Riff Randell is the central character of New World Pictures' Rock and Roll High School, one of those highly commercial movies that were only made to capitalize on the popularity of a rock band (in this case, The Ramones). Riff Randell is, to put it simply, the most hardcore rocker to ever be born. Riff was biting the heads off bats in her mother's womb. Riff makes Jack Black look like Jack Chick. Don't know who Riff is? I'll have to fix that right away. Keep reading and prepare to have your mind blown.
Rock and Roll High School opens in a fancy wood-paneled meeting room where all the teachers of Vince Lombardi High are gathered. It seems the previous principal of the school will be retiring from duty, as he's been driven crazy and has to be spoon-fed all his meals in a strait-jacket from now on. Who'd be tough enough to take on THIS job? They need someone hard as nails, colder than absolute zero, more merciless than Ming....MISS TOGAR!
No, not that one! I said ToGAR. But close enough.
Miss Togar is as cliche as her character type can possibly get. In every scene of hers, she's cackling evilly to herself about how she's going to destroy rock music and assign hours and hours of fun-killing homework. In addition, Togar comes complete with a set of sniveling Hall Monitors, appropriately branded with "HM" badges, who are kinda like Bulk and Skull only even bulkier and skullier.
The following school day, a clean-cut music teacher is instructing his class in the art of classical music appreciation. He carefully lifts up a Beethoven LP with his fingertips and prepares to insert it into the.....wait, where is the record player?
Riff has it, outside! She's blasting the beats of her all-time favorite band: The Ramones! And The Ramones are so hypnotizingly catchy, about fifty other students out there are instantly boogieing like they never have before! Seriously....like they never have before, because for most of them, their idea of dancing is just to bounce up and down randomly. Cue title!
Togar storms outside, cuts off the juice and demands to know who is responsible for this establishment-defying act of grooviness. The culprit sassily identifies herself: "Riff Randell, rock and roller."
That line is so hilarious, it deserves to be played ten times.
Riff Randell is...wow. WOW. Riff will change your life. She's so awful, she's wonderful. This is seriously one of my favorite characters from any movie, simply because she epitomizes everything wrong with Hollywood theories on youth from past to present. I've seen teenage characterizations that miss the boat, but Riff jumps right into the ocean. Everyone in the movie acts like she's the coolest dudette within 100 miles, but with her squaresville hairdo and extremely scary fangirlism, Riff was obviously NOT cool in 1979, 1980, or today -- and that's what makes her so great. She's also obviously not below 30 years of age. She must have been held back quite a few times...but that's cool!
There are bad movies that know they're bad and play it up as much as possible. On the other hand, there are bad movies that have no idea how bad they are and their directors thought they were making brilliance. Rock and Roll High School is that rare film that rests in the middle. I still can't tell if if the makers really thought the youth of that era acted like, dressed like, or shared the values of Riff Randell. There are moments when your jaw drops and you think "Oh come on, they HAD to have known how stupid that was" -- but then a moment later, you still aren't sure. The first time I saw it I thought it'd make a great parody, but then decided there was no way I could ever top the film itself.
It's not only in the middle of the road there, but culturally as well. It came out at the tail end of 1979 and the events take place in January of 1980. Shag carpeting and feathered hair frequently mix with flourescent doodads -- it's neither here nor there. To make it more vague it's trying oh so hard to be cutting-edge punky, but is based on mostly 1950's ideas of teenage rebellion. The whole thing is some kind of multidimensional nether-region.
For their transgression, Togar slaps Riff Randell AND her friend Kate Rambo* with after-school detention. Rambo panics behind her gargantuan glasses; she's never gotten in trouble before! Riff assures her that it's no big whoop. "I've served more detentions than ANYONE in the WHOLE SCHOOL, ya know?" She's a rock and roller!
*Actually, her name is spelled Kate Rambeau, and First Blood wouldn't be out for another three years. It's just a coincidence. But I'm spelling it "Rambo" anyway.
