Warp yourself back into the dingy midnight shows and fabulous rock-n-roll of the 70’s with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a movie that continues to entertain, engage and inspire forty years after it was first released. Rocky Horror is a mix of every genre that makes cinema so addictive – except, maybe, common sense. But that hardly stops you from having the time of your life while watching and grooving along to the catchy soundtrack and infectious dance moves. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if a stable plot line would have much of an effect on the film itself.
Jim Sharman’s movie adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s show has become a cult classic for many since its release in 1975. To attend a Rocky Horror screening was to become part of the show itself – the audience would dress up in drag or as their favourite characters, shout lines back at the screen and throw all manners of objects around the theatre. Many elements in the movie were considered kitsch and garish, which was why this was neglected by the mainstream – and yet it has turned into a social phenomenon over the years.
So let’s assemble our components: Brad and Janet – a recently engaged couple, straight out of the Textbook for Cliche White Characters, with a dialogue that sets the feminist movement back about sixty years, Dr. Frank-N-Furter – a strangely attractive Transylvanian transvestite who’s got a mean temper and a meaner baritone, a straight-faced narration by a man known as the Criminologist, who occasionally blesses our screens with equally straight-faced dancing, and our eponymous Rocky, a Frankenstein-esque creation whose entire life’s objective is to fulfil Frank’s surfer boy fantasy. Frank’s cronies include the hunchbacked handyman Riff-Raff and his partner Magenta, along with Columbia, a groupie tap-dancer. As the movie progresses, more characters turn up like Dr. Scott, a rival scientist and Eddie, the deep-frozen delivery boy but by then, I’m assuming you really won’t care. An ensemble of racially diverse Transylvanians forms the backdrop for most scenes.
The movie kicks off during a beastly thunderstorm, when a stranded Brad and Janet arrive at a large castle hoping to use their phone. What they expect to be a quick in-and-out scenario quickly turns into one of the strangest journeys they’ve ever been on. The castle is inhabited by an eccentric scientist named Dr. Frank-N-Furter, his housekeepers and a bunch of Transylvanians attending a convention. With towering black heels, fishnet stockings and striking red lips, believe me when I say that no protagonist has ever had such an entrance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. He may just be a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania, but he’s also batshit crazy and soon unveils his latest creation Rocky, a shiny, sculpted blond man in a gold Speedo. That night, amidst all the sexual debauchery with Frank, Brad, Janet and Rocky, in every possible permutation, Frank’s rival scientist, Dr. Scott arrives at the castle looking for his missing nephew. At this point, Frank is one pissed-off transvestite. He uses his Medusa Transducer to turn everyone into Grecian inspired stone statues. (On a side note, you shouldn’t be allowed to call yourself a scientist unless you own a machine that can turn people to stone.) More chaos ensues which includes a considerable amount of drag costumes, double-crossing aliens and a swimming pool kink-party but in the end, Frank finds out that all the evocative ballads in the world weren’t going to help him get home alive and he dies in a tragic radio-antenna accident. Of sorts.
One of the more endearing aspects of the movie is how it embraced the low budget it was given to fully deliver a parodied tribute to the sci-fi/horror B-movies of old Hollywood. The gaudy costumes, sets and props only make the experience that much more entertaining. After all, what horror movie is complete without a classic haunted castle? Interestingly, the costumes used in the movie inspired the punk-rock fashion trend of the 80s. Moreover, the opening sequence initially proposed with clips from old films was scrapped as it was too expensive and in its stead, came the now iconic ruby red lips crooning Science Fiction, Double Feature, taking its place as probably the 2nd most famous set of disembodied lips. Till date, Rocky Horror boasts one of the greatest movie musical soundtracks. With music from Meatloaf, Tim Curry and Richard O’Brien, the rock n’ roll tunes range from humorously whimsical to deeply empowering, not once losing its power or energy. The Time Warp has cemented itself as the signature dance song of the movie; you wouldn’t find a midnight Rocky Horror viewing party without at least one performance of the Time Warp. After all, it’s just a jump to the left…
The most fabulous part of the movie is undoubtedly Tim Curry. From the moment he appears on screen, dressed as the sexiest transvestite you’ll ever set your eyes upon, he bewitches you with his strong performance as the mad Dr. Frank. What with his significant acting chops and robust vocals, he commands every scene he’s in. Moreover, Tim’s portrayal of a bisexual genderqueer character in the 70’s was groundbreaking in its own right, as was the film, with how it embraced themes like sexual liberation and androgyny and became a beacon to people on the fringes of society. Many people believe that most of Frank’s journey through the film was reminiscent of David Bowie’s creation of Ziggy Stardust, in all his glamour and eventual loss of control.
I believe that the case I’m building to convince you to watch Rocky Horror isn’t a strong one. And that’s just the way it should be: Rocky wasn’t made to please everyone. It isn’t meant to be taken seriously either. A lot of critics have tried and failed at dissecting the scenes at an attempt to garner a deeper meaning. But frankly (pun wholly intended), Rocky is a guilty pleasure. In an age of political correctness, it is a beacon of mindless fun and ridiculousness. So pop in this flick in the depths of the night and give yourself over to absolute pleasure!