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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School: a unique, Ramones-centric flick

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I’ve been a fan of the Ramones from a young age (around twelve years old). And I’ve been aware of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School for the majority of my life – the track by the band and the 1979 movie based around The Ramones and their music.

With my love of rock and punk music, as well as high school movies, it was only a matter of time before I got round to watching the 70’s hit.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

★★★★☆

Allan Arkush & Joe Dante / 1979 / USA / 93 mins

When it comes to a high school movie based almost entirely around one band and their music, it can be difficult to imagine exactly how the story will play out, especially when the band themselves aren’t portraying any of the main characters. 

With Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, it’s origin can be understood from the standpoint of pre-production. Originally written under the title of Disco High before moving to Heavy Metal Kids and eventually becoming Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. The title may have changed multiple times, but the story roughly remained the same with the genre of music and the band changing as the title did. Everything such as the beats of the story, the character arcs, the interactions with the band and their music were all in place by the time The Ramones were introduced. 

The movie follows the lives of several students throughout the school: Huge Ramones fan, Riff Randell (P.J. Soles), tries desperately to get her song Rock ‘n’ Roll High School to the band; captain of the school’s football team, Tom Roberts (Vince Van Patten), attempts to get a date with Riff Randell; while Riff’s best friend, Kate Rambeau (Dey Young), tries to get a date with Tom. 

All the while, the school’s new principal, Principal Togar (Mary Woronov) begins her reign of tyranny across the school in an attempt to control the wild students. It’s a pretty standard high school movie plot, but throw The Ramones and a terrific soundtrack in there and you’ve got a pretty special high school movie. 

While The Ramones are the movie’s big draw, it doesn’t mean the rest of the film is necessarily lacking. In fact, in many ways Rock ‘n’ Roll High School stands out. The dialogue is incredibly witty and contains arguably some of the best lines from movies of the same genre. The script also mixes the main story with The Ramones seamlessly and features some surprisingly well-choreographed musical numbers throughout (most notably P.J. Soles’ rendition of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School in the school gym). Of course, the film suffers from being of its time and the characters are far from well-developed. Still, the actors’ performances help create entertaining characters and an overall fun and energetic movie. 

As for The Ramones, they manage to add a couple of fun performances to the film. Certainly untrained actors but still very much Ramones, hilarious just by being themselves and occasionally bending to the script’s will for a good gag. The references to the band and their music come and go so frequently that it eventually becomes hilarious, but this comes with its very own charm.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School isn’t the greatest high school flick you’ll ever see, even for the pre-80s era, but it’s one of the most unique.

You can watch Rock ‘n’ Roll High School now on Amazon Prime and Shudder UK.

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