For a minute or two let's shift focus to this uninteresting person, because....why not. His pick-up line ("I hear it's raining cats and dogs in Idaho!") isn't working very well. He's seeking out Eaglebauer, the school's buck-toothed resident advice guru, because he needs a lass badly. Eaglebauer suggests Kate Rambo, who -- get this -- is the most attractive, desired woman in that entire school (he said so, it must be true). But Tom doesn't want Kate. He wants Riff Randell! And Riff has eyes for no one but Joey Ramone, even though Joey would be arrested for dating her.
Meanwhile, Riff Randell and Kate Rambo are being forced by The Man to exercise in gym class. At that moment Togar calls an emergency meeting to discuss delinquency problems at Lombardi High, and their gym teacher has to leave the room. Riff Randell takes this opportunity to kick out that boring Exercise Muzak and introduce the class to her own project: she's written her own Ramones song for music class. Yes, Riff Randell wrote the song that the movie is titled after, not any one of the Ramones. IT WAS RIFF. As soon as it begins, all the other girls cannot resist Riff Randell's miracle siren voice and start jumping around, cartwheeling and dancing around Riff as she sings the chorus. This isn't a musical and this impromptu choreography only happens here. Riff's not a terrible singer, but her "sassy teenage accent" doesn't help her any. Let's listen!
The Ramones are coming, in concert, to whatever city this mess takes place in that Thursday. The other teens despair that they'll never get to go because the tickets will be in such demand, they'll sell out within minutes. Riff refuses to let anyone miss out on the most significant event in the 20th Century, and vows to be first in line. Kate Rambo points out to secure such a position, she'd have to miss a lot of school, and her future could be at stake. This is what Riff says in response to that:
Yes, Riff is THAT stupid. Don't you just love her?
Riff Randell MUST be the first one to buy Ramones tickets. She skips school for several days so she can camp out in front of the concert venue ticket booth. I know real people have done this, but NO ONE takes fandom further than Riff Randell. She not only sleeps next to her own giant Ramones stand-up, but when she orders pizza, she feeds one slice to the cardboard Joey Ramone, moving its head to simulate chewing. By the way, she only gets more insane. We'll be seeing Riff wielding a chainsaw before this is through.
The morning the tickets go on sale, Riff wakes up on the street to find one person has cut in front of her. "Heey, I was here first!" Riff protests. The offender introduces herself as "Angel Dust," professional groupie. This broils Riff's perma-pigtails, and just as they're about to claw each other to shreds, a convertible with a giant "GABBA GABBA HEY!!" license plate cruises down the street. IT'S THEM!!!! And they're already singing!
Sheesh, that's not safe. You would think they'd get mauled by their fans -- Riff Randell is sufficient enough to trample them all -- but they came in plain sight with no bodyguards, through the front gate. Not only that, but concert time isn't for another two days. Perhaps they're here for rehearsal? I don't know. But I'm probably not supposed to think about it. The real reason they're showing up here is because the movie has to start putting them into scenes or the tweenagers who paid to see just them will feel ripped off.
It's safe to say that if you don't like The Ramones, you had sure better start, or this is going to be a long 90 minutes. They're glorified to an incalculable degree. There's a recurring theme in this movie about how The Ramones' music is so awesome that it makes mice explode. The Beatles didn't even make them pop.
Finally, the ticket booth opens, and Riff Randell orders a whopping ONE HUNDRED TICKETS. Where'd all that money come from? Possibly her college fund, because if she's going to be writing Ramones songs the rest of her life, it's not like she'll ever need that.
Why Riff has to have her notes of absence delivered to Togar instead of her homeroom teacher is a mystery, but they arrive courtesy of Kate Rambo. One says "I cannot come to school today as my mother has died." The next says "My other parent has died." A third says "My goldfish has died."
The third time, Togar catches on, and not because the notes are suspicious in any way, but because she opens the newspaper on a slow news day and the front-page headline is "RIFF RANDELL FIRST IN LINE." Darn the media!
Riff and Kate are summoned before Togar's sinister sneer. "I swear all that stuff happened!" Riff begs, but Togar retorts with "THEN HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THIS??" She hands over a goldfish bowl with a visually alive goldfish inside. Togar turns over several possibilities of punishment in her head, while (man, this is weird) one of the Hall Monitors takes Riff's goldfish out of the bowl and swallows it live.
