‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever’ (1991) Review

“Hey! This no my pee!”

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever is to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School what Danny Devito’s Vincent is to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Julius from the movie Twins: All the purity and strength went into Rock ‘n’ Roll High School; all the crap that was leftover went into Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever.

That analogy alone might tell you all you need to know about the ill-advised, ill-conceived sequel to the Roger Corman produced cult classic. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School itself was a long-shot. Lightning in a bottle. But we all know how that turned out – Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is a film that, if reduced to its constituent parts, had no business being a success, but is now beloved by millions. 

With a pedigree like that, the sequel was doomed to fail.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever follows a vaguely similar plot to its predecessor: A group of rebellious teens defy an authoritarian high school principal who ostensibly hates rock ‘n’ roll. The sequel doubles down on the camp (if you can believe it), transforming cult actress Mary Woronov’s disciplinarian principal Togar from the original into a cross between a Nazi and Star Wars arch-villain Darth Vader (seriously, the character’s name is Dr. Vadar), played once again by Woronov, the only returning actor from the original. Vadar institutes draconian rules like mandatory drug testing (Feldman and co substitute apple juice for urine in probably the funniest scene in the film), encircles the campus with an electrified fence of razor wire, and installs CCTV cameras throughout the school, transforming the campus into something more like a prison than a high school. Forever feels at times like some kind of mashup of the original film and another sequel to a cult classic, Class of 1999. In my head canon, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Class of 1984 and their respective sequels take place in the same cinematic universe. It’s more fun to imagine that they do, anyway. 

Unfortunately, the defining quality of the original film, the music of the Ramones, is distinctly missing from this film, and in its place, is a collection of odd, poorly-produced covers of mostly classic rock standards filled in with original songs, most of which are performed by The Eradicators, the fictional band at the center of the film’s plot. These are both written and performed by Corey Feldman, the film’s star and front-man for the fictional Eradicators. None of these original songs are particularly good and some of them are downright offensively bland. Feldman cuts a bizarre rock singer, mixing dance moves stolen straight from a Michael Jackson video and vocals taken from any Billy Idol album, the result of which seems both anachronistic and unsure of itself. Neither of which seems congruous with the image of the bad-ass, rebellious, individualistic rock ‘n’ roller. Without some contemporary analog of the Ramones’ music, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever comes off as cheap imitation. 

But the film isn’t without its merits. 

As formulaic and lackluster as the plot and music are, Forever is sprinkled with oddball characters (mostly supporting) that are legitimately fun to watch. Woronov’s turn as the fascistic Dr. Vadar is almost worth the 94 minutes you’ll spend watching her chomp the hell out of the scenery, spit it out, and chomp the hell out of it some more. She’s having as much fun with the material as she can, and it’s hard not to go along for the ride with her.

Martial artist and stuntman Steven Ho’s Namrock Namrock wouldn’t play very well with audiences today (though to be fair, it’s hard to believe the film expects the audience to take any of this seriously), but he’s one of my favorite characters in the film. Namrock doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, but that somehow works in his favor, making the character Ho creates a little mysterious and perhaps even a little dangerous. It isn’t clear whether his command of English actually isn’t very good or if he’s just faking it to pull one over on his teachers and Vadar’s two pecker-wood henchmen (worth a few laughs themselves). Either way, he’s a fun character.

Brynn Horrocks (best known for her role as Don Draper’s mother in Mad Men) has a small part as Tabitha, the strange love interest of Eradicator drummer, Mag (Mag’s pretty cool, too). With only a few minutes of screen time, Horrocks very nearly steals the show with her quirky portrayal of teenage loner Tabitha. Seriously, I would have watched a movie just about her, her weird dietary habits, her witch mom, and their ostentatious house. 

Beyond these amusing characters, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever’s existence as a strange historical artifact, or just plain old nostalgia, there aren’t many reasons to recommend it to someone who has never encountered it. It’s a pointless sequel that’s at times crass and obtuse, and seems to have no ambitions beyond camp or, worse, making a quick dollar off its namesake. 

But, dammit, I love it anyway.

Author: Billy Dhalgren

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts.” -Andrei Tarkovsky