5 Reasons Why The Rocky Horror Picture Show Is Astounding7
By Marti Resteghini
5 Reasons Why The Rocky Horror Picture Show Is Astounding
Trying to describe The Rocky Horror Picture Show to someone who has never seen it is like explaining sex to a virgin. You really have to experience it to understand it.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the film adaptation of the 1973 British musical The Rocky Horror Show. The story follows Brad and Janet, a newly-engaged and straight-laced couple, as they stumble onto the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania. Taking refuge in the castle during a rainstorm, they’re present for the doctor’s unveiling of his newest Frankenstein-esque creation, Rocky.
Considering it was labeled a failure when it released, the film was a grassroots success if there ever was one. The film officially opened at the Westwood Theater in Los Angeles on September 26, 1975. Although it did well at this location, other test markets failed, and the film was shelved. But a year later, a young ad man at Twentieth Century Fox, Tim Deegan, thought it would be a great idea to replace the midnight movie at the Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film debuted there on April 1, 1976 and was a cult hit by that fall.
As a midnight movie staple 35 years after its premiere, The Rocky Horror Picture Show now holds the title of the longest running theatrical release in film history. Made up of one part comedy, one part B-movie, a generous helping of camp and a splash of tranny, it’s no wonder it’s become the phenomenon that it is. It’s a magical mixture of insanity.
This perfect mix of genres is not an easy task, although many have tried. Director Baz Luhrmann has made a career or mixing ostentatious fantasy and traditional genres with great success in movies like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. In fact, the absurdist noir thriller, Hamilton Carver: Zombie P.I., the story of a lowly private eye who dies in an attempt to avenge his girlfriend’s death and is given seven days to find her murderer (or spend an eternity in hell), blends noir, horror and ninjas with unusual ease.
Hamilton Carver: Zombie P.I. – Trailer
What’s the secret? The right ingredients. Here are five ingredients that make The Rocky Horror Picture Show astounding.
1. Susan Sarandon
Most moviegoers know Susan Sarandon as an Academy Award-winning actress, an activist, a mom. Some might remember her as the strong-willed outlaw in Thelma & Louise. Others might think of her as the ravishing redhead in Witches of Eastwick. Most recently, she played Andy Samberg’s mom in Mother Lover. But what few people know is that sweet, little Susan Sarandon was once seduced by a transvestite and took her knickers off to shag with a blond, tan sex experiment named Rocky.
Although Sarandon had previously worked on the short-lived soap opera, A World Apart, it was her role as Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Picture Show that made her an actress to keep your eye on. And it’s no surprise that we would later see this sex kitten take on a hot, hot scene with Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger and then move on to her own spot on Hollywood’s A-List.
As Janet, she was funny, theatrical and endearing. She was the perfect party guest – someone whose excitement is infectious and who is willing to play along with any party game, no matter how twisted. As the doe-eyed Janet Weiss, she is our glimpse into this world. And like her, we too would probably end up spending most of her time in our underwear… if we were lucky enough to be invited to this party.
Dammit, Janet. We love you.
2. The Time Warp
Before there was The Macarena, before there was Soulja Boy, there was The Time Warp. Even if you’ve never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you’re likely to recognize the song and the dance. It’s like the hokey pokey (with a lot more thrusting).
The song, like the movie, is a parody of the genre – making fun of a number of “dance” inspired songs that spend most of the lyrics giving instructions. Out of all the participation activities in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Time Warp is by far the most loved and the most fun part of the show. In fact, the song’s addictiveness is proved by the myriad of groups that have covered it in their own style: Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Spanish band Timbiriche, Italian band Elio e le Storie Tese, and most recently, the cast of Glee.
If you’re thinking of including the song at your next house party, wedding or thinking of catching your first midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Show, you’ll want to practice this one.
Instructions for The Time Warp Dance:
- 1. (It’s just a) JUMP TO THE LEFT
- 2. (And then a) STEP TO THE RIGHT
- 3. (With your hands on your hips) YOU BRING YOUR KNEES IN TIGHT
- 4. (But it’s the) PELVIC THRUST (that really drives you insa-aaa-ne)
- 6. LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN!
3. The Camp
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is one big joke. If you don’t catch on when Janet and Brad start with “Dammit, Janet” in the movie’s first 10 minutes, then this is just not for you. But, if you’re tickled by the lyrics, the bad audio, the boom mic during the wedding scene and Susan Sarandon’s Peggy Lee-esque singing, then keep watching, because it only gets better.
