YAY! I get to watch a Roger Corman film today and not just any film, but one of his more influential movies. Movies about high school tend to fall into two categories; either the usual teenage sex comedy or the teens rebelling against authority figures. Today’s movie is definitely the latter of those. Now there were a number of reasons why I watched this movie; it’s a Roger Corman movie, I like the Ramones, P.J. Soles. Those reasons are also why I bought today’s movie, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.
The plot: At Vince Lombardi High School, the school board has grown tired of their students being considered the worst due to their disregard of education so they hire Evelyn Togar as the new principal after the last principal suffered a nervous breakdown from dealing with the students. Meanwhile, Riff Randall, the rebellious lead troublemaker at the school, has stolen the turn table from the music class and uses it to play The Ramones outside so the kids can have fun. Her friend Kate Rambeau patches the music into the schools PA system, causing all the kids to start dancing in the classes and hallways. Togar, accompanied by her two student minions (Fritz Hansel and Fritz Gretel), heads outside and cuts the power cord to the turn table. Togar then introduces herself to the students and sends them back to their class, while giving Riff and Kate detention for starting the ruckus. Tom Roberts, the captain of the football team, is wondering why he can’t seem to talk to girls and becomes infatuated with Riff after she dances by him in the hallway. Tom heads to the bathroom that serves as the office for Eaglebauer, a businessman that sells students test answers, hall passes, and fake ID’s. After Eaglebauer complains about his business being down since Togar started, Tom tells him he wants his help in getting a girl. Eaglebauer recommends Kate, who has a crush on Tom, saying that she would be perfect for him but Tom says he wants to hook up with Riff Randall and Eaglebauer says he will try to make it happen. Togar tries to figure out ways to keep the students in line and has Hansel and Gretel bring Mr. McGree, the music teacher, and Coach Steroid, the women’s gym teacher, to the science lab. While there, Togar tries showing them experiments she has done with lab mice to show the dangers of rock and roll music, especially The Ramones, to children. While Coach Steroid is gone, Riff switches out the tape that was playing for their exercises to one she made for McGree’s class, where she has written a song called “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” that she hopes to give to The Ramones. Hansel and Gretel see the girls dancing and rush to report what is happening to Togar but by the time she gets there, the girls have switched the tape back and are doing their normal stretches. Later, Riff is talking about cutting class for three days so she can be first in line to buy tickets to The Ramones concert and asks Kate to help cover for her. Meanwhile, Kate goes to see Eaglebauer and asks him to help her get together with Tom and he happily accepts. Eagle takes Kate up to Lover’s Leap, where Tom is waiting for them and when Tom asks why Riff isn’t there, Eaglebauer tells him that Kate is there to help him practice for what to do with Riff. As Riff waits in line, she suddenly finds a woman had jumped in front of her and when she confronts her, the woman introduces herself as Angel Dust, the Ramones’ number 1 fan. As the two argue over who is the bigger fan, The Ramones arrive at the concert hall to the delight of the crowd and when the band’s manager sees Angel, he leads her inside with him and Angel smirks at Riff as she leaves. Riff manages to get tickets for the kids at school and hands them out to everyone, even giving one to MR. McGree, but Togar confiscates Riff adn Kate’s ticket due to Riff skipping class and Kate covering for her. Kate heads to Riff’s house to study and talk about Tom when Tom calls and invites Riff to listen to the concert in his van and agrees to find a date for Kate when Riff says ok. Kate gets upset with Riff but Riff says she wouldn’t hurt Kate and tells her that she will keep Eaglebauer occupied while Kate can spend time with Tom. As they are driving to meet Tom, they hear a contest for two free tickets to the concert and Riff calls in and wins them. When Riff calls Tom and makes up an excuse for not meeting him, Eaglebauer tells Tom to just crash the concert and see Riff. At the concert, the radio DJ, Screamin Steve Stevens, introduces Riff and Kate to the crowd and Riff calls out Togar, who hears her on the radio. Togar sends Hansel and Gretel to the concert to bring Riff and Kate back to the school, then calls all of the parents and tells them there will be a special assembly at the school the next day. Screamin Steve takes Riff and Kate backstage to meet the band but Angel prevents them from entering the dressing room and when the manager shows up, Riff and Kate reluctantly head back to their seats. As the Ramones start playing, Angel grabs Riff’s song from her and heads backstage but Riff and Kate follow her, along with Tom and Eaglebauer when they get there. Tom manages to overtake Angel, who had tripped over another concert goer, and recovers Riff’s song. Riff thanks him and heads back to the show while Kate stays to check on Tom. The two start talking and when he learns that she went to Eaglebauer to get with him, Tom decides to start over with Kate and get to know her. Riff manages to get the Ramones to dedicate a song to Kate and Tom and later, makes it backstage with them. She gives Joey Ramone her song and the Ramones say they will be in town one more day and if they like her song, they will drop by the school. The next day, Togar calls out Riff for turning the students against her and reveals to the students that she has collected all of their Ramones records and proceeds to burn them. The parents try to stop the kids but Riff throws a punch bowl at Togar while Kate and Tom put out the fire, then the students proceed to take over the school. When the Ramones show up at the school, Togar accuses them of being responsible for what is happening but they ignore and head inside the school. The Ramones tell Riff that they like her song and plan on putting it on their next album, then make her an honorary Ramone. Accompanied by the police, Togar calls out to Riff and tries to get the students to come out peacefully or else the police will storm the school. Kate makes a bomb in the chemistry lab and takes the plunger with her as the students all exit the building. Togar thinks she has won but the Ramones begin playing Riff’s song and while they play, Riff uses the plunger to blow up the school. Togar is shown suffering a nervous breakdown of her own as Screamin Steve Steven reports on the incident.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School met with mostly praise from the critics, holding an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, The majority of critics felt that the movies pacing and energy was a mirror to the musical styles of the Ramones themselves. Roger Corman originally wanted either Cheap Trick or Todd Rundgren to play the band in the movie but due to scheduling conflicts, they could not work the schedule so Paul Bartel, who played Mr. McGree, suggested the Ramones. The movie would become a cult classic and a sequel was filmed in 1991.
This is a great movie to watch, especially if you like the Ramones. The acting was great all around, with P.J. Soles (Riff), Mary Woronov (Togar), Dey Young (Kate), and Paul Bartel (McGree) doing great jobs in their roles. The story was great and did a good job of somewhat capturing the punk culture and showing how most parents didn’t just didn’t understand it. The romance angle between Kate and Tom was honestly not that interesting but for the most part, it didn’t really take away from the movie. There comedy in the movie was mostly a mixture of sight gags, which mixed very well in the scenes they were used in, and the music definitely fit in with the story they were telling. One of Corman’s best movies and well worth watching.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5