The modern Vigilante movie, kicked off by Dirty Harry and perfected by Death Wish, has always carried with them a right-wing political subtext about the nature of society and the need for the individual to step in when the system fails. Well Mark L Lester, writer, director, and producer of this particular American conservative propaganda piece, thinks subtext is a communist conspiracy. He also thinks coherent settings are cowardice and subtlety is for pinko liberals, and this film is all the better for it.
Filmed the same year Reagan took office, it centers on a school at some point in the future that has gone to hell because of uncontrollable youth, exemplified in head badass Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten), a very obviously twenty-something teenager out to raise hell. You can tell everything has gone wrong because there are guards everywhere (who are useless), graffiti all over the otherwise perfectly maintained walls, and overly ineffective weapons check at the door. Now the film doesn’t want to point fingers at anyone, which is why the exposition about how awful it is has a giant portrait of the previous president Jimmy Carter in the background.
Our “Everyman” for this story is Andrew Norris (Perry King and his amazing facial hair), who is a music teacher who just moved in from Nebraska and forgot to do any research before starting his new job. He is determined to get the fully equipped school band to perform at the annual fully attended concert, both to give them pride and because in the grim future they can’t graduate unless they can sight-read the 1812 Overture. He lives in a massive house in the idyllic suburbs, which hopefully is a reasonable commuting distance to the working class (ie mixed race) slums he teaches in.
His goal to teach The Kids how to arpeggio inevitably bumps up against Stegman’s casually Nazi, drug dealing 20-something pop-loving punk gang (with an evil lesbian in it to really spice up the mix), who for some reason own a nightclub. Obviously, Norris can do nothing because of reasons, even though we discover early on that the police can appear out of nowhere to bust up gang fights in the back of beyond, as The System is all pussy with its demands “evidence” and “proof”, like the filthy Democrats they are. Remember, this film starts by telling us it’s based on true stories, so any holes you see in the plot are clearly your own fault.
If you ignore the brazenly illogical and intentionally overly emotional premise, then that’s exactly what was intended as the film wants you to know that brutal street justice is the only solution to the problem it carefully made up. Helping it along its way is a surprisingly good cast; Michal J Fox and Roddy McDowall put on the best performances, adding nuance and believability despite the best efforts of the script, and everyone makes good work of a bad job.
From time to time the film really steps up and presents some quality unpleasantness. There is the attack on the biology lab that produces more disgust with three smears of blood and a trip to the butchers than some slasher movies manage to create in their whole run. There is an incredibly real and emotional hostage scene, which shows exactly what we could have won if the same effort had gone into the whole movie. And there is a rape scene that manages to show less than A Clockwork Orange and be more evocative and nastier, probably because it keeps on being cut back to so that it’s totally clear who you are supposed to hate.
That scene is also the trigger for The Big Showdown, of the Everyman taking down the bad guys as He Can’t Take It Anymore. That last 20 minutes servers two purposes, the first being the cathartic joy of the educator taking apart the uneducable in a number of brutal ways. Except for the girl; savage dismemberment and incineration for the men, minor bodily injuries for the little lady as anything else would be inappropriate. The other thing it achieves is unquestionably showing off how good the facilities at this hell-hole future school are, which only breaks your disbelief if you think for a second. It is undoubtedly the nicest, most functional dystopia out there.
This is, without doubt, a horrible little film with a brazen agenda. It offers a plethora of reasons as to why the situation happens (TV, single mothers, pop music, racial mixing, hardcore drugs at wholesale prices, Democratic presidents being in power 4 years before the movie is set, and the need for proof before locking up/killing children), but no explanation as to how the situation happened or why it continues the way it is. What it does offer is solutions; all of them are extreme and only proportionate if the escalation curve is inevitable.
It shows the tricks that these movies, and the associated political arguments, use so openly that you can use it to deconstruct the more insidious and carefully scripted examples in the genre. Or you can just enjoy it for being over-the-top nonsense that is way stupider than it thinks it is. Either way, this is revenge porn in its purest form, so it gets to be Treasure on those grounds.