Rock ‘N’ Roll High School: 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD Review

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Release Date: May 4
Director: Allan Arkush
Writers: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride
Cinematographer: Dean Cundey
Starring: P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Clint Howard
Studio/Run Time: Shout! Factory, 84 min.

Producer Roger Corman’s Rock ’N’ Roll High School is a teenage lobotomy. It’s an overcaffeinated parable about punk rebellion and the seething drive to maintain one’s countercultural ethos against a long-ingrained totalitarianism that, in 2010, appears approximately as dangerous as a pre-sectionals pep rally. You get where Corman, the B-movie emperor, is going with the whole punk-inflames-the-youth thing somewhere around the 12-second mark, but why bother suppressing such gleeful silliness, especially when it assumes a world where the Ramones are national heroes?

Originally conceived by director Allan Arkush as “Disco High” with considerably fewer Ramones, the movie is a relic. In our post-High School Musical age, it’s oddly nostalgic to remember an era when the jocks and music fans were kept in separate camps—but it’s shot through with fantastic zingers (“Do your parents know you’re Ramones?”) and well-aged running gags, not the least of which is the setting of Vince Lombardi High School.

The story, which required three screenwriters, is basically a punkish version of every high-school movie ever made. The protagonist isn’t a photogenic mop-topped basketball captain, it’s the phenomenally un-photogenic mop-topped Joey Ramone. Proto-riot grrl Riff Randell (the effervescent P.J. Soles) and her friend Kate (Dey Young) battle fascist Tim Curry-lookalike Principal Togar (Mary Woronov) to bring The Spirit Of Youth to a school located at 100 Main Street, U.S.A. They enlist the help and comic relief of an aggressively predictable roster of supporting characters: the sexless preppie quarterback, the latent-hippie music teacher, the two power-drunk hall monitors who both kind of look like Jonah Hill and, of course, Clint Howard as the wheeling-and-dealing student mastermind controlling the school’s scholastic, social and sexual matrix. (Of the quarterback, he proudly announces: “I’ve known Tom since his freshman year, when I sold him his first touchdown.”)

Riff longs to give the Ramones a song she wrote for them, which she does, which they play, which everybody likes, at which point you start to wonder if this high school or Disney’s is more forehead-slappingly wish-fulfilling. For their part, the Ramones are appropriately gawky and haven’t the foggiest idea what to do when the camera’s on them, except lip-sync through hallways and palpably long for the concert scenes. There’s a great moment backstage, when, after their climactic show, Riff finally presents them with her opus (titled, natch, “Rock ’N’ Roll High School”) while the guys indulge in a cathartic post-show orgy of, um, ravenous pizza consumption.

This 30th-anniversary remaster comes with new widescreen transfers, scores of interviews with Corman and Arkush and a load of audio commentary, including one with Young, who proudly went on to star as “Waitress” in Spaceballs. (It also features a flip-side of Corman’s 1984 flick Suburbia.) “This high school is a failure!” principal Togar shouts during the school’s eventual climactic explosion. Maybe so, but 30 years later, it still rocks.

Watch the Rock ‘n’ Roll High School trailer:

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