“It was something I’d always thought of,” says Lester of the 1990 film. “Then, Vestron Pictures, they’d finally had a hit with ‘Dirty Dancing’ and they wanted to do a sequel and it all fell into place.” From there, Lester commissioned a script from genre vet Courtney Joyner, although splatterpunk legend John Skipp and “Class of 1999” co-star Bradley Gregg also did uncredited work on the script. For Lester, “Class of 1999” was going to focus more on hardware then homework.
“Yeah, it’s kind of funny how we did the ‘Terminator 2’ thing before that movie came out, isn’t it?,” says Lester. “I really liked Courtney’s script. I’ve worked with him since ‘Class.’ We knew we weren’t doing a direct sequel to ‘Class of 1984,’ so we just modernized it. Again, I think ‘Class of 1999’ reflects our times, especially now, whereas ‘Class of 1984,’ while I think it’s even more relevant today, the violence is more high tech, and the steps the school would take are more high tech.”
Lester also concedes that the 5 million dollar sequel put more emphasis on action then characters, although working with vets like Pam Grier, Stacy Keach, John Ryan and of course, Malcolm McDowell was a highlight for the director. “They were great,” says Lester. “We wanted the killer teachers to be like pulp icons. It was great meeting them. I was a big fan of all their work, especially Malcolm’s but yeah, the characters took a backseat in the sequel, unlike the first one. The teenagers in the film, they were dullards, I don’t think you remember them very much, but we sacrificed the character to focus more on the effects and the violence.”
While “Class of 1999” may not have had the horrifying characterizations that made it’s predecessor so memorable, it did boast lovingly crafted special effects that transcended the film’s meager budget. “We had a million dollars for the effects in the film,” recalls Lester. “But that was more then I had for ‘Firestarter.’ There was a lot of love and effort put into the effects by everybody to make them special. I was thrilled when the movie came out and the critics, like Gene Siskel, who liked the movie by the way, they mentioned the care put into the effects. I was very proud of that.” Overseeing the effects was none other then Oscar nominated special effects wizard Eric Allard. “Eric was a genius,” recalls Lester. “Like I said, we only had the million dollars and he and the whole team made it look like twice that much. It looked like a big budget movie. Too bad Vestron didn’t know how to release it.”
“Class of 1999” didn’t provide Lester with either the commercial success or the endless publicity of it’s predecessor, but that hasn’t stopped Lester from continuing with genre filmmaking, through his company American World Pictures. After “Class of 1999,” Lester directed Brandon Lee in one of his last roles, in the actioner “Showdown in Little Tokyo,” released in 1991. From there Lester has directed and produced such films as “Night of the Running Man” and the Larry Cohen penned “Misbegotten,” a sort of “biological horror film” which starred Kevin Dillon as a psycho who chases a couple and their child, whose sperm he donated. That film also reunited Lester with an old friend from “Class of 1984.” “We shot that in Canada and I bumped into Stefan Arngrim,” recalls Lester. “So I gave him a small part in the film.”
As a producer, although Lester still directs most of the American World Pictures films, Lester’s in a position to now hire directors for projects, something he did when hiring John Hough to helm his Jack the Ripper project “Bad Karma.” For Lester, understanding film from the director’s point of view has been very helpful. “I hire directors based on the best work they’ve done, not the worst,” says Lester. “So when I hired John Hough, I said, well, ‘Legend of Hell House’ is a great film, so I know he’s a good director. I wouldn’t look at something like ‘Watcher in the Woods’ and say otherwise because I know what directors go through. It worked out good. John did a good job on ‘Bad Karma’ and the film has sold well in all of the markets.”
As for the future, Lester is quite content to keep grinding out dependable and entertaining genre fare, while continuing to acquire interesting and weird literary materials for production. “I just bought the rights to these Lin Carter books called ‘Thongor,'” says Lester. “‘Thongor’ is like Conan, it’s a sword wielding barbarian character. Actually, Thongor had his own comic at Marvel before Conan, because Marvel couldn’t secure the rights to Conan. When they did, they dropped Thongor. Anyway, we’re thinking of maybe making it into a sword and sorcery trilogy, a series of films budgeted around 8 million dollars. I’m very excited about it. I think fans of my other films will like it very much.”
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