Movies are supposed to be fun! I think a lot of filmmakers forget that. There have certainly been plenty of times where I’ve seen some big prestigious movie and though I may have been able to recognize it as an excellent film I didn’t have any fun watching it. Then you have movies like the Roger Corman produced “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School.” It doesn’t try to be important, it doesn’t try to impress you…but dang, it’s one fun movie. Released in 1979, it ushered in the rebellious teen movies of the 80’s, but is, sadly, often overlooked today.
The film focuses on Riff Randall (PJ Soles), the most rebellious teen at Vince Lombardi High and #1 fan of The Ramones. Riff and her classmates have caused the early retirement of a few administrators, which is why a new principal, Miss Togar (Mary Woronov) has been brought in to restore order.
Meanwhile, Riff’s best friend, Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) is tired of being just a brilliant student who is ignored by boys. She’s desperate to get a date with dorky jock Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten), but Tom has the hots for Riff. This leads to both Kate and Tom employing the services of Eaglebauer (Clint Howard), a guy who does favors for his fellow students, for a fee, out of an office hidden in a bathroom stall.
As if trying to win over Tom weren’t enough, Kate also has to cover for Riff while she camps out for several days to be first in line to purchase Ramones tickets for the entire school. She’s also desperate to meet Joey Ramone so she can give him the lyrics to a song she’s written…plus, she’s got a huge crush on him. That just goes to prove that this is a fantasy film, since The Ramones may very well have been the ugliest band in the history of rock music…and I have a feeling they would’ve worn that label with pride.
When Miss Togar learns that Riff skipped school and Kate covered for her, she snatches their tickets to the concert. Leaving them the only ones who won’t be going to the show. But that all changes when they win two tickets in a radio giveaway.
On the day after the concert, Togar and some parents stage an event where they set out to burn a large stack of Ramones albums. This pushes Riff and the others kids over the edge. They seize the school with The Ramones themselves joining in. It all ends with them literally blowing up the school!
The film was originally the brainchild of two young filmmakers from Roger Corman’s stable…Allan Arkush (who would end up directing the film) and Joe Dante. It was originally conceived as “Disco High School,” but when disco appeared to be dying the style changed. Various rock acts, including Cheap Trick and Van Halen, were considered before Corman and company settled on The Ramones. It turned out to be an inspired choice. Much of their time on screen is spent playing their songs, which is just fine. Nobody’s expecting these four (Joey, Marky, Dee Dee, and Johnny) to be fantastic actors. Heck, Dee Dee is only given two lines in the whole film…both expressing his love for pizza. But in the many musical sequences, these guys are in their element. The concert footage is nothing flashy, but has an undeniable energy. A scene where Riff imagines the band serenading her in her bedroom is very funny and the scenes at the end of the film, where the band marches down the graffiti soaked halls of the school pounding out their tunes is oddly reminiscent of the classic musicals of Hollywood’s golden age.
But hey, forget the music for a minute, the actors are great too! PJ Soles is absolutely irresistible in the lead. She pulls off being tough and adorable all at the same time. Meanwhile, Mary Woronov, as principal Togar, brings an evilness to the screen that would’ve made Nurse Ratchett hide under a desk. But almost stealing the show is Clint Howard as the already balding high school tycoon Eaglebauer. It doesn’t hurt that all these actors had a legitimately funny and creative script to work with.
“Rock ‘N’ Roll High School” is loud, silly, out-of-control…considering the presence of The Ramones, could it be anything else? It may also be one of the greatest rock movies of all time.