Synopsis: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an “erotic nightmare beyond any measure.” Relive Richard O’Brien’s sinfully twisted salute to horror, sci-fi, B-movies and rock music – A “sensual daydream to treasure forever” – starring Tim Curry (in his classic gender-bending performance), Barry Bostwick, and Oscar winner Susan Sarandon. Do the “Time Warp” and sing “Hot Patootie” with Meatloaf again…and again…and again…
eyelights: Tim Curry. Richard O’Brien. Charles Gray. Susan Sarandon. the script’s quirkyness. the high camp.
eyesores: the script’s incoherence. its slipshod choreography. its mixed bag soundtrack.
“It’s not easy having a good time! Even smiling makes my face ache!”
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ is a 1975 musical comedy based on the 1973 smash stage musical ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. The original was Richard O’Brien’s ode to old sci-fi and horror films, and it was so popular that it ran in London for seven years! It had mixed initial success in the United States, but it has since become a bit of a cultural phenomenon.
The film, however, didn’t have it as easy. Initially released in a regular theatrical run, it failed miserably at the box office, and only picked up an audience when it was eventually shown as a midnight movie – after which, it grew into a cult sensation. Now the picture has achieved legitimacy on a grand scale, and is shown regularly in cinemas everywhere.
Almost everyone knows ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, or at least has heard of it. As a teenager, I was told about it by some enthusiastic friends of mine, but it didn’t pique my curiosity until much, much later, when it was released on DVD for its 25th anniversary. Loaded with extras and many interactive options, I felt that this would be my best introduction.
While I realize that the ultimate -and possibly only- way to watch the movie is in a cinema, surrounded by Rocky Horror devotees, it’s the kind of scene that repels me: I don’t much like dress up, can only suffer so much interactivity and, quite frankly, didn’t want to throw myself into the fire on the first try – I had to ease into it slowly, gently, and with a way out.
I didn’t quite get the picture when I saw it. I mean, I understood its plot (what little of it there is), but I didn’t really understand its appeal. I did, however, enjoy the roaringly campy DVD menus and the interactive options – which included prompts for using one’s Rocky Horror props, an audience participation soundtrack and even some live footage of a ‘Rocky Horror’ screening.
It was quite the home cinema experience – and one perhaps only bested by Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life’ “Soundtrack for the Lonely” option.
In any case, I wasn’t a convert. And I still ain’t. In fact, I had planned to write up a blog with all the appropriate prompt to toss your rice, spray your water pistols, put your newspaper on your head, …etc., but I lost all enthusiasm for the idea midway through the screening. And thus, I will write a more standard blurb and leave this novel and absurd idea for someone else to pilfer.
(so long as I get credit for it 😉
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (let’s hereforth call it ‘RHPS’, shall we?) tells the tale of a couple of young fiancés whose car breaks down on a dark rainy night and find themselves at the castle of one Dr. Frank N. Furter, a transvestite scientist with a penchant for drag. There the pair are soon witness to the Doctor’s mad plans, and have their sanity and virtue tested.
It’s a kooky affair to say the least, with each performer playing up as much camp as their respective roles will allow for: each gesture is as grand as they can muster, each musical number as exuberant as can be, every potential quirk mined. And all done on a relatively short budget, so that everything holds together with cellophane tape – even the script.
One can see how ‘RHPS’ appeals to certain crowds.
And yet, honestly, I don’t understand how wide its appeal is. It’s an okay film by any standard, and I was surprisingly having quite a blast for the first third of the picture, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable as other campy films: each act is gradually less interesting than the previous one – my enthusiasm was impotent 2/3 of the way in, after which I just tried to get through it.
It starts off absolutely brilliantly, with even the 20th Century Fox theme music being lampooned. I couldn’t help but smile. Then the credits serve up a slice of old school horror before launching into its first musical number, sung by a pair of giant LIPS. I could have done without that sight, but it’s too intrinsically tied to the picture and its iconic imagery.
The first scene is rather indicative of what’s to come: non-actors and real actors overacting, low budget musical numbers, and a wink-wink quality that produces chuckles. I couldn’t help but be amused by the sight of Tim Curry, Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn hiding in the back of the wedding party. And their emotionless background vocals? Priceless!!! Genius, even!
It was all deliciously campy cake until after Eddie’s appearance, which saw Meat Loaf performing a rousing number: our introduction to Riff Raff (O’Brien), who was delightfully creepy, if not sinister, the insanity of “The Time Warp”, the introduction of the devastatingly charismatic Doctor – all were such treats that I was delirious with sugary explosions of glee.
