Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979)


(director: Allan Arkush; screenwriters: Joe Dante/Russ Dvonch/Joseph McBride/Richard Whitley; cinematographer: Dean Cundey; editors: Larry Bock/Gail Werbin; music: The Ramones; cast: P.J. Soles (Riff Randell), Vincent Van Patten (Tom Roberts), Clint Howard (Eaglebauer), Dey Young (Kate Rambeau), Mary Woronov (Evelyn Togar), Paul Bartel (Mr. McGree), Don Steele (Screamin’ Steve Stevens, Radio DJ); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Roger Corman/Michael Finnell; Buena Vista; 1979)

“A spirited spoof on high school life.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A rudimentary teenage flick that follows the familiar rock ‘n’ roll format of the 1950s of rebel kids versus uptight adults. B-film maven Roger Corman is the producer and driving force behind the project. The low-budget film ($300,000) was not a box office hit but has since found a niche on DVD as a cult film classic. It’s a spirited spoof on high school life, cheesy in its low-brow humor, in love with its many clichés and makes no apology for taking sides with the anti-establishment rebels. Director Allan Arkush (“Elvis Meets Nixon”) says he was most inspired by the seminal rock film The Girl Can’t Help It (1956). One of the co-writers was Joe Dante, who would later direct Gremlins.

It’s set in California’s Vince Lombardi High (named after the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers), a high school with low academic standards because the students prefer rock ‘n’ roll to academics. The leader of the rowdy students is Riff Randell (P.J. Soles, starred in Halloween), whose favorite rock group is the Ramones. Riff joins forces with the school’s nerdy good girl Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) to rebel against new meanie martinet principal Miss Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov, an Andy Warhol actress), brought in to instill discipline and curb the rock music. Former principals were driven mad by the musical students, and the last one is wheeled out in a straight-jacket. The principal organizes a group of parents to burn a pile of rock records, but the students fight back and take over the school. They are joined by the Ramones. Screamin’ Steve Stevens (Don Steele), a radio DJ, brings the conflict public on the air. It concludes in complete anarchy with the police called in to evacuate the trashed building before the kids blow it up.

In supporting roles Eaglebauer (Clint Howard, son of Ron) runs from the smoke-filled boys’s room a successful dating service; Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten, son of Dick) is the star quarterback who uses the service to try and get hooked up with Riff, but it’s Kate who loves the corny jock; and, Mr. McGree (Paul Bartel) is the kooky adult who goes over to the side of the kids.

The energetic film has the nonstop sound of the Ramones, at the time a little known punk rock band based in NYC. The songs include “Teenage Lobotomy,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “I Want You Around,” “California Sun,” “Pinhead” and “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.” There’s other music from the likes of Alice Cooper, Chuck Berry and Velvet Underground. If you dig the music, you should be able to handle the juvenile comic efforts. It’s interesting to note the peppy antics of the film making the torn jean and black leather-clad Ramones into cute dreamboats, which goes against their usual downer vibe.


REVIEWED ON 12/31/2006 GRADE: C+