5 / 5 stars
Quick, how many surreal teen comedies can you name? Tough, isn’t it? Other than sleeper hit Better Off Dead, the best example of this obscure sub-genre, filmdom is almost completely devoid of these movies. As fantastic and groundbreaking as they were, Heathers is more dark comedy while Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is mostly fantasy. The only other entry of the genre I can think of is this year’s back-to-school pick… so let’s ring in the fall with a heaping helping of silliness from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.
Producer Roger Corman put together soon-to-be-Hollywood-players to slam the door on the disco era, with some help from punk rock pioneers The Ramones. Starring P.J. Soles (Halloween, Stripes) as rock-n-roller Riff Randall, the bizarre Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is a comedy where school is more of an MTV music video than a learning institution. Randall wants nothing more than to see The Ramones in concert and get them a copy of her own original rock song. But when evil principal Miss Togar (indie film staple Mary Woronov) tries to remove all rock music from the school, and prevent every student from seeing The Ramones concert, the students, led by Soles, turn the school into ground-zero for the ultimate rock-n-roll rebellion.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School turns the teen movie on its head. Good-looking jock Tom Roberts (now WPT announcer Vincent Van Patten) is horrible with women and can’t get a date. Teachers perform sound experiments with mice to prove that punk music can cause them to spontaneously explode. (Still, this doesn’t stop one giant mouse from attending a Ramones concert while wearing earmuffs for protection.) Throw in a pair of hall monitors with odd superpowers and a Fonzie-like guy (Clint Howard) who dispenses student advice from his office in the boys’ bathroom, and you’ve got a film so engagingly weird and fun that it’s difficult to find another movie like it.
Directed by now-prolific TV helmer Allan Arkush (Corman’s Deathsport) and Joe Dante (The Howling, Gremlins), Rock ‘n’ High School is further proof that Roger Corman may be one of the greatest all-time producers, continuing his knack for finding great up-and-coming film talent. Co-starring indie director-writer-actor Paul Bartel (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul), veteran television actress Dey Young and, of course, The Ramones, this film is required viewing for rock music fans and indie film buffs alike. Where else can you see The Ramones serenade P.J. Soles in the shower? Where else can you see dorky Clint Howard give dating and make-out tips to handsome Vince Van Patten and Dey Young? (And why else would you want to?!)
Like all great underground films, Rock ‘n’ High School delights in giving us scenes that would never be included in any big-budget studio production. Yeah, there’s a storyline there, but don’t let that bug you. Just sit back and enjoy one of the most unique, hilarious, and surreal teen comedies of all time.