|Rock 'N' Roll High School (Special Edition)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 13 December 2005|
Roger Corman has always been a trend-rider. In the late 1970s, when disco was at its peak, he wanted to make “Disco High,” an exploitation movie that would climax with the explosion of a high school. Rock fan Allan Arkush was working for Corman at the time, and he and Joe Dante, likewise a Corman employee, saw their chance. Arkush talked Corman out of “Disco High”—loving disco would never lead anyone to blow up a high school—and into “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” with Arkush as director. (As compensation, Dante was given “Piranha” to direct.)
They had to find a rock act that was hot at the moment and founded enough in anarchy to fuel the explosion of the school. Cheap Trick was the first choice, but they became too big too fast, so The Ramones were enlisted instead. It was a perfect fit; the proto-punk style of the band—torn jeans, black leather, lots of metal, plus their driving proto-classic music—was exactly what was wanted.
The story was pretty simple, and not much different than the quickly-made rock-exploitation movies of the 1950s that kept Sam Katzman in cigars. Riff Randall (P.J. Soles, who’s terrific) is the rock-loving “bad girl” of Vince Lombardi High, the scourge of newly-appointed principal Miss Togar (Mary Woronov). Despite her exalted status, Riff is pals with shy, demure Kate Rambeau (Dey Young). Also around is big-deal jock Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten), whom Kate wishes would just once notice her. In the most unconvincing plot development, Tom himself is a dork and not attractive to girls, so he turns to the enterprising Eaglebauer (Clint Howard), a hustler with an office in the boys’ lavatory. There are also exploding lab mice and a giant mouse who’s a Ramones fan and who has a fussy mother.
There’s a bunch of stuff about tickets to a Ramones concert, and trying to get the band to appear at the high school, but the movie doesn’t pay much attention to the plot so there’s no reason you should. Instead, just have fun with its energy, spunk and drive, all of which it abounds in.
The movie became something of a mini-“Rocky Horror Picture Show” as it is a cult favorite and occasionally run at midnight shows. It was the first big pitch for The Ramones—who evidently didn’t like the result—and still their most prominent showcase, as the band never achieved the level of fame it first seemed destined for. There was something like a followup, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever,” and another “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” perhaps a remake, is scheduled for release this year.
The movie is graced with two commentary tracks. A newly recorded track with Roger Corman (executive producer here) and actress Dey Young is nothing special; evidently neither of them bothered to take a new look at the movie before the recording session. But the other track, with Arkush, producer Michael Finnell and co-writer Richard Whitley, is lots of fun, as energetic as the movie itself, full of funny anecdotes and reminiscences.
This is another in the “Early Films Collection” from Roger Corman being released by, as unlikely as it may seem, Disney DVD.