By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Teacher battles teen gang.
Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new teacher at Lincoln High, which is an inner-city school prone to a lot of violence and drugs. He’s been hired to teach a music class while replacing another teacher who left suddenly. Almost immediately he’s at odds with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) the leader of a school gang that constantly disrupts his class. He eventually is able to kick him out, but Peter continues to harass Norris in the off-hours where they vandalize his car and attack his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross). Norris eventually decides he’s had enough especially after the principal (David Gardner) and even the police detective (Al Waxman) show him little support, so he takes matter into his own hands by violently confronting Peter and refusing to back down.
The film, which was directed by Mark L. Lester, who as a B-movie director has done some compact, quality stuff, has definite shades to Teachers, which came out 2 years later, but with the same type of theme. This one though is harder edged, which makes it a bit better though it’s still weaker than Unman, Wittering, and Zigo, which it also has some similarities to, but without the intriguing mystery element. Lester has stated that he wanted to make an updated version of Blackboard Jungle, but with a grittier feel and while it may have succeeded in that respect it still comes-off as needing an updating. The school gangs dress in an over-the-top way and at times it’s hard to tell whether this wants to be taken seriously, or intended as camp. As violent as it sometimes gets it still doesn’t touch on school shootings, which was unheard of at the time, but would make a modern day high school movie that would deal with that subject more violent and scarier and making this stuff, as edgy as it tries to be, seem tame by comparison.
The ratio of black and white students doesn’t mesh. This was supposed to be an inner city school, so you’d think there would be more students of color than white, but instead it’s 98% white with only 1 or 2 black kids per class. Norris’ roomy home in the plush suburbs seemed too nice for someone working off of a teacher’s salary, so unless his wife had a high income job, which is never confirmed, then the home he lives in wouldn’t be realistic. The reason for Stegman becoming a gang leader doesn’t make sense either. Normally kids get involved in gangs due to being stuck in poverty, but Stegman lives in the suburbs where gang life is quite rare. If he was from an abusive family then it might justify, but his mother (Linda Sorensen) takes his side on everything, so again his motivation for joining a gang isn’t believable and in a lot of ways quite absurd.
I did enjoy King n the lead. He’s played some creepy parts quite effectively in the past, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull-off a good-guy role, but he does it quite admirably. Roddy McDowall is great too in the last film he appeared in with brown hair as after this he began sporting an all gray look. The scene where he teaches a class while holding all the students at gunpoint is by far the best moment. It’s fun too seeing Michael J. Fox (billed without the ‘J’) as a high school student even though he was already 21 at the time of filming. He looks more pudgy and has a bowl haircut though ultimately other than getting stabbed doesn’t have much to do. The weakest link is Van Patten who’s not scuzzy enough to give the role the nastiness that it needed.
The table saw death deserves kudos and the gas fire one isn’t bad either. Having he teachers turn-the-tables on the students and violently fight back gives the movie a novel edge though I wished that King and McDowall had teamed-up together to take on the kids instead of doing it individually. The story though doesn’t get interesting until the violent third act. The theme has also been tackled many times before and this one doesn’t add anything unique to the mix and for the most part is painfully predictable.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: August 20, 1982
Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes
Director: Mark L. Lester
Studio: United Film Distribution Company
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto, Tubi, Freevee, Amazon Video