#580) The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

#580) The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

OR “The Midnight Special”

Directed by Jim Sharman

Written by Sharman and Richard O’Brien. Based on the stage musical “The Rocky Horror Show” by O’Brien.

Class of 2005

The Plot: On a dark and stormy night [Audience shoots water pistols], engaged couple Brad Majors [ASSHOLE] and Janet Weiss [SLUT] (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) walk to a nearby castle for assistance when their car breaks down. They soon find themselves in the home of Dr. Frank-N-Furter [audience throws hot dogs] (Tim Curry), a “sweet transvestite” and mad scientist who has created a muscle man named Rocky [BULLWINKLE!] (Peter Hinwood). Assisted by servants Riff Raff and Magenta (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn), the doctor keeps Brad and Janet from leaving, while also helping them discover new facets of their own sexuality. And I am just scratching the surface of the greatest B-movie musical in film history.

Why It Matters: The NFR’s brief paragraph on the film calls it a “low-budget cult classic” and singles out the “catchy songs”.

But Does It Really?: It’s certainly not for everyone, and some of its subject matter would still raise an eyebrow today, but the people who get this movie GET this movie, and in doing so have helped it become a classic. “Rocky Horror” has become so synonymous with its own cult following that it’s nearly impossible to separate the film from the phenomenon. Ultimately, to appreciate “Rocky Horror”, you have to accept this movie for what it is and just go with it, from its campy presentation to its unapologetic sexuality. While not a conventional NFR choice, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” does what every classic movie should: it has its own instantly identifiable aesthetic, iconic moments, and a legacy that endures year after year.

Shout Outs: Among the movies referenced in “Science Fiction/Double Feature” are NFR entries “The Day the Earth Stood Still“, “Flash Gordon“, “The Invisible Man“, “King Kong” and “Forbidden Planet” (whoa-oh-ah-oh-oooooo-oh). There’s also references to “Frankenstein“, “The Bride of Frankenstein“, “The Night of the Hunter“, and “The Wizard of Oz“. Bonus reference: one of the film’s original posters mentions its main box office competition: “Jaws“.

Everybody Gets One: Passing the time while unemployed, English/New Zealand actor Richard O’Brien wrote a musical that combined his love of B-movies, ’50s rock and roll, and the glam rock scene of the early ’70s. O’Brien showed the musical – then called “They Came from Denton High” – to director Jim Sharman, who agreed to stage the show at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, a space reserved for experimental pieces. “The Rocky Horror Show” transferred to West End’s King’s Road Theatre in August 1973 and was a runaway hit. American producer Lou Adler saw the show, and quickly bought the US theatrical rights as well as the film rights. After the conclusion of the show’s nine-month run in Los Angeles, the creatives flew back to England to shoot the movie.