The film itself is a parody of B-horror films of the 60’s – specifically, Hammer Horror films, the British production house best known for low-budget (aka cheesy) horror films that exploit violence and sex. In fact, the “creation” scene features the tank and dummy used in Hammer’s The Revenge of Frankenstein. But beyond the sensationalism and low-budget look borrowed from the Hammer Films, the overall aesthetic of gaudy, sexuality is what really defines the film, as does Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
From John Waters to Lady Gaga, several artists have chosen to take a more theatrical route to telling a story. Although “camp” was originally defined by theatrical, effeminate attitudes of gay culture, it has evolved into a more serious commentary of people and events by the exploitation of their most obvious traits. So when you take uptight Brad and Janet, in their unalluring undergarments, and a leather-bound tranny, and put them in the room together, there is much more than lust at work.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show went from failure, to cult favorite to mainstream staple – all by being extraordinarily different… and campy.
4. Tim Curry
Tim Curry has not only won a Tony Award and two Emmy Awards, but he is a voiceover genius and a singer – not to mention he can wear a pair of fishnets and a bustier like nobody’s business. And although he owes all this to his role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show franchise, he was reluctant to admit it for many years. Watching young people dress in drag and fawn over him was not his idea of success. But don’t worry, he gets it now.
vCurry, like Jack Nicholson and Christopher Walken, has made a career off his distinct look and voice. And with the help of some branding from his sweet transvestite days, he has enjoyed a diverse and successful career. He played Rooster, the shameless crook, in the film adaptation of Annie. He was Lord of Darkness in the Legend. He was scheming Wadsworth in Clue. He was way too convincing as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in Stephen King’s It. And, if there is a sinister villain in a cartoon, that’s probably him too.
With a Cheshire cat smile and devilish eyes, Curry is an actor who relishes his role with so much bite that he makes you giggle and step back all at the same time. In fact, in most of his roles, he always looks like he’s threatening to bite you. All in good fun, of course.
Curry, with his own beautiful mixture of British glam rock and James Bond matter-of-factness, delivers no less testosterone in heavy makeup than a sweaty construction worker.
Long live the Queen!
5. The Fans
Without the fans, The Rocky Horror Picture Show would not have experienced a revival, and it would not be considered a piece of cinema history. With an original budget of $1.2 million dollars, the film has taken in almost $140 million at the US box office and almost $50 million in rentals. It’s the people who started to yell out at the screen every week at the Waverly Theater that are responsible for this. It started with simple callbacks like “Arsehole” and “Slut,” aka Brad and Janet, and turned into an elaborate, localized interactive experience before people were using the term “interactive.”
According to Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club President Sal Piro’s book, Creatures of the Night, a guy by the name Bill O’Brien was the first person to dress as Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Louis Farese, a kindergarten teacher from Staten Island, was the first to develop official callbacks. Over several screenings, the costumes multiplied as did the callbacks and later the dancing and prop use. If you think the film is outrageous and fun, then you must attend a midnight screening to really understand why so many stand in line on a Saturday night in full make-up and fishnet stalkings week after week.
Here’s a list to get you ready. As for the callbacks, they are different in every theater and change over time. So there is no official script.
Rice: During the wedding at the beginning of the film, you should throw rice along with the on-screen guests.
Water Guns: When Brad and Janet are caught in the storm, use your water guns to simulate rain in the theater.
Newspapers: When Janet covers her head with a newspaper, you should do the same.
Candles/Flashlights/Cell Phones: During the ‘There’s a light’ verse of “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” turn on your candles, flashlights and/or cell phones.
Rubber Gloves: Every time Frank or Magenta snaps the gloves on or off, snap your gloves.
Noisemakers: Take our your noisemakers when the Transylvanians celebrate at the end of the creation speech.
Confetti: Throw confetti at the screen as Rocky and Frank head toward the bedroom.
Toilet Paper: Throw toilet paper rolls in the air when Dr. Scott enters the lab, and Brad cries out, “Great Scott!”
Toast: When Frank proposes a toast at dinner, throw toast in the air.
Party Hat: Put on your party hat when Frank puts his on.
Bell: Ring your bell when Frank says ‘Did you hear a bell ring?’ during the song “Planet, Schmanet, Janet.”
Deck of Cards: Let lose your deck of cards in the air when Frank sings ‘Cards for sorrow, cards for pain’ during the song “I’m Going Home.”
*You may want to call the theater ahead of time to find out what their policies are with respect to prop use.
Hamilton Carver: Zombie P.I. – Chapter 1, Old Friends
Hamilton Carver: Zombie P.I. – Chapter 2, Exposited
Hamilton Carver: Zombie P.I. – Chapter 3, The Devil and The Details
Marti Resteghini is VP of Network Programming and Acquisitions here at KoldCast TV. Formerly, as vice president of development and production at Warner Bros.-based production company, HDFilms, Resteghini oversaw the development, production and distribution of feature films, television and new media content across multiple platforms. In this post, Resteghini produced many high-profile Web series including “Chadam,” “Creepshow: Raw,” based on the 1980s cult classic feature film, and Crackle’s “The Jace Hall Show.”