As misfortune would have it she then notices Riff and Kate's Ramones tickets stuck in their shirt pockets, and takes them away "to give to charity"....so two bums can see The Ramones, I guess. "YOU WON'T BE GOING TO THAT CONCERT, GIRLS! HAHAHAHAAA!!"
Doesn't she have 98 more where that came from? ....No, she does not. She bought the extras for everybody else in the school, and gave them out already. As Riff and Kate dejectedly exit Vince Lombardi High, a student passes and thanks them both. "We couldn't have gone without you, and everybody's gonna be there." "We won't," Riff sighs. This was more than just a concert for Riff -- she was planning to find a way backstage and deliver her song to the Ramones themselves.
Back to so-and-so, and so-and-so-and-so. Tom has followed Eaglebauer's instructions to the letter. He is now the proud owner of a super-stylish, shag-carpeted, ceiling-mirrored, painting-of-a-bearded-sorcerer-emblazoned LOVE VAN. If this can't lure in Riff Randell, then nothing in the entire 70's can.
Tom nervously calls up Riff.
Unfortunately Kate Rambo is there with her, and Kate
loves Tom. Starting to smell a setup? "Hi, uh, I was
wondering if you would kind of, uh, go out with me."
Kate Rambo thinks Tom Roberts is "a fox." Riff thinks "Tom is so boring, his brother is an only child!" But just when you assume a friendship-destroying rift is developing, another opportunity presents itself.
Later that day Riff Randell, wearing the hippest sunglasses ever, is driving around town with Kate Rambo. As chance would have it, her radio at that moment announces a special call-in contest. "Correctly identify the album that THIS Ramones song is featured on, and win two free tickets to the concert!" Kate is holding that very 8-Track in her fingers! Zowie! MUST FIND PHOOONE!
Riff's car careens toward the nearest phone booth, but there's a guy already in it, cowardly using that phone to remotely propose to his girlfriend. Just as he's about to pop the question, Riff grabs him and throws him out as fast as her herculean fangirl arms can toss. He lands on Kate Rambo just as he says "marry me," and Kate retorts "you're not my type" before dropping him like a sack of bricks. Riff gets through to the station, correctly answers the question, and wins the tickets! She and Kate bounce with joy -- all over the guy on the pavement.
Tom has his car radio tuned to the same station, and as soon as the announcer mentions the winners were Riff and Kate, he collapses into a defeated heap onto the small waterbed. And sure enough, Riff calls him one second later and yells "WE CAN'T MAKE IT TO YOUR DATE WE JUST GOT INTO A HORRIBLE CAR ACCIDENT AND NEED IMMEDIATE BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS OKAY WE'LL SEE YOU TOMORROW BYE." Tom is stuck with one big useless Second Base Mobile. He's so frustrated, he screams like a girl and tries to eat his phone.
One screen cut later, it's the Big Night. Everyone is in line for the Ramones concert, including the music teacher (discreetly), and....uh, a giant mouse.
At first I thought this was a man in a costume -- I mean, it is, but according to the movie, this is literally a giant mouse trying to get into the concert. He's turned away since this is the Ramones and he might explode. But then he reveals he brought earphones to muffle the sound, and he's let inside. Strangest thing yet, and I've seen a lot already. What. The. Gabba.
For the next fifteen minutes, the movie is just a Ramones concert. They come on stage and perform five songs in a row, some with subtitles so the Riff Randells watching in the theater can sing too and annoy people. There's also something about Angel Dust stealing Riff Randell's "Rock and Roll High School" sheet music and Riff chasing her throughout the building to get it back, but that's only there to provide some kind of plot advancement in this stretch of time.
For winning the radio contest, Riff and Kate get to stand onstage and scream "Screw you, Principal Togar, we made it to the concert ANYWAY!" These were the days when local concerts were simultaneously broadcast on local radio stations, and Togar hears everything within her Office of Doom. None shall make Evelyn Togar cross and live to rock again! She starts plotting the perfect revenge scheme.
