Blu-ray Release: January 30, 2024
Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10)/Color
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono; Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (R-rated cut)
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 91:03 (unrated cut), 90:52 (R-rated cut)
Director: Rospo Pallenberg
High school can be murder, just ask Paula (Jill Schoelen). Her overprotective father disappears during a weekend hunting trip, she’s being romantically pursued by Brian Woods (Donovan Leitch), her jealous jock boyfriend Dwight (Brad Pitt) is looking for any reason to release his juvenile rage, and her friends and teachers are rapidly falling victim to a silent, shadowy mass-murderer. (From MVD’s official synopsis)
By 1989, the initial slasher movie cycle had run its course and the genre form had entered the doldrums of mainstream horror. Even franchise slashers stopped being reliable box office performers – Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child were such low earners that the next films in each series were sold as finales – and the post-modern refresh brought about by Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) was nearly a decade away. Rospo Pallenberg’s Cutting Class (1989) was released in a climate of high-concept pseudo-slashers, like Tibor Takacs’ I, Madman (1989) and Gérard Kikoïne’s Edge of Sanity (1989), and failed franchise starters, like Craven’s Shocker (1989).
Lacking a high concept and without the pedigree of a filmmaker on Craven’s level, Cutting Class probably would’ve been forgotten to time, had it not featured an early lead role from Brad Pitt on the edge of his super-stardom. It’s not even particularly well-remembered among slasher fans, who tend to prefer the grittier, exploitationy films of the genre’s earlier period, before the big studios and MPAA cuts sanitized it for mainstream release. Steve Slavkin’s screenplay is efficient, though not as funny as the high school comedies it's sometimes emulating and the central mystery as to the murderer’s identity is really undercooked. Fortunately, what Cutting Class lacks in laughs, mysteries, and gory delights, it often makes up for with Pallenberg’s slick direction, which fits the transitionary look of the era and even anticipates the ultra-glossiness of Scream and its imitators. The entire climax is especially well done, not to mention the bloodiest and funniest part of the movie.
Pitt’s co-lead, Jill Schoelen, was a pseudo-scream queen during these unsteady years between the mid-’80s and release of Scream, making appearances in Joseph Ruben’s The Stepfather (1987), which took a psychological thriller approach to the slasher formula, Mark Herrier’s pre-Scream meta-slasher, Popcorn (1991), and one of 1989’s other high-concept takes on the genre, Dwight H. Little’s Phantom of the Opera. The other lead, Donovan Leitch, briefly had a profile as high as Pitt’s, appearing in Edward Zwick’s Glory the same year as Cutting Class and having roles in ‘90s indie darlings, like Allison Anders’ Gas, Food, Lodging (1992) and Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). The triangle between Pitt, Schoelen, and Leitch is another of the film’s strengths, in part because of the performance quality, but also because Slavkin’s script establishes the lost platonic love between Pitt and Leitch as genuine, sad, and perhaps an even bigger tragedy than the romantic love divided amongst the characters. The comedic heavy lifting is handed off to the always reliably sardonic Roddy McDowall, as the school’s pervy principal, and Martin Mull, who was about to begin a six-year stint on Roseanne, as Schoelen’s hapless district attorney father.
Pallenberg’s career was short, but not inconsequential. He had some success as a screenwriter, mostly for John Boorman, for whom he wrote Exorcist II: The Heretic (1988), Excalibur (1981), and The Emerald Forest (1985). IMDb also lists him as an uncredited director on Exorcist II, but Cutting Class was his solo-directing debut and swansong. He also has an important place in unmade film history for working on two different, ill-advised, high-profile attempts to compact impossibly long novels into stand-alone features – Boorman’s Lord of the Rings and George Romero’s The Stand.
Cutting Class had a wide VHS release in the US, to the point that every shop that sold used tapes seemed to have at least two in stock. The North American DVD debut was put out by LionsGate and was mislabeled the unrated cut, when it was actually a slightly longer, but still censored version. It finally had its unrated and Blu-ray debut pretty recently, in 2019, via Vinegar Syndrome. MVD Rewind is working from the same 2018 4K restoration of the original camera negative, presented here in 2160p with HDR enhancement. I’ve included screencaps from the 1080p Blu-ray copy for illustrative purposes. They don’t demonstrate the full upgrade to 4K, but offer an idea as to the vivid, yet natural palette, tight, but not oversharpened details, and crisp textures.
I’m especially impressed with the fine grit throughout cinematographer Avraham Karpick’s moody diffused lighting techniques, though the overall grain is a bit on the snowy side. The HDR also punches up vibrancy and highlights without blasting white levels, though the difference is negligible if I’m honest. Some sequences, such as the opening credits, are littered with black dots and other minor print damage.
Cutting Class is presented in its original mono and uncompressed LPCM 2.0. There’s also a compressed Dolby Digital stereo track, but it only seems to have been included for completionists’ sake (I’m not even sure if it’s actually stereo). I’m a little surprised by how much ADR and canned foley work was needed and how echoey some of the dialogue is. Perhaps Pallenberg was so focused on the visuals that he neglected audio aspects. Anyway, the track's shortcomings are almost certainly the fault of the material and not digital re-mastering.
Jill Fraser rock ‘n roll, New Wavey score is the key aural highlight in terms of sound quality and the film’s tone. Fraser was a synth music pioneer and a surprisingly important figure to be working on a little slasher from the end of the first wave (for the record, the film was also co-edited by Oscar nominee Bill Butler). She’s best known in the electronic music community for her award-winning commercial work, but also collaborated with pop and rock stars, as well as composer Jack Nitzsche, and designed sound effects for Zardoz (1974) and Empire of the Ants (1977).
Disc 1 (4K UHD)
Unrated cut (91:03, 2160p)
Disc 2 (Blu-ray)
Unrated cut (91:03, 1080p)
R-rated cut (90:52, 480p) – The original theatrical version presented in standard definition and Dolby Digital mono sound.
Un-Cutting Class (20:26, HD) – MVD didn’t license the Hysteria Continues podcast commentary from the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray, but they did option two of that 2018 disc’s interviews, beginning with lead actress Jill Schoelen. Schoelen is brutally honest as she recalls not liking the script or her character, initially refusing the part and only signing on to work with McDowall and Moll, being relieved that her best friend (Kelly Troup) was the costume designer, Pallenberg being a bad director, and struggling on set, before discussing the larger difficulties of being an actress in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Donovan Makes the Cut (16:25, HD) – The second VS interview features actor Donovan Leitch, who talks about wanting to work with Pallenberg as a fan of Excalibur, auditioning, shooting on location, Pallenberg’s outsider perspective and intimidating directing style, working with the rest of the cast, and Cutting Class’ disappointing release.
Find The Killer and Win (4:11, SD) – A VHS retailer contest promo.
Kill Comparisons (3:53, HD) – A look at the differences between the unrated and R-rated edits of the film.
The images on this page are taken from the Blu-ray copy – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.