Rock 'n' Roll High School June 12, 2016
I think everyone had at least one moment during their four years of high school in which they fantasized about a day completely overtaken by anarchy. A day where students would have no other responsibility besides having to enjoy each other’s company; where teachers would be figures of the background and not ones of authority; where flipping the bird at administration would be a possibility. A change of pace, a sense of excitement, and enhanced sociability were things only sometimes flirted with (through instances of fire-drills, lock-downs, power outages, and graduation-based assemblies). But even then, disobeying order was next to impossible, unless you were a rebel without a cause that realized their immaturity much too late.
Granted, I’m the child of teachers and therefore liked school, so ideas of chaos were distant and maybe fulfilled by the simplistic, spontaneous joys of the last few days of the school year when classes were comprised of signing yearbooks and reminiscing. But I’m sure other daydreams of freedom, especially within the minds of the kids who looked and acted like Avril Lavigne in the mid-2000s, were much more potent than mine.
1979’s Rock ’n’ Roll High School is such a fun no-budgeter because it indulges the aforementioned fantasy with youthful energy and knowing wit. Produced by B-movie giant Roger Corman and co-written and directed by Allan Arkush, the film is a exquisitely good time shaped by shades of ‘70s rock musicals and ‘60s delinquency pictures peppered by insurgency.
It has a killer storyline. It revolves around the antics at Vince Lombardi High School, an establishment whose academia has been greatly tarnished by the student body’s obsession with modern rock ’n’ roll. Teachers and principals have come and gone with frightening frequency — the students are much too wild to keep in check — and it seems that nothing’s ever going to change so long as the going continues to be rough.
In order to reverse the school’s seemingly irreversible plight of rebellion, no-nonsense authoritarian Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) is brought in to fill in the elusive role of the principal. Her nonexistent sense of humor and guiltless disciplinary tactics are the very things this high school needs.
But changing the values of the students is something even the strongest of a hand cannot deter. As most move to the beat of the same drum as Riff Randell (PJ Soles), a popular, rock adoring classmate, putting a stop to the orneriness of Vince Lombardi High’s uncontrollable ways might as well be laughable. Things only worsen when The Ramones come to town for a show, which immediately sends the entire town into a bewildered frenzy.
And when Rock ’n’ Roll High School gets to this point, that’s when the film announces itself to be among the best cult classics of our time. Before The Ramones integrate themselves as main characters, the movie is spunky satire that maybe wouldn’t seem so special in the grand scheme of the high school movie genre. But their flawless easing into the film, all thanks to Arkush and Joe Dante’s (Piranha, Gremlins) ingenious screenplay, is cheeky and totally fitting — their music is the cement that holds the movie’s anarchical premise together. It’s a contumacious blast.
Better yet is the performance by Soles (best known for her supporting role in 1978’s Halloween), whose vibrancy makes her a stereotypical bad girl worth rooting for. Woronov is a hoot as the villainous principal. Rock ’n’ Roll High School is a delightful reminder that a low-budget cannot stop easy entertainment so long as the right people are a part of the action. Good thing the cast of the film appears to be having the time of their lives. A-