Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Rock 'N' Roll High School & Death Race 2000

In the late '70s, B-movie kingpin Roger Corman decided to cash in on the disco craze with a comedy called Disco High. Thankfully, the whiz kids in his employ convinced him that disco was the music of preppies taking limos to Club 54, while rock was the music of "violence and rebellion." So Disco High became Rock 'N' Roll High School, and Allan Arkush's gloriously pop 1979 teen valentine to violence, rebellion, and the Ramones became a cult classic.


In an extended sugar-rush of a performance, the vivacious P.J. Soles stars as an aspiring high-school songwriter intent on getting her songs to her idol Joey Ramone, whose music is singled out for destruction by fascist principal Mary Woronov. A gag-a-minute comedy informed equally by Zero For Conduct and The Girl Can't Help It, High School offers wish fulfillment on several levels. Of course, there's the vicarious pleasure derived from the film's climactic orgy of rock 'n' roll destruction. But for Ramones fans, there's also the subversive joy of inhabiting a world, even a fictional one, which affords the band the superstardom that the real world denied them. Here, the Ramones are as revered as The Beatles, though there's still a wry, deadpan humor in casting a figure as egregiously goofy-looking as Joey Ramone as a teen heartthrob. Perhaps the highest praise anyone can give Arkush's exuberant musical is to say that it captures the spirit of rock 'n' roll and the essence of the Ramones, which luckily happen to be one and the same.

Like High School, 1975's Death Race 2000 seems to have been willed into existence by the disturbed daydreams of bored teenagers, and it ends with the crowd-pleasing destruction of illegitimate authority. A gonzo social satire cunningly disguised as a wacky car comedy, the film takes place in a dystopian future where the rabble is kept distracted by televised races in which goonishly attired drivers score points for the vehicular murder of the innocent. With a sensibility pitched somewhere between Russ Meyer, Mad magazine, the TV Batman, and John Waters, Rock 'N' Roll High School actor Paul Bartel directs with tongue-in-cheek élan, eking every last bit of sick humor out of the film's deranged premise. It's the kind of movie where a masked anti-hero (David Carradine) shows up at Euthanasia Day at a local hospital in a ride seemingly pimped by Godzilla, and decides to kill off the overpaid doctors rather than the geriatric oldsters. Considering the gleefully warped spirit of Rock 'N' Roll High School and Death Race 2000, is it any wonder that multiple generations of young people have embraced Corman's underbudgeted, overachieving oeuvre with such passion?

Key features: Audio commentaries, making-of documentaries.