Cutting Class [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (8th March 2024).
The Film

Late in her senior year, Paula Carson (The Stepfather's Jill Schoelen) promises her district attorney William Carson III (Clue's Martin Mull) that she will focus entirely on her studies while he is off on his hunting trip; however, her school life is quite busy raising funds for the spirit squad, fending off the inappropriate attentions of school principal Mr. Dante (Fright Night's Roddy McDowall) and art teacher Mr. Conklin (Robert Machray), pressure from her jock boyfriend Dwight (Legends of the Fall's Brad Pitt) to go all the way, as well as becoming the object of obsession by school loner Brian Woods (The Blob's Donovan Leitch) who has recently been released from a mental hospital after a course of daily electroshock treatment for the murder of his father. When Paula's father disappears during his trip and students and staff who either perv on Paula or run afoul of Brian start dying in gory fashions, Paula at first suspects Brian, especially since Dwight fingers him in public for the murder of assistant principal Mrs. Knocht (The Exorcist III's Nancy Fish). Dwight, however, is becoming increasingly violent himself, and Paula soon suspects he is not just cracking under the pressure of his abusive father (Paint Your Wagon's Tom Ligon) and coach (Prince of Darkness's Dirk Blocker) to win a sports scholarship, but a secret discovers when she looks into her father's prosecution of Brian for murder.

Coming extremely late into the slasher cycle before the Scream genre renaissance, Cutting Class is a curious theatrically-intended project choice for Highlander franchise producers Peter S. Davis and William N. Panzer, but an outright bizarre one as the directorial debut of esteemed John Boorman-colleague Rospo Pallenberg. The film starts out rather well with respectable production values, interesting supporting character actors – particularly Eric Boles (C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud) as the icy math teacher and Robert Glaudini (Bugsy) as the red herring unstable custodian – and a likable trio of leads with girl-next-door Schoelen, Pitt in his first substantial role, and Leitch finding a balance between weird and possibly just misunderstood. At some point, however, Pallenberg and company tip over from suspense and black humor headlong into something that seems not so much parody as just clumsy with the leads taking the drama of the situation seriously – even during the climax, the character revealed to be the murder still seems menacing while cracking fashionable horror one-liners – while McDowall seems to be obliviously in his own film, Mull stumbles through a swamp with an arrow in his chest to comic effect, and the blasι faculty and concerned parents are all bombastic caricatures. The film's high points are the colorful cinematography of Avi Karpick (River of Death) who has to stage most of the film's suspense and action bits in bright, daylight environments and the soundtrack which gooses a run-of-the-mill score by Jill Fraser (Reckless) with a quartet of original songs by Wall of Voodoo's Andy Prieboy including the moody opening credits song "Nearer to Morning". Pitt went on to stardom and Leitch had a respectable filmography to come - The Blob had been shot but not yet released when Cutting Class was in production – but this film makes underrated scream queen Schoelen's subsequent genre efforts before she left the business Curse II: The Bite, the Freddy-fied The Phantom of the Opera, Popcorn, and When a Stranger Calls Back seem quite respectable in comparison.


Given limited R-rated theatrical release before its VHS and laserdisc release through Republic Pictures Home Video (also R-rated), Cutting Class haunted the video rental walls and cable television. While the unrated version turned up on overseas DVD from an old fullscreen PAL master, hopes were dashed when Lionsgate's anamorphic DVD identified itself on the cover as the "unrated version" but turned out to be the R-rated version as well. In 2019, Vinegar Syndrome treated viewers to Blu-ray/DVD combo edition from a new 4K scan of the original camera negative which restored all of the missing gore – substituted in the R-rated version with softer cutaways – and marked the occasion with an additional website-exclusive edition offering the choice of one of five(!) different slipcover designs.

MVD Visual's "Laservision Collection" 2160p24 HEVC 1.85:1 widescreen 4K UltraHD/1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray combo (the latter also separately available) are derived from the 2018 4K scan as the Vinegar Syndrome edition – the 4K encode with an HDR10 grade – and both more often than not show the photography off at its best while also exacerbating the limitations inherent in the material. Shot on high-speed Agfa XT 320 film, the transfer exhibits its noted peculiarities including a creamy look that flatters well-exposed skin tones which lose a bit in the highlights – noticeable on McDowall's forehead during a sunny, widow-lit close-up while he is wistfully addressing the school on the PA system – while some of the shadow areas can be extremely, distractingly grainy including early natural light sequences on location during the hunting trip and in the swamp (with a few post-production insert shots looking considerably better than the surrounding footage). The balance of light and shadow is far more stable in some moody interior scenes in more controlled conditions. The UHD looks slightly better than the brighter-seeming and less contrasty Blu-ray. It does not seem likely that a newer scan would be substantially better or that enough people would be interested to warrant it.


While the Vinegar Syndrome release had an LPCM 1.0 mono track, MVD offers what the menu describe as an LPCM 2.0 mono track and a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. The film was mixed in mono and the Dolby Digital 2.0 track on the Lionsgate disc was not surround-flagged. The LPCM 2.0 mono track sounds loud, clear, and forceful with regard to music, effects, and dialogue while the Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounds quieter and not so much stereophonic as somehow pushed away from the center, sounding recessed in both channels without an anchoring phantom center (possibly an early attempt at faux-stereo). Optional English SDH subtitles have a few odd errors that might not be typos as bad OCR (the Blu-ray side of the package also includes optional Spanish subtitles).


Both 4K UHD and Blu-ray share the unrated version of the film and the theatrical trailer (2:35) while the Blu-ray also features some but not all of the Vinegar Syndrome extras starting with "Un-Cutting Class" (20:26), an interview with lead actress Schoelen who recalls the film as not an enjoyable experience despite getting to work with one of her best friends who was in the wardrobe department and her castmates (Schoelen and Pitt were engaged for three months after the film). She also recalls being put off Pallenberg who committed the directing sin of giving actors line readings but felt that he did know what he wanted with the film.

In "Donovan Makes the Cut" (16:25), actor Leitch recalls being attracted to the project because of Pallenberg, getting on with his castmates including McDowall, Pitt nearly getting arrested for mooning passing drivers on location, the piecemeal construction of sequences during the latter half of the film, and the work of cinematographer Karpick.

Also ported from the Vinegar Syndrome edition is the "Kill Comparisons: Unrated VS. R-rated Versions" (3:53) splitscreen featurette which reveals the various cutaways used to tame the violence as well as some alternate takes (when the coach is impaled on the trampoline, neither version has much blood but the unrated version has his legs wiggle for a few seconds while they are still on teh R-rated version).

New to the MVD release is the full-length R-rated version (90:52) in standard definition – presumably the same NTSC digital master used for the Lionsgate DVD with audio comparable to the Dolby Digital track on the feature presentation – as well as Republic Pictures' "Find The Killer and Win" (4:11) VHS video store retailer promo along with trailers for five other MVD Blu-rays.


The 4K UltraHD/Blu-ray combo is housed with a slipcover and a reversible cover with a foldout mini-poster packaged in the case.


Not entirely bad but not really good either, Cutting Class is the type of slasher that could only have come out of the late eighties as a misguided brainchild of the producers of Highlander and the writer of Excalibur.


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