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DVD Review: Rock 'n' Roll High School

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Just out from Shout! Factory is a reissue of a classic midnight movie that doesn't feature Jimmy Page ascending into ancient castles, part of a series of films produced by B-movie king Roger Corman, Rock "n" Roll High School that hits the shelves this week. The cult classic didn’t start life as a punk rock vehicle - the script was written under the working title of “Disco High.”

Even after the musical genre inflicting the students was switched to rock, Corman and director Alan Arkush were mulling over Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick and Van Halen as candidates for the heart of teenyboppin’ protagonist Riff Randall (played by the highly crushable P.J. Soles). But the final selection of the Ramones - the only punk band still believed to have any kind of hit potential by early 1979- turned out to be a stroke of genius. More than any other marginally famous band of the era, the Ramones personified the trashy aesthetic and sick sense of humor that pervades Corman’s films.

Riff’s deep romantic obsession with the unquestionably odd-looking Joey Ramone was comical in a way that never would have worked if Robin Zander or Diamond Dave Roth were in the same role. They even looked like the juvenile delinquents you need in any good teen exploitation film. It proves to be a comfortable kind of symmetry: both the film and soundtrack are throwbacks to the pre-psychedelic era of pop culture, bubblegum sounds and monster movies, only the details are updated.