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Rock and Roll High School (1979)

9 September 2003 by Gnoll 3 Comments

ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL


1979, dir. Allen Arkush
93 min. Rated PG.
Starring: PJ Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Clint Howard, The Ramones.

Review by Gnoll

I grew up a Ramones fan. Since I discovered them in my early teen years, a good decade or so after their prime, they’ve kind of been a staple in my collection. Of course, as a result, I first saw their Roger-Corman-produced movie ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL way back in 1989 or so, and remember loving it despite it being one of the worst things I had ever seen. Almost fifteen years later, and I still love this movie despite it holding up as one of the worst movies ever made. So when I found out that the Starlight Srive-In in Atlanta was featuring it as part of Drive-InVasion 2003, I made sure to be there to see it again.

I reviewed the other Corman film from that night, DEATH RACE 2000, last week, and gave a bit of a rundown of the atmosphere for the event. People come to show off their muscle cars, bands play, fireworks are shot off, it’s a lot of fun. I skipped the daytime festivities and showed up after dark just for the movies. I figured I’d grab some dinner while I was there, so I headed o the snack bar before the first movie started. On a Friday or Saturday night, there’s usually a truck with a guy selling the top-notch barbecue and ribs and the like, but he was nowhere to be found, so I settled on the theater’s snack bar. And let me tell you, my experience there could merit an entire article.

On the menu there’s an item called a “King Dog”, which is supposed to be a larger-than-normal hot dog. I opt for the King Dog, with chili and cheese, a small order of nachos, and a large glass of water (no, not because I’m a cheapskate, but because I was still dehydrated from my experience at Dragon*Con the night before). Not too tough an order, right? And you’d think they could get at least one of the three to me with no problem, right?

The first bridge was the nachos. A younger, heavily-southern-accented blond girl was working behind the counter, and reported “All we got is large”. I checked the preposterous size of the large nachos, decided that I (A) didn’t want to spend the extra two bucks and (B) wasn’t that hungry. So I opted for a small popcorn instead. No big deal. I then went to the cashier and paid for my meal, where I learned it would be a couple of minutes on the hot dog, because they were cooking in the back. I’m cool with that, at least I get a fresh, hot dinner, right?

So I go to the little waiting area with my popcorn. I’m still thirsty as all hell, and on top of that I’m hungry so I’ve already started nibbling the popcorn. “Can I get my water?”, I politely ask the blond girl. She grabs a cup and walks over to fill it with ice, then disappears in the back. I scratch my head, and then go back to the popcorn. About two minutes later she reemerges emptyhanded and goes back to her spot. I try again. “Would you mind if I at least got my water?”, I ask. She looks at me like I just slapped her and then helps the next person in line. My friend is waiting on me, and it’s already been a good five minutes, so I tell her to go ahead back to the seat. Another guy emerges from the back and asks what I’m waiting on. I tell him it’s a King Dog, and ask him if I can at least get the cup of water I ordered. he says they may be out of King Dogs, and he’s going to the back to check. He then promptly disappears, leaving a popcorn-strewn desert wasteland in my mouth.

It must be five minutes later that I see him conversing with the little blond girl, who by this point I’m convinced is mildly retarded. She again asks me what I’m waiting on, and I say A King Dog and my water, at which point she actually has the audacity to ask if it was a bottle or cup of water. I finally get her to get a cup, fill it with ice, and go to the back to add water. When she finally hands it over to me (about ten minutes after I placed the order to begin with, mind you) she then has the unmitigated nerve to tell me they’re all out of King Dogs before going back to her business.

I stood there, baffled. All that I could think to do was sternly ask, “Well, what are you going to do about it? I paid for it already!”, To which she promply responded in good little retard girl fashion “I dunno, ask the cashier”. No, I’m not asking the cashier, I want a goddamn hot dog. The other chap tells me that they’re about to bring out some regular-sized hot dogs. I suggest, ever so politely, that perhaps since the King Dog is more than likely the size of two regulars, and because of the fact that I’ve been waiting for over ten minutes now, and that I’m missing the movie I paid to see, that they might be willing to just give me two of the regular dogs and call it even. Retarded girl just gives me the “I dunno” again and shrugs it off.

So finally, a few minutes later, idiot boy brings out a handful of regular hot dogs and starts stuffing them in the heating boxes. I make the two-regulars-for-one-big dog suggestion, and he has the gall to point out the price difference. A vein started bulging in my head, and I, as calmly as possible, explain how ludicrous this whole scenario is, and he finally just says “fine” and hands me two hot dogs. I go back to my chair, having missed nearly the first fifteen minutes of the movie, and prepare my hot dogs. The popcorn is long gone by now, and I was low on water because I knew better than to try and get these Mensa members at the counter to comprehend the idea of a refill, so I decided to just conserve. Finally, I go to bite into the freshly-prepared frankfurter before me.

Ice cold. Ice fucking cold. I’m not sure what kind of antiquated cooker they have in the back room of the snack bar, but in the fifteen minutes it took them to get these two icicle-dogs to me I coulda warmed up a half dozen dogs using only a 60 watt lightbulb. But I’m so sick of this scenario that I decide to deal with it.

So I got to see the last hour or so of ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, because the morons had caused me to miss the beginning. It’s not like I haven’t seen it a half dozen times in the last decade and a half, but it’s principle. And yes, it’s every bit as horrible as it ever was, especially when projected on a big ass screen under a smoggy sky. But I still enjoyed every remaining moment of the movie despite my dinner experience, and seeing the late great Joey Ramone on the big screen nearly brought a tear to my eye. But even more than that, it was an honor and a privelege to see Clint Howard in one of his finest roles in his long and illustrious career.

ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL takes place at Vince Lombardi High School, where the inmates are really running the asylum so to speak. They can’t keep a principal in office because of the students’ penchant for rock and roll (see, this title thing is easy). The school hires their toughest principal yet, Miss Togar, who vows to flush the rock and roll element out of the school forever. Of course, word gets out that the Ramones, the hottest rock and roll band around, are playing a concert soon, and all the students are dying to go. But nobody wants to go more than their biggest fan, Riff Randall.

Riff decided to camp out in front of the box office days before the tickets go on sale. she’s tops in line until the day that tickets go on sale, when under her radar slips a woman named Angel Dust, kind of like the grand Madam of groupies, who challenges Riff’s status as the biggest Ramones fan. Riff still manages to snatch up 100 Ramones tickets for her schoolmates (long before the days of Ticketmaster and ticket limits, I’m guessing) but has an unfortunate spell in the principal’s office which results in her and tutor Kate Rambeau having their tickets confiscated by Togar’s two goons. Dejected, Riff and Kate try desperately to figure out another method to get to the Ramones show.

Meanwhile, Kate has the hots for Tom Roberts, who’s a bit of a square. He’s buds with Eaglebauer, who is played by the magical sea creature that is known as Clint Howard. Tom would rather get it on with Riff, however, and Englebauer helps him concoct lots of devious plans to get in Riff’s pants, including the Shaggin’ Wagon itself, a decked out conversion van with a bed in the back, a stocked wet bar, and even a phone hookup. Riff and Kate plan to meet up with Tom and Englebauer that night, but are forced to bail when they win Ramones tickets on the radio.

They go to the concert, where Riff wants nothing more than to give joey her songs. She’s penned a little ditty called “Rock and Roll High School” (wow, there’s that title thing again) that includes such lines as “I just want to have some kicks, I just want to get some chicks”, which may explain why she’s so indifferent toward Tom. Of course, she does have some heterosexual fantasies, as we can plainly surmise from her pot-induced dream where she gets naked for all the Ramones.

After another encounter with Angel Dust, Riff is able to get her songs to Joey, who is being forced to eat a healthy, balanced diet by his manager rather than the fattening pizza that his bandmates are all over like a hobo on a ham sandwich. You know, because Joey Ramone could really stand to lose some weight. The concert starts, and Togar sends her goons to put a stop to it. Everyone’s there, including the entire student body, the school’s music teacher, and even a gigantic lab rat who is nearly denied admission due to the scientific studies that result in rats exploding when exposed to rock and roll music.

After her attempt to thwart the concert fails, Togar takes a new approach: she gathers all the rock records she can find and sets them on fire. The students are livid, but not nearly as much as The Ramones, who show up at Vince Lombardi High and lead the students in a revolt that leaves the entire school under seige. Riff and the students make for great role models as they burn the entire school to the ground while Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” blares. And of course, Riff gets her wish as the Ramones play a final performance for the school including their brand new hit song, “Rock and Roll High School”, written by Riff Randall herself.

Yes, this film is vintage Corman kookery, and is really a bad, bad, bad, bad movie. But it falls quite nicely in the so-bad-it’s-one-of-my-favorites category. Being a Ramones fan doesn’t hurt matters for me, and the fact that a fully-coiffed Clint Howard is a key player in the movie’s vague excuse of a plot launches it into classic status.

Not everyone will have a chance to see the movie in a drive-in, but much like DEATH RACE 2000, that’s the ideal spot to see it. Fortunately, not everyone will have a chance to get the incompetent level of snack bar service that I received either. But this movie is available on DVD and Video, and shouldn’t be hard to track down, so nobody has an excuse not to see it in some form.

Just be aware of the difference between ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL and ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL FOREVER, the sequel-only-in-title starring MCFTR’s favorite punching bag, Corey Feldman. Believe me, I’ve seen it, and you don’t want to.

3 Comments »

  • Retro said:

    I love anything vintage, especially old toys and cars.

  • Matt said:

    I’ve fallen in love with this movie! Its a great, fun Rock n’ Roll flick in my opinion! It seems to me that Rock And Roll High School has a uniqueness, light-heartedness and a soul to it that you dont get with today’s bland, banal, formulaic MTV teen exploitation shit. A really nice movie, and I’m glad they made it! :-)

  • Chuck Lenz said:

    to start with I saw this movie shortly after it’s release when it was premiered on Showtime in 1980 when I was 15 and I even though still somewhat in my adolescence got the idea of it bring a bit on the edge of potty humor and identified the parody aspect of the film of a teen girl being in love with the pop idol of the time and the fact they chose Joey Ramone as the object of her affection. The humor was a tad bit dry to an extent but the music was cool the actors some well known others not but still the female lead was adequate for a young man going through puberty and story line well suited for someone who didn’t feel like he fit in the school he was attending at the time so the rebellious nature was also adequate for relief of teenage frustration somewhat depicted in the 60’s british band The Who’s early lyrics a decade before RNRHS was thought of. I can say if it weren’t for this film and the state of mind I was in at the time and the comedy mixed with a good punk era soundtrack I might have became a actual pyromaniac or more deviant thug than I ended up in my early 20’s. To say this was a horrible film only goes to show the person who wrote this review is no respecter of good B Movie low budget high quality entertainment and should leave his expertise to something more suitable. Perhaps he would rather have had The Sound Of Music or Carousel as a favorite or more suitable musical as the staple of the youth movement. I thank the ones who brought us Rock Horror’ Grease and Rock N Roll High School because it showed me there was more to life than the boring 50’s and 60’s clean cut musicals I was subjected to as a small child. These films helped me to emerge from the false reality into a more down to earth realistic lifestyle that was more suitable for my ideals and emotional dysfunction. Long Live Rock N Roll High School and Long Live The Ramones.

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