who praised the film, lauding it for it’s courage and intensity, the film does what so many genre films of the era didn’t – deliver the goods, in a way that makes it’s very bad taste an art form. For Lester, the only strategy was hard work and not worrying what anyone would think, an ideal that came in mighty handy during the film’s many violent scenes.
“The relationship between the teacher and the punk is very interesting,” says Lester. “When they first meet each other, Norris thinks he can handle Stegman, but he’s smarter then he thought. Eventually, he finds out the kid’s a genius. Part of our strategy was just to have it escalate, raise the bar of violence, until the most horrific things start to happen, like the scene with the wife. Then of course, Norris and Stegman get into a he said she said type of thing and Stegman makes Norris look like the bad guy which is the ultimate irony. That was one of the things I discovered in my research.”
Surprisingly, King, and Van Patten, who’s now a successful TV director, got along very well on the set, as did the whole cast and crew. “Oh yeah, the two actors, they got along good,” recalls Lester. “It wasn’t like they were so into the characters that they didn’t want to be around each other. There were no problems at all.”
If there’s one scene that earned “Class of 1984” it’s notorious reputation, it’s the aforementioned rape scene. Along with the scene at the climax where Norris throws Stegman through the glass parkade, impaling him in the middle of the gym, the rape scene is horrific and shocking, even more so because the character of the wife is pregnant. For Lester, the scene is just another example of not making any apologies. “Like I said, that was the plan, to shock, to horrify, even offend people,” says Lester adding, “We wanted the film to get attention. The scene where the gang attacks the wife, I mean, you don’t see anything, but your mind puts it all together which is lots more shocking, but you don’t actually see any nudity or anything like that. I’m very proud of the film. I’ve even got a 20 year anniversary DVD coming out. I’m not sure if we’ll have any of the actors on it though.”
When “Class of 1984” was released in 1982, it touched off a storm of controversy, but when the film’s subject became a sort of minor national commentary, not to mention surprisingly good reviews from mainstream critics like Ebert, Lester knew he’d touched a nerve, something he’d set out to do right from the beginning. “Oh yeah, the film got a lot of attention,” recalls Lester. “Ronald Reagan made mention of it in a speech he gave, and then I found myself on CBS This Morning being interviewed by Diane Sawyer, talking about violence. It was unbelievable. I’m still kind of surprised that the film’s had such a long run. I’m surprised when people tell me they’d seen it on video. I didn’t know you can still find ‘Class of 1984’ on video.”
Following his triumph with “Class of 1984” Lester was given the chance to graduate to studio features, having impressed the money men in Hollywood with the ingenuity and visceral intensity he displayed in “Class of 1984.” Among those most impressed was famed producer Dino DeLaurentis. “Oh yeah, Dino loved the movie, he was very impressed and he wanted to work with me on something, anything,” recalls Lester with a laugh. “I believe Dino had acquired a lot of literary properties and he kept asking what I wanted to do, and I wasn’t sure for awhile, so he kept asking me about books. So anyway, one day, I’m at a bookstore, going through the aisles and I picked out ‘Year of the Dragon.'”
Get the whole story and read part five of DIRECTOR MARK LESTER AND THE CLASS OF 2002>>>

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