Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, 1979.
Directed by Allan Arkush.
Starring P.J. Soles, Clint Howard, Dick Miller, Vincent Van Patten, Paul Bartel, Don Steele, and The Ramones.
A strict regime in a high school forces some of the pupils to rebel, with a little help from punk band The Ramones.
You know you are getting old when you watch a movie and proclaim “They don’t make them like this anymore”, and 1979s Rock ‘N’ Roll High School is one of those movies. Directed by Allan Arkush (and an uncredited Joe Dante, who stepped in to direct a few scenes when Arkush fell ill) and executive produced by the legendary Roger Corman, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School followed in the wake of Grease the previous year by having a cast of clearly-older-than-teenage actors playing loved-up teenagers whilst singing and dancing to various rock classics as the authority figures in their lives looked on powerless, only in this case… that is exactly what you get.
Whereas Grease had rival gangs, cliques and a central love story to hang it all on whilst the kids try to get one over on their teachers (who weren’t really that bad), Rock ‘N’ Roll High School forgoes most of the details and subplots – most, not all – that made audiences want to be Danny, Sandy or Rizzo and just wants to have fun, which is what it does from beginning to end without stopping. The main character is Riff Randell (Halloween’s P.J. Soles) who, apart from looking a couple of years too old for high school, is a huge Ramones fan, and when music-hating Miss Togar (Mary Woronov), the strict new principal of the school, confiscates Riff’s Ramones gig tickets the battle is on, as Riff manages to get another ticket but also manages to get the band themselves to turn up at the school to help orchestrate the downfall of Miss Togar’s tyranny.
There are a few more details – including a feeble subplot involving fellow pupil Tom (Vincent Van Patten) and his attempts to get a girlfriend with the help of Mr. Fixit Eaglebauer (Clint Howard) – to bulk it out but essentially the movie is a showcase for The Ramones, who may be one of the most important and influential rock bands ever but they cannot act for toffee. P.J. Soles’ youthful energy is what keeps the movie going between songs but once the band appear it is classic track after classic track (‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, ‘Teenage Labotomy’, ‘I Want You Around’, ‘Pinhead’, ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’, etc.) before Johnny, Joey, Marky and Dee Dee take to the corridors to join in with the mayhem, their only possible competition coming from a spirited and highly amusing performance by Roger Corman regular Paul Bartel as Mr. McGree, the classical music teacher who takes a liking to punk rock once the guys appear, and watching him dance to The Ramones is probably one of the most joyous things you will ever see in a movie.
Released as part of 101 Films’ Black Label range, this limited edition Blu-ray comes with four – yes, four – audio commentaries from various cast and crew, as well as several interviews and featurettes, the best being the feature-length retrospective featuring interviews with Allan Arkush, Roger Corman, Joe Dante and many more of the people involved. It is a pretty packed disc, and the packaging and artwork is suitably fun, but it does feel like it is lacking some extra Ramones material to add some flair. Granted, most of them have now passed and surviving drummer Marky Ramone does pops up in the interviews but seeing as the movie pushes the band to the fore it just felt like the set was missing something (like a CD copy of the soundtrack).
Other than that, though, Rock ‘N’ Roll High School is an absolute blast, does exactly what you would expect it to from the title and knowing who was involved behind the scenes, and if you are in the mood for some rebellious high school antics but the slushy love story of Grease puts you off revisiting that movie you could always watch this as an alternative, possibly paring it up with Animal House or Porky’s for an evening of raucous and rude entertainment. Is it technically a great movie? Probably not, but that doesn’t matter as it is impossible not to get caught up in the sheer rock ‘n’ roll abandon of it all. Now, get ready…1…2…3…4…
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★