Goofy and irreverent, Rock ’n’ Roll High School playfully updates the youth-run-wild ethos of ’50s teen movies. Built around a girl’s obsession with punk-rock slobs the Ramones—who appear in the film as themselves, mostly during performance scenes—the picture conveys an exaggerated vision of that thrilling moment in life when nothing matters more than music, rebellion, and romance. Better still, the movie is funny as hell, though not in a laugh-out-loud sort of way; rather, the flick’s relentless assault of stupid jokes (with a few genuinely clever gags thrown in for good measure) creates a frenetic, party-like atmosphere that’s almost impossible to resist.
The heroine of the tale is a teenager named Riff—or, as she calls herself, “Riff Randell, rock ’n’ roller.” As played by the endearing P.J. Soles, Riff is a wild child who’s never met a rule she didn’t want to break. Therefore, when Riff starts getting hassled by Miss Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov), the psychotic new principal of Riff’s school, a showdown is inevitable. The feather-light plot involves Riff’s quest to get tickets for an upcoming Ramones concert so she can show the band some songs she’s written for them; meanwhile, Togar uses every resource at her disposal to keep Riff from realizing her dream.
Director Allan Arkush—abetted by his fellow maniacs in Roger Corman’s junk-movie chop-shop—flits around like a honeybee between various subplots, each more outlandish than the last. For instance, Clint Howard plays Eaglebauer, a grown-up hustler running an elaborate business out of a men’s room—for the right fee, he’’ll supply students with advice, dates, drugs, whatever. There’s also a sweet love story involving two nerds. Arkush and co. cram the movie with sight gags that bridge the old-school schtick of Mel Brooks and the insanity of later films like Airplane! (1980). Examples include the tomahawk-wielding Indian lurking near a line of ticket buyers—he’s a scalper, get it?—and the whimsical dream sequence of the Ramones performing in and around Riff’s bedroom, featuring a shot of bass player Dee Dee Ramone rocking out in Riff’s shower while the water’s running.
All of this is delivered with stick-it-to-the-man insouciance, so even if Rock ’n’ Roll High School is dumb and shallow, there’s an edifying central theme related to the importance of treating kids with respect. Plus, how can anyone dislike a movie containing the line, “Do your parents know you’re Ramones?” Produced on a miniscule budget, Rock ’n’ Roll High School has deservedly gained cult-favorite status over the years, and the makers of the original film should not be held responsible for the existence of the 1991 sequel Rock ’n’ Roll High School Forever, which stars (shudder) Corey Feldman.
Rock ’n’ Roll High School: GROOVY