Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Vapid, schlocky nonsense about high school students rebelling against an oppressive new principal named Miss Togar (Mary Woronov) with the help of the punk rock band The Ramones. The film was produced by Roger Corman, who was known to be quite stingy with his budget, and it shows. As a joke the crew put in birds in the background to chirp “cheap, cheap” over the credits.

There really is no storyline here. It is just a rapid-fire parade of one corny, lame gag after another that gets progressively worse as it goes along. Despite being labeled a teen comedy the humor is embarrassingly kiddie with the expected sex jokes and innuendos kept at a minimum. Normally, even in the worst of comedies, I can usually find a few lines or scenes, to be funny, but here I found nothing that was amusing, or even halfway clever.

What is worse is the fact that there is no nudity! What kind of self-respecting teen comedy doesn’t have nudity? Not that a few fleeting naked bodies would have saved it, but at least it would have helped.

P.J. Soles won a cult following for her rambunctious performance as the student leading the rebellion, but her acting is very hammy. Vincent Van Patten, son of actor Dick Van Patten, is cast against type as the good-looking blond All-American, who seemingly can’t get laid. Unfortunately, he has always had a very blank, “deer-in-headlights” stare and I find his acting follows in the same suit.

Woronov is ineffective as the heavy. She is just not mean or repressive enough and stupidly falls for all the dumb tricks that the students play on her. Her character should have been played up more and her evilness more accentuated, which would have, even on a minor level, allowed for more tension and made the film seem less one-dimensional.

If I liked anybody here it would be Dey Young; she is the younger sister of actress Leigh-Taylor Young and the two look a lot alike. She is real cute, but in a nice natural way that is not overdone. She seems to be having a good time throughout and I enjoyed her spontaneity. Male viewers may also like her revealing gym outfit.

The punk band The Ramones appear as themselves. Initially the producers had wanted singer Todd Rundgren, who would have been better, but he refused. They then tried to get Van Halen, but backed down when they heard they were wild and too hard to control. For a while they even considered bringing in a disco band and calling it “Disco High School.” For what it was worth I was not into their music, or at least from what I heard here, as their songs sounded too much alike with no harmony, or melody, and a beat that was too repetitive. Also, their vocals sounded more like shouting than singing. They showed no screen presence and reportedly their acting was so bad that the majority of their lines were cut. For the record their lead singer Joey looks almost exactly like radio personality Howard Stern.

Sometimes, if done right, teen comedies can be fun because they allow one to harken back to their own high school years and bring back fond memories like John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club do. However, those films at least had some shred of reality to them while here the characters and situations are too cartoonish and over-the-top. Nothing is relatable and even for satire it goes overboard. It’s a “bomb” in every respect.

My Rating: 1 out of 10 stars

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Last Time on Rewind: The Fury (1978)
Coming Up Next: Mixed Company (1974)

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