And then came the comedown. Ugh. Oh well… they can’t all be winners. What really got to me was that ‘RHPS’ made less and less sense from any perspective (um… does it make the picture so-bad-it’s-good, then?). And the infectious zeal of the first part of the picture got toned down, as did the songs (which were by that point more ballad-y numbers – but very dull ones).
A few elements remained throughout, thankfully:
- Tim Curry, as Dr. Frank N. Furter, is at his absolute best. I hate to have to say that he peaked early, because no one wants that to be said of them, but ‘RHPS’ is wholly, absolutely, anchored to his performance – without which it would have been a mere oddity. Without his magnetism, boldness, zest and total devotion to the part, there would have been no Dr. Frank N. Furter.
Cripes he’s good. Every cock of his eyebrows, every grimace and grin, every roll of his eyes, every thrust of his hips, every inflection… everything is calculated to utter perfection and for maximum effect. I don’t think that he does one false move in the whole picture – he steals every single moment that he’s on screen, even when he’s relegated to the background.
- Richard O’Brien, as Riff Raff, is unforgettable. The moment that we see his eerie gaze peer out form beneath his bony features, we know that he’s going to be quite the character – especially given the way O’Brien uses his body to dramatize every move. But then comes his voice, which has a consistently sneering and stuffy quality to it. I can’t really explain it.
- Charles Gray, as the criminologist, has some of the best bits of ‘RHPS’ – after Curry. While he’s only the narrator and, thus, is not part of the plot, he keeps popping up to guide us through the movie – and in the most delicious ways, such as when Frank N. Furter’s guests are doing “The Time Warp” and the film cuts to him showing us how to do the dance. Genius!
Gray is the perfect presence as narrator because he has that “proper” English demeanour that makes the criminologist seem competent – so he’s a great narrator and guide. It also makes him the most sane one of the whole picture, so it’s terrific to see him interrupt it with unusual, unexpected bits – not only does it break the movie up, but it puts him in contrast.
There were also a few highlights for me:
- I savoured Dr. Fran N. Furter’s introductory sequence. Not only was he a standout figure in that lot of freaks, but Curry instantly stole the picture with his performance. I didn’t much like the song, “Sweet Transvestite”, but Curry’s rendition of it was powerful.
- Meat Loaf’s vocals. I didn’t much like the sequence because it way too chaotic for my taste, but it’s no wonder that Meat Loaf became a star with pipes like that. I also enjoyed that his bit was book-ended by “I Can Make You a Man”, making for an epic song.
- Susan Sarandon’s loveliness. She’s still beautiful now, and always has been, but she had a freshness then that makes one think of a peach. Makes you want to sink your teeth in one, too, which is exactly what the part needed. Yum.
- I loved the sequence when Frank seduces Brad and then Janet, using exactly the same schtick with each of them. It’s trite, but they’re both naive enough to fall for it. Hah!
- I really loved Riff Raff and Magenta’s space costumes at the end – it so harks back to those crappy ’50s sci-fi films. It’s terrific. And Riff Raff’s blaster is both absurd-looking and très, très cool.
But I just couldn’t stand most of the musical numbers. The worst are the creature’s number, with its crappy song, chaotic staging, and failed humour and Janet’s “Touch Me” solo, which has the most grating chorus ever. Well… not ever. But it sure felt that way then. Oh, and the final number, which had way too much drag for me to handle (I can only do it in moderation).
What didn’t help is that it’s the kind of musical that has its characters breaking into song and dance spontaneously and for no apparent reason. I realize that this is what a musicals are much of the time, and I realize that the absurdity of this is probably what appeals to some fan of ‘RHPS’, but it’s a genre convention that I can’t bear – no matter how camp the film is.
So, even though there are aspects of the picture that I like, I have a difficult time getting through ‘RHPS’ even now – after having seen it a few times and being rather familiar with midnight movies. It doesn’t look like it’ll ever grow on me, I’m afraid. I may have to someday go see it in a cinema to see if it’s any better with a live audience. After all, there’s a reason why it’s so popular.
And I really do get amused by the audience participation track on the DVD, even though it’s incredibly noisy. And it would be amusing to see everyone throw rice/confetti and toast (and the like) while watching the movie (the spoon tossings during ‘The Room‘ were rather memorable), but being stuck there until the film’s end is a daunting proposition. We’ll just have to wait and see.
It seems like I haven’t entirely shut the curtains on ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ after all.
Date of viewing: May 6, 2014