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Class of 1984 had a very different conclusion when it was first completed.
Director Mark Lester said, “When I finished the movie, I started previewing it for people, and the audiences went berserk when the teacher started going after these kids. But when it got to the ending something was wrong.”
Originally, Tim Van Patten’s unhinged character takes a swipe at the teacher before purposefully letting go of the ropes to fall to his death. The audience didn’t respond well to the suicide with many writing on the preview comment cards that they disliked it.
While the criticism didn’t fall on deaf ears, it wasn’t until Lester heard the same critique from a potential film distributor that he realized a change needed to be made. The teacher had to have the final triumph, not the dastardly student. Lester convinced the distributor to give him three days to make the fix.
But how to do it? After all, filming that scene originally was quite the task. Without the aid of CGI, the team had to find a location where there was a glass piece above an auditorium. A stuntman then had to fall through the glass for the dangerous stunt.
“It was extremely complicated to do,” Lester remembered.
Thankfully, Lester’s inventiveness would help avoid reshooting any of that. In fact, it would only require less than ten seconds of filming.
He called actor Perry King back and instructed him to punch the camera. It was a simple idea, and yet it would completely change the ending so that Patten's character would now fall as a result of the blow, not his own will.
“He took his fist and smashed it into the camera lens, and I cut it into the movie,” Lester said. “Every preview from then on: ‘great ending’ [and] ‘loved the movie.’”
Remembering the tense finale, King said, “Murdering those boys was absolutely in character. Absolutely part of the story.”
It seems the audience and the distributor felt so too.