The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Cult classic with lots of neon lights and foot-tapping goodness!

Dir. Jim Sharman

Rating: 12-A (Originally it was AA)

Runtime: 100 mins

Starring: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Meat Loaf, Charles Gray

What came first, the chicken or the egg? In the case of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, the egg came first – if of course by egg you understand that I mean the stage show came out a few years before the motion picture did. This 1975 film is based on the 1973 musical stage production. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is the brainchild of everyone’s favourite maze-master, Richard O’Brien. For anyone who does not understand that reference, O’Brien was the host of the 1990’s version of the TV game show “The Crystal Maze”.

TRHPS is the age-old story of lust, transvestites, aliens, debauchery, and music. Brad (the hero) and Janet (the heroine), a newly engaged young couple run into a spot of bad luck. Their car gets a flat tyre, and they are stranded in the middle of nowhere during an almighty storm. They decide to call for help so they go to the nearest building with signs of life, a big ol’ castle where the residents seem to be getting ready for an annual convention. The couple are taken in by the Riff-Raff, Magenta and Columbia, the staff of the castle (apart from Columbia, she’s more a of a ‘groupie’) and they soon also meet Dr Frank N. Furter. He is apparently a mad scientist who is also an alien transvestite – or more accurately, he is a “sweet transvestite from Transexual Transylvania”. Like all good mad scientists, Dr Furter has been busy of late in his lab, he has discovered the secret to life and has made a creation in the shape of a buff and muscley man called “Rocky”. All hell breaks loose when Eddie arrives – he is Frank’s ex-lover, Columbia’s current lover, and a partial brain donor to Rocky. Eddie is murdered and in the chaos the couple are trapped in the castle and eventually seduced too. A new face appears soon enough, Dr Everett V. Scott, Brad and Janet’s old high school teacher, he is looking for his nephew and has stumbled onto the castle. Dr Frank suspects the Dr Scott is investigating UFO’s for the government, and when he learns that Dr Scott knows Brad and Janet, he suspects they are colluding. By this point its dinner time, the guests are fed on a meal of Eddie’s remains – a harmless bit of cannibalism never hurt anyone after all. When the guests realise more chaos ensues and Dr Frank uses a Medusa Transducer to turn Brad and Janet into naked statues. He dresses them up in Cabaret costumes and unfreezes them to perform a Cabaret show. Riff-Raff and Magenta interrupt the madness to announces that they, along with Dr Frank, are aliens from the planet Transexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. They stage coup with the intention of leaving for home. They kill Columbia and Dr Frank. An enraged Rocky also dies. The three humans are released, while the castle blasts off into space.

When writing the story, Richard O’Brien took a lot of inspiration from early science fiction, B horror movies, and fifties rock and roll. This is pretty evident throughout with the style, design and even the music which drives the production on. He wrote the story to during a cold winter just to keep his mind ticking over, in-between jobs on stage (he’d apparently quit “Jesus Christ Superstar” over creative differences). He wanted to combine some of the unintentional humour that he found in the movies that he loved so much with the era of Glam rock that he was living and loving so much himself. He was also heavily influenced by an Alice Cooper concert he had previously attended and wanted to bring a little of that risky edge to his creation. Apparently, he never knew that writing something so unique to himself would be such a hit to a wider audience, but after showing parts of it to Australian director Jim Sharman, cogs were set into motion.

The two had worked together on various stage shows and it was Sharman that suggested using a project space set aside at the Royal Court Theatre (London) to give it a go. The success of this eventually led people being pulled together for a feature film version. When it went into production a lot of the filming was done in Oakley Court, which is an 1857 Gothic Victorian building which has famously been used in a lot of Hammer films previously. In addition to Oakley Court, Bray Studios and Elstree Studios were used too. It wasn’t just locations that were borrowed for this, a lot of the set design and props were borrowed too, in fact Rocky’s birthing chamber and the dummy of Rocky can also be seen in 1958’s “The Revenge of Frankenstein”. When the budget is small, corners have to be cut, and with only $1.4 million to spend there wasn’t a massive amount to go around for something that might not be a massive hit. For all it’s cut corners this would eventually go on to earn near enough $200 million through the global box office.

When casting for the film, much of the principle cast from the stage production were used. Tim Curry leads the cast as Dr Frank N. Furter, in one of his most iconic roles. It was his decision to play the doctor has extremely posh, using the quintessential Queen’s English to counter some of the less than conventional dialogue and mannerisms – a lovely juxtaposition that worked extremely well. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick appear as Janet and Brad, with Jonathan Adams playing their high school teacher Dr Everett V. Scott, who turns up later in the film. American actors were included at the insistence of 20th Century Fox – but this helped to make the film more widely palatable to wider audiences and give them a fixture point to follow through the bonkers on display. The same ‘use of an American’ could also be said of Meat Loaf’s inclusion too as Eddie the ex-delivery boy and ex-lover of Dr Frank, however he also added a lot of credibility as a seasoned rock and roll musician. The faces that appear in the castle are comprised of Richard O’Brien (Riff-Raff), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), and Nell Campbell (Columbia). Peter Hinwood plays Rocky Horror, with Trevor White acting as his singing voice. You will also hear the voice of Charles Gray as the criminologist/ narrator of the piece too who provides a lovely wrap around which helps the audience understand what’s happening. There are a lot of tongue in cheek lines throughout and the narrative is very heavy with satire as the cast deliver lines which would seem normal in old sci-fi B-movies, but seem completely out of place in normal conversation. Constantly camp throughout, the glam rock that O’Brien took influence from in on display not just in appearance but attitude and delivery too.

There are a lot of great musical numbers in this film which have stood the test of time. In this they are integrated into the performance and not just played in the background or used as a background motif to drive the performance on. They didn’t just get peoples feet tapping in the 1970’s but some of the tunes can still be heard regularly now – I haven’t been to a cheesy party or wedding reception where “The Time Warp” hasn’t blared out only for people of different ages to all take a corner of the dance-floor to throw shapes. It’s not just “The Time Warp” that stands out of course, songs like “Science Fiction/Double Feature”, “Dammit Janet”, “Sweet Transvestite”, “I can make you a man”, and “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch me” have plenty of miles in them on their own account. I have plenty of punk and heavy metal compilation albums that use some of these songs as tongue-in-cheek covers.

At the time of its release to the world, ratings were not kind. It was far from an obvious submission into the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress as it is now. A lot of people considered it a gratuitous freak show that stumbled by with some catchy songs. Despite that, it has developed