Other notes

  • Wow, this movie is unsettling from frame one. The first shot is an extreme closeup of Patricia Quinn’s blood-red lips mouthing along to “Science Fiction/Double Feature”. Buckle up, everyone.
  • Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon were cast as a sort of compromise. Fox offered the film a larger budget if the cast included big name rock stars (Mick Jagger and Elvis Presley were mentioned). When Sharman and O’Brien declined, opting to stand by the original stage cast, Fox agreed on the condition that Brad and Janet [DAMMIT] were played by American actors.
  • Unlike many musicals that started on the stage, “Rocky Horror” fares well as a film adaptation. This is partly due to the “opening up” of certain scenes, and partly the cinematic influence already baked into the show’s DNA. Also helping things is the film’s limited budget, which forces creativity across all departments
  • Ah, “The Time Warp”. It’s very hard to watch this number solely within the context of the movie, but it’s a lot of fun and so damn catchy. There’s even dance instructions from Charles Gray’s Criminologist. [HE’S GOT NO FUCKING NECK!]
  • Tim Curry was one of the first people to see the potential in “Rocky Horror”, and starred in its original England, Los Angeles, and New York productions. Understandably, Curry walks away with this movie as ruler of all he surveys, in his film debut no less. And he does the whole thing in heels!
  • Pardon my ignorance, but are the terms “transvestite” and “transsexual” still kosher? I’d hate for this movie to become dated in regards to its identity.
  • This movie requires a lot of prior knowledge of old movie stars and bodybuilders. Sure, I got the shoutouts to Fay Wray and Anne Francis, but who remembers Steve Reeves and Charles Atlas? [Audience throws confetti]
  • Because it’s always worth mentioning: NFR movies with Glenn Close: 0, NFR movies with Meat Loaf: 1.
  • “Hot Patootie” is fun, but is immediately followed by a truly disturbing murder. [THAT’S NO WAY TO PICK YOUR FRIENDS!]
  • I was always under the impression that Susan Sarandon had spent most of her career distancing herself from this movie, but I guess she’s warmed up to it in recent years. Not surprising, even Christopher Plummer came around to embracing “The Sound of Music“.
  • Columbia’s donning of mouse ears for most of the film’s second act is a good reminder that “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is now legally a Disney movie, and is the only Fox property that Disney has kept available to theaters. Even Disney knows better than to mess with “Rocky Horror” fans.
  • Apparently in the L.A. production Meat Loaf also played Dr. Scott? That I would have liked to see; I’m sure he was a great Scott. [Audience throws toilet paper]
  • I’ve seen “Rocky Horror” a few times over the years, and I always forget that it ends up being aliens. Still don’t see it coming. [LIKE EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE]
  • The Floor Show suite is quite the finale, with the film’s message coming across loud and clear: Don’t Dream It, Be It. The line that stuck with me most comes from “Rose Tint My World”: “Rose tints my world/Keeps me safe from my trouble and pain”
  • [Spoilers] Shoutout to Nell Campbell (billed here as “Little Nell”) as groupie Columbia. The closest this movie gets to an emotional core, I was actually saddened when she’s killed off at the end. [OH SHIT, IT WORKS!]
  • I love me some hand-drawn animated effects. Someone spent hours hunched over a desk drawing those blood credits and laser beams.
  • I’ve said this many times on the blog, but I’ve never meant it as sincerely as I do with “Rocky Horror”: What in God’s name is happening?

Legacy

  • “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was a critical and commercial disaster upon release, although the UA theater in Los Angeles noted that some moviegoers came back night after night to see the film. On April 1st 1976, “Rocky Horror” was re-released as a midnight movie at New York’s Waverly Theatre. The film finally found its audience, and soon “Rocky Horror” was playing as a midnight movie in hundreds of theaters across the country. Some viewers started bringing props and shouting back at the screen as a way to entertain themselves, which quickly became part of the midnight screening rituals. The film soon developed a following larger than most religions, and “Rocky Horror” is the most successful cult film of all time. 
  • In antici…. [SAY IT!]…pation of the film’s US release in September 1975, Lou Adler also backed the show’s first New York production on Broadway. “Rocky Horror” opened in March 1975…and closed in April 1975. At least the Tony Awards nominated it for Lighting Design. A revival in 2001 fared a little better.
  • Richard O’Brien has tried many times over the years to make a sequel to the stage and/or film version of “Rocky Horror”, with such titles as “Rocky Horror Shows His Heels”, “Revenge of the Old Queen” and “Rocky Horror: The Second Coming”. None of the projects got too far, however, due to a lack of interest from the original cast and creatives. O’Brien and Jim Sharman did reunite in 1981 to make pseudo-sequel “Shock Treatment”, which has a minor cult following of its own.
  • As part of the wave of TV movie musical remakes we got throughout the 2010s, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” tried to be both a remake of and tribute to the original film, including a framing device of an audience watching a midnight screening of the film. Even the natural charisma of Laverne Cox and stunt casting of Tim Curry couldn’t save this one.
  • “Rocky Horror” doesn’t so much have parodies as it does homages. I’ve always been partial to the tribute to “The Time Warp” on “The Drew Carey Show”, which “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” thrown in for fun.
  • I’m also amused by the extended sequence in “Fame” where the characters attend a midnight screening. “Fame”: the movie that just gives up and watches another movie instead.
  • Tim Curry and Meat Loaf reunited on “SNL” in a sketch about their “Rocky Horror” shop. Like most of early ’80s “SNL”, [HOW’S YOUR SEX LIFE, BRAD?] it’s negligible.
  • “Rocky Horror” joins the elite list of NFR movies with not one, but TWO video game adaptations.
  • According to the documentary “These Amazing Shadows”, entertainment executive/National Film Preservation Board member John Ptak suggested “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for NFR consideration, citing its cult following and continued popularity. Then-Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington agreed to the inclusion, stating that the conversation about a “Rocky Horror” induction “certainly broadened [his] horizon” in regards to which films are truly NFR-worthy.

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