Something must have been cut, because in one scene they're still in the front row cheering the Ramones on as they exit the stage, and in the next, a passed-out Joey Ramone is being dragged into the dressing room while a panicked Riff is fanning him with her sheet music envelope. Seems like that was a cut crucial to the story, but "it's not like the audience is going to notice."
Joey recognizes Riff from
the concert -- she was hard to avoid noticing. "Hey,
you're Riff Randell! Our biggest fan!"
They seem to like it
enough to steal it and take the credit for themselves.
And now you know the REST of the story.
The stage manager brings in their pizza dinner. Riff Randell takes a slice and saves it in her envelope forever.
The following morning, Principal Togar has gathered the entire school on the front lawn for a special assembly. What could this be about? And what's under that tarp in front of her?
How bogus, it's their RECORDS! Somehow, Togar has gathered the rock collection of every student in town, piled them on the lawn, and is about to commence a BURNING! Togar cackles triumphantly as she raises Riff Randell's flaming record in the air. "HERE'S WHAT WE THINK OF THE RAMONES! HAHAHAHAAA!"
Speak of the shaggy-haired devils and in they stagger. Indeed, the Ramones decided to visit Riff at her school....and the moment they arrive, the students stampede into the building after them, and lock the doors. Togar is even more miffed when they instantly throw out a banner that says "ROCK AND ROLL HIGH SCHOOL!!!" From here, the movie completely loses its mind.
The teachers are locked out. Riff Randell declares herself the new principal. Students run through the halls screaming and flailing their arms, swinging from ropes (??), riding motorcycles, waterskiing(?????). Teens are randomly bouncing up and down, similar to the "dance moves" from the start of the picture. The cafeteria hags are tied up and their own glop is thrown at them. The Hall Monitors think they've found a safe place to hide (a box with wheels on it), but the students PUSH THEM OUT THE WINDOW. Riff starts blasting Ramones music through the PA speakers, causing all the mice in the science lab to explode one by one. Riff starts dancing drunkenly with her music teacher, who's been converted to the Rock Side -- and then she starts ripping his suit off (????????? !!!!!!!!!!) And remember that whole Tom-Kate-Riff-UglyGuyWithBadTeeth subplot? It resolves itself in seconds, as Tom and Kate immediately start dancing with each other in the foyer surrounded by cheering classmates.
"Whoa, the world sure has changed since we got kicked outta high school," slurs a Ramone.
"So, guys, what do
you think of my high school?" Riff says confidently.
Day turns to dusk and this is still going on. The police and an entire SWAT team are outside now. Riff's future looks even bleaker now than it did before the concert.
"LET'S MAKE A DEAL,
RIFF RANDELL," Togar says through megaphone.
"OH YEAAAH???" screams Riff. "WELL, HERE'S WHAT I THINK OF YOUR PERMANENT RECORD! EYAAAAA-HA-HAAAAA!!!" She grabs a chainsaw (told you so) and runs through Togar's office files with homicidal thoroughness. She then tosses the shreds out the window onto the cops.
By nightfall, it's gone as far as it
"I've seen the error of my
ways," explains Riff. "I'd just like to say to
all students everywhere....that you may think the school
is yours for a while, but it's always run by the
principal and her administration. "
"Miss Togar," Riff says, with a gleam in her eye of sheer madness...."if you want this school so badly...YOU CAN HAVE IT!"
Wait....no. No! Oh, she is NOT about to do this! Riff, stop! It's just a melted record! It's not worth your free life! If you cross this line you'll never----
She did it.
Yes, at that moment Riff plunges a detonator down and BLOWS HER SCHOOL UP. Everybody starts dancing, the Ramones start playing Riff's song, and Togar collapses into a defeated heap. The police and media do nothing but stand there in awe over how cool Riff Randell is.
The tagline for Rock and Roll High School's marketing campaign was, "Could your school be next?" Consider that a warning. Riff is out there.
So let's summarize why Riff Randell is the HARDEST ROCKER EVER. Riff:
Faked her parents' deaths to see the
You will never be as cool as Riff Randell. Never.
RETURN TO THE MAIN PAGE