Happy Halloween! Today I’m taking a brief look at the horror comedy musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which made its cinematic debut 40 years ago in 1975.
The movie was an adaptation of The Rocky Horror Show stage musical written by Richard O’Brien and directed by Jim Sharman which was first performed in 1973. It was an homage to / parody of the science fiction and horror movies from the previous decades. Although the movie initially bombed in theaters, 20th Century Fox ad executive Tim Deegan came up with the idea of moving Rocky Horror to midnight screenings. In this new venue in various cities, via world of mouth, the movie became a tremendous cult classic. Since then, for decades avid fans have shown up to either act out the movie and / or heckle at it.
I can’t recall exactly when I first saw Rocky Horror. It was probably in the early 1990s when VH1 was airing it. I realize now that a lot of the movie’s impact was diluted by all the commercials. But once some friends got it on home video I had an opportunity to watch it uninterrupted.
Back then Rocky Horror struck me as a very bizarre, nonsensical movie. Even so, I definitely enjoyed the amazing music by O’Brien. As with other things, as I got older I gradually developed more of an appreciation for it. A couple of weeks ago Michele bought it on DVD, and we’ve watched it a few times. It’s a humorous mix of geeky genre elements and campy hyper-sexuality.
The standout performance of the movie is undoubtedly the amazing Tim Curry as the bi-sexual cross-dressing alien mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter. This was one of Curry’s earliest roles, and watching it you can definitely see why he went on to have such a long & prolific career.
When Curry is on screen as Furter, he just totally owns it. You really need to have a genuine confidence to successfully pull off such a crazy, over-the-top role like this one, and Curry absolutely possesses that quality. His performance is so amazing that even though Furter is a dangerous nutjob, he’s nevertheless compellingly charismatic. Michele is correct when she states “Tim Curry totally makes the movie.”
It’s understandable that for many years Curry was reluctant to discuss Rocky Horror. Furter is such a larger-than-life character, and the movie has such a fanatical following, that it is just the sort of role that could easily threaten to overshadow subsequent work. Perhaps to a degree that did occur, as throughout his career Curry has often played creepy oddballs. Nevertheless there’s certainly enough diversity on display in his resume that it is apparent he was able to at least partially dodge the typecasting bullet.
As I mentioned, I love the music. O’Brien’s lyrics are clever and funny. I’ve had the soundtrack on CD for years now. “The Time Warp” is the one everyone knows. Myself, I’ve always had a real fondness for “Science Fiction Double Feature,” “There’s A Light” and “Don’t Dream It, Be It.” But they’re all good.
O’Brien also plays the creepy handyman Riff Raff. He’s another actor who grabs your attention when he’s on the screen, albeit in a much more understated, sinister manner. It’s not at all surprising that based on his performance here director Alex Proyas later cast O’Brien in the brilliant, criminally underrated science fiction noir movie Dark City.
O’Brien has good chemistry with actress Patricia Quinn, who plays his sister Magenta. The two of them have such a weird vibe going on between them. You’re really left wondering if they’ve been getting up to stuff that they shouldn’t!
Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon play the young couple Brad and Janet. O’Brien’s script is an interesting subversion of the tropes of mid-20th Century sci-fi and horror movies. Brad is the clean-cut type and Janet a virginal innocent. If this were played straight (so to speak) Brad would be the hero who saves Janet from the freaky, demented aliens.
Instead Brad is kind of an asshole (at screenings of the movie the audience frequently shouts that out at him) who is overprotective of and condescending to Janet. As for Janet, instead of playing a chaste, passive role, she discovers that she is attracted to both Furter and his artificial man, the muscular blonde Rocky. Furter ends up seducing first Janet and then Brad, and afterwards Janet has sex with Rocky. At the end the couple is reduced to mere spectators of Furter’s bizarre machinations. It is Riff Raff & Magenta who step in to wrap things up.
The costume designs for Rocky Horror were by Sue Blane. Her work is very striking. It’s not surprising that it would influence fashion and the punk aesthetic of the late 1970s.
If you have never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, well, all this must sound really freaky and twisted. I will be the first to acknowledge that the movie is an acquired taste. Heck, I really like it, but I doubt that I’ll be going to the theater anytime soon in costume to toss toilet paper at the screen.
Having said that, it is always wonderful when people can find something to be passionate about, that speaks to them on a genuinely personal level. Interviewed on The Today Show about the movie’s 40th anniversary, Sarandon stated…
“I’ve had so many people come up to me and say that film helped them through a dark time.”
Also interviewed, Curry offered his thoughts on the movie…
“The thing that resonated for me more than anything was, ‘Don’t dream it, be it,’ which was a really good idea. Really good slogan.”
Here’s to the little movie that could. If you have the opportunity, go see it at the late night double feature picture show.