Rock ‘N’ Roll High School Blu-ray review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Shout Factory
Directed by Allan Arkush
Written by Richard Whitley and Russ Dvonch
1979, No Region Coding (NTSC), 93 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on May 11th, 2010
PJ Soles as Riff Randell
Mary Woronov as Principal Togar
Dey Young as Kate Rambeau
Vincent Van Patten as Tom Roberts
Clint Howard as Eaglebauer
The Ramones as themselves
Principal Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) is on a crusade to rid the school of the poison known as Rock and Roll music, turning Vince Lombardi High into a pressure cooker of emotions when she challenges punk rock princess Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) to a battle of wills. Riff is intent upon having fun and sharing that feeling with as many fellow students possible. Togar, however, has conducted experiments on lab mice that reveal that rock music has unsavory side effects. In response, she employs a pair of diabolical hall monitors to help defend her twisted moral values by any means necessary.
When Riff learns that her favorite rock band, The Ramones, are coming to town, she buys as many tickets possible and then hands them out to her classmates so that everyone can enjoy a good time. This behavior sends Togar through the roof, but her attempts to punish Riff backfire and she must deal with her worst nightmare as the students take over the school and invite The Ramones to perform inside the newly dubbed “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”.
The cast is a veritable who’s who of familiar genre faces. P.J. Soles (Halloween) runs with the lead as a likeable rebel and her enthusiasm is infectious as she dances around the gym singing into a jump rope. She is the glue that holds the film together, bringing an uncommon sincerity to the familiar character of class rebel. Dey Young (The Serpent and the Rainbow) is Riff’s best friend, Kate Rambeau, the perfect straight-man to Riff as a more conservative student who wants to have fun but play by the rules.
Mary Woronov (Eating Raoul) excels as the antagonistic Principal Togar, whose over-the-top behavior is so menacing that the kids’ rebellious actions are justifiable. She starts out stern and becomes more and more of a hard-ass as the plot unfolds. Originally a part of Warhol’s crowd, Woronov established herself firmly in the Corman camp playing strong women who should never be crossed.
Clint Howard (Evilspeak) is a fantastic casting choice for Eaglebauer, the good-natured go-to guy everyone can rely on. He runs an office in the world’s largest bathroom stall and can provide everything from concert tickets to dating tips. Howard has built a career on the nerdy outcast, but he really shines in this role. Vincent Van Patten (Hell Night) is the affable leading man, Tom Roberts, who has zero luck with the ladies. His sights are set on Riff, but her heart belongs to musician Joey Ramone.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is a brilliant re-working of the classic “beach movies” of the 1960s, substituting the sweet Frankie and Annette with The Ramones, anti-heart-throbs who have been dubbed some of the ugliest men in rock music. The film serves as a love letter to the band who never got the respect they deserved and plays as a giant invitation to the growing punk movement. Corman originally intended to make “Disco High” but wisely reconsidered.
There is a noticeable absence of stereotypes in this school, the cliques are missing, and with the exception of the one nerd who gets stuffed into lockers, all of the students appear to get along and stand united against the principal. Not every adult is evil, as Paul Bartel’s music teacher is quick to fall under the spell of The Ramones and he even participates in the climactic school siege.
Juvenile delinquency wins out over raunch, as the focus is more on bizarre situations and character behavior than of strong language or nudity. There are a variety of silly drug references throughout the movie, the standout being the scene where Riff gets high and imagines The Ramones serenading her in her bedroom as she undresses for a shower.
Director Allan Arkush (Deathsport) delivers anarchy at its most inviting, where a group of kids rebel against the fascist principal by taking over the high school and destroying everything the adults stand for. He manages to make the underlying message one of hope and of following your dreams. Although peppered with drug humor and a quest for teen sex, the film keeps clear of any salacious behavior and the characters maintain an air of innocence despite their antics.
Roger Corman’s production company launched the careers of countless filmmakers and he has always supported the collaborative effort. The impressive talent behind the camera is surprising--Arkush is aided by fellow directors Jerry Zucker (Airplane!) and Joe Dante (Piranha), and cinematographer Dean Cundey (The Thing) delivers some gorgeous shots that elevate the picture above its modest budget. Make-up effects artist Rob Bottin (The Howling) appears as a giant music loving mouse in a suit he created and charged Corman $50 and a screen credit. Barely noticeable among the production assistants are the super director/producer team of James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd.
The title track was re-recorded the following year with producer Phil Spector for the album “End of the Century,” over a grueling session that lasted for days including an 8-hour task of playing nothing but the guitar intro to Spector’s perfectionist specification. The Ramones continued to record and tour with little mainstream success; their biggest hit on the radio charts was the title track from the 1989 movie Pet Sematary.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is a fun film that came out at the right time and has developed a cult following over the past three decades. It is energetic, exciting, and more fun than the average guilty pleasure flick and when examined more closely is actually a pretty decent movie. The dreams of the youth to revolt against authority have never been so explosive and yet here they remain good-natured and optimistic.
Video and Audio:
The Blu-ray makes the film look like a million bucks, but also showcases the low-budget limitations in all of its glory. The picture is presented in an MPEG-4 encoded, 1080p anamorphic widescreen transfer that preserves the 1.85:1 aspect ratio with strong colors that have never looked better. Flesh tones are a bit pink at times, but there are not any problems with the overall transfer. Film grain is heavy at times and there are occasional scratches and bits of dirt throughout, but this is still the best treatment the movie has ever received.
The original mono audio track is preserved with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, but the Dolby TrueHD listed on the jacket is nowhere to be found on the disc. While the dialogue remains clear and free of distortion, there is a lack of power to the musical numbers, most noticeable during the live concert. The track is cleaner than previously offered and for that gets a solid thumbs up.
Shout Factory has set the bar high with this debut title in the Corman Blu-ray collection by going above and beyond all expectations and including all of the previous supplements ever produced for this film and then creating even more new materials!
The menu is presented as a high-school locker filled with textbooks that contain the supplements. The first book contains audio commentaries, four to be precise! The first commentary features director Allan Arkush with producer Mike Finnell and screenwriter Richard Whitley.
The second commentary track features producer Roger Corman and actress Dey Young.
Commentary number three includes director Arkush with actors P.J. Soles and Clint Howard.
The final track features screenwriters Richard Whitley and Russ Dvonch.
All four tracks are engaging and worth a listen, and though the first is probably the strongest, it is nice to hear the other participants and their memories of the production and of The Ramones.
Interviews with the cast and crew follow in a series of four featurettes.
“Back to School: A Retrospective” is a series of anecdotes that recaps the highlights of the commentary tracks in just under half an hour.
“Staying After Class” features the three leads (P.J. Soles, Dey Young and Vincent Van Patten) looking back on the production and runs just over 15 minutes.
“An Interview with Allan Arkush” is a pretty straightforward piece that allows the director to provide some insight for 10 minutes.
“An Interview with Roger Corman Conducted by Leonard Maltin” is the shortest interview, but within the 5 minute running time, Corman is able to convince the viewer that he is completely awesome and a class act.
15 minutes of audio outtakes from The Ramones performance at the Roxy are included for your listening pleasure.
Arkush provides a “special introduction” text essay about the preparation for the home video release of the feature.
Rounding out the disc’s promotional material are six photo galleries, the theatrical trailer, a collection of radio ads and a TV spot, plus additional trailers for the upcoming Corman titles Suburbia and Grand Theft Auto.
The Blu-ray package includes a 20-page full color booklet that offers an introduction by Director Allan Arkush; an essay by Screenwriters Richard Whitley & Russ Dvonch; interviews with Arkush, Johnny Ramone, Paul Bartel, and Mary Woronov and a collection of production photos.
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*Note: The screenshots on this page are not a reflection of the Blu-ray image. They were captured using the standard DVD.*