Rock 'N' Roll High SchoolOverview -
Vince Lombardi High School has quite a reputation: it's the wildest, most rockin' high school around! That is, until a thug of a principal, Miss Togar, comes along and tries to make the school a totalitarian state. With the help of the Ramones, the students of Vince Lombardi battle Miss Togar's iron-fisted rule and take their battle to a truly rockin' conclusion!
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
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In its early inception, 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' was supposed to be a teen movie with a disco theme at the center. Even the film's original title, 'Disco High,' made it crystal clear what the filmmakers initially planned. Producer Roger Corman wanted a present-day kids-versus-adults formula that capitalized on the latest music trend. But after several revisions from Joe Dante ('Gremlins,' 'The Howling') and director Allan Arkush -- the title even changed from 'Heavy Metal Kids' to 'Girl's Gym' before being finalized -- the script eventually morphed into a story that celebrated the rebellious side of youth. And what better genre to display this attitude than rock music, the anthem of juvenile delinquency.
After being rejected by the likes of Todd Rundgren and Cheap Trick, Arkush decided to use a new up-and-coming band called the Ramones to star as the musical act. With their loud and fast sound, they embodied the rowdy, boisterous attitude needed for the story, and their music even gives the movie the right kind of energy to keep things exciting and amusing. In one of the funnier scenes with exploding lab mice, their songs rank higher than The Who on the Rock-o-Meter. Looking back, no one will argue that the punk group from Queens, who played numerous times at the legendary CBGB's music club, has left a more lasting impression than the bands that were considered before them.
Borrowing from one of their popular songs, Riff Randell (P.J. Soles), apparently, is a teenage lobotomy -- whatever the heck that means -- and she has it in spades. She also happens to be the Ramones number one fan and has written a special song just for them. To show the group how much she loves them, she is determined at all costs to be at their latest concert along with her best friend, Kate Rambeau (Dey Young). To the new principal of Vince Lombardi High, Miss Togar (Mary Worornov), she is an out of control instigator and an embodiment of all that is wrong with contemporary youth. But Riff is super cool and cute while doing it, a true punk rocker at a time when the genre was only starting to break into the pop mainstream.
Coming off the successes of De Palma's 'Carrie' and Carpenter's 'Halloween,' Soles stars as the loud, rambunctious, and rebellious teenager. The role was tailor-made for her and is arguably the most memorable character she's ever played. She is absolutely adorable as the flamboyant and enthusiastic trouble-maker who fights a system wanting to take away all the fun of being young. Who better to play opposite her as the evil schemer than the self-proclaimed Queen of Cult herself, Mary Woronov. Best remembered for her roles in 'Sugar Cookies,' 'Night of the Comet,' and 'Silent Night, Bloody Night,' she, too, is perfect as the overly-strict and borderline-fascist educator intent on seeing the end of teenage mischief. The two actresses play off of each other in flawless harmony and are at the heart of what makes 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' such a blast to revisit every single time.
With punk pioneers The Ramones as the headlining act, Corman's cult classic is a fun, boisterous farce, glorifying the exploits of one very unruly teenager. After all these years, the movie remains an absolute ball and is just as funny as ever, culminating in an explosive showdown between youth and authority. Despite a failed attempt to repeat the movie's success and popularity a decade later with Corey Feldman in the starring role, this low-budget feature is the one that will live on forever with hilarious memorable scenes of flying paper airplanes, punk-rocking lab mice, girls dancing in gym class, and of course, the Ramones concert. And with rumors circulating of a possible remake, the original 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' is the one to watch and enjoy as it continues to generate laughs.
This Collector's Edition of the Roger Corman classic arrives with a pleasing 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.78:1) that fans will likely appreciate. But one shouldn't expect much as the print isn't in the best shape, which isn't all that surprising knowing Corman doesn't make great efforts to preserve his film prints or original negatives. He is also notoriously known for being a frugal, tightfisted producer, so I doubt 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' went through any extensive remastering process.
Much of the picture shows its age and is riddled with scratches and dirt. However, considering its low-budget origins, the presentation isn't horrible to look at. Contrast and brightness levels noticeably waver throughout, making flesh tones suffer and creating a generally flat image, but they're stable for the most part with some strong, deep blacks in a few sequences. Colors are the video's strongest feature and often pop in many scenes, especially reds and greens. The video is nicely detailed with a thin layer of film grain and shows a fair amount of good clarity, yet the transfer is overall pretty inconsistent, with many instances of poor resolution. Comparably speaking, the Blu-ray is an improvement over the previous two DVD releases -- the best it might ever look -- and fans will likely be satisfied by this cult favorite.
Despite what the back of the keepcase has printed, the only audio option available is the lossy Dolby Digital mono track. Normally, this wouldn't be something to complain about as I'd much prefer soundtracks with the least amount of modifications done to them, but unfortunately, the sound quality on this Blu-ray is rather disappointing. On the one hand, the mix exhibits fine fidelity, clear, succinct vocals, and plenty of discrete activity to give the movie an enjoyable and welcoming soundstage, but on the other hand, there are several instances of pops and hisses that are evident throughout, and the couple of dropouts are quite distracting. While the audio being restricted to the center channel isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does feel pretty bland and somewhat lifeless, especially when the music kicks in. Overall, the track is only a small improvement and mildly enjoyable.
For this Blu-ray Collector's Edition of 'Rock 'n' Roll High School,' Shout! Factory jam packs the disc with strong collection of special features. While a majority of the featurettes is new to this Roger Corman's Cult Classic label, it is the same set of supplements as its DVD counterpart.
- Audio Commentary - The Blu-ray comes not with one or two audio commentaries - but four! The first with director Allan Arkush, producer Mike Finnell and screenwriter Richard Whitley is the same featured on previous releases and ranks as one of the best commentaries available for home video. The knowledge and rapport shared between the men is terrific as they provide fans with an in-depth history of the trials and tribulations during production. Although they stop on occasion to comment on a particular scene, they always find their way back to the original topic and give listeners much to learn.
The next track is new and recorded special for this edition of the movie. Director Allan Arkush returns to reminisce on the on-set shenanigans with P.J. Soles and Clint Howard. The conversation is non-stop and very lively as each person is given ample time to share anecdotes on everything from casting to character motivation. Highlights are Arkush and P.J. Soles talking about how they discovered the music of the Ramones and Soles fighting with Rod Stewart over the same red jacket seen at the beginning of the movie.
The final two tracks are also freshly recorded, bringing back some unheard voices for the first time. The commentary with legendary producer Roger Corman and actress Dey Young, who played Kate Rambeau in the film, isn't as entertaining as the previous two and fails to offer anything new. With several gaps of silence throughout, the conversation consists mostly of remarks related to what is seen on screen. Last on the list is a writer's track with Richard Whitley and Russ Dvonch. While the chat is a bit livelier, the discussion is a purely technical one with strict observations on the writing process, character development, and ideas/scenes which never made it the final cut. For those interested on script writing, the commentary is quite enlightening and an easy on the ears.
- Back to School: A Retrospective (SD, 24 min) - This making-of featurette shows interviews with cast and crew reflecting on their experiences during the production. The short doc starts with Arkush and Corman talking about the story's genesis and moves on to the decision of using Ramones as the musical act and everyone relating some of the difficulties while shooting. It all ends with Arkush and Corman again mulling over how the film is seen and remembered today.
- Staying After Class (HD, 16 min) - This is a new and amusing conversation between P.J. Soles, Dey Young, and Vincent Van Patten looking back at their time on 'Rock 'n' Roll High School.' They all muse over different memories of the fun time they had on set and the film's impact for an animated chat that fans will enjoy.
- An Interview with Allan Arkush (HD, 12 min) - As the title implies, this piece is all about the writer/director. The filmmaker talks about his influences and the origins for love of the movies. For those interested, viewers learn how he came onto Roger Corman's production company and of all the events which eventually lead to the making of 'Rock 'n' Roll High School.'
- An Interview with Roger Corman Conducted by Leonard Maltin (SD, 5 min) - While the title says it all, this very short piece is not as boring as it sounds. The popular film critic talks with the legendary movie producer about his career and what made this film in particular so enjoyable and memorable.
- Audio Outtakes from The Roxy (SD, 16 min) - This is an audio track of a live performance by the Ramones made during filming. It was recorded on December 14, 1978 at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles. Although lacking video, it's an amusing listen for fans of the punk pioneers.
- Special Introduction - This is the same letter used for the backs of the laserdisc release and as a special feature on later DVDs. Allan Arkush wrote this text-only intro for supporters of the film and relates his gratitude to all those involved with the production. The post script from 2001 is actually quite touching as the director shares fond memories of Joey Ramone before the celebrated rocker's untimely death.
- Photo Galleries (HD) - The collection of stills is one of the most extensive I've seen released for any movie and broken down into six different categories. Fans can enjoy pictures from Richard Whitley's personal collection, publicity material, script pages from two separated deleted scenes, and photos taken of the Ramones concert.
- Publicity (SD, 7 min) - Although made as separate clickable options on the disc, the remaining supplements are gathered here as one group as they are all meant for the same purpose. Viewers can watch a TV promo, listen to radio ads, and enjoy previews for other Roger Corman cult classics, such as 'Grand Theft Auto' and 'Suburbia' (fingers crossed for a Blu-ray release soon). Also included is the original theatrical trailer of 'Rock 'n' Roll High School.'
- Booklet - Last, but not least, is an 18-page glossy booklet, featuring a reprint of Allan Arkush's special introduction and stills taken from the film. There is also a letter from screenwriters Richard Whitley & Russ Dvonch that recollects their time on the set, as well as separate printed interviews with the director, Johnny Ramone, the late actor Paul Bartel, and Mary Woronov.
With punk pioneers The Ramones as the film's main attraction, 'Rock 'n' Roll High School' lives on as one of the best and most memorable teen musicals around. The Roger Corman cult classic oddly captures the fun and excitement of being young with a sense of humor that also celebrates its rebellious and boisterous energy. The Blu-ray arrives with nice video but average audio while the package's strongest feature is a loaded collection of supplements. Fans and cult enthusiasts will be happy with the disc despite its drawbacks. Everyone else will want to give it a rent to see what all the fuss is about.
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