This incident is going down on your permanent record.
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.
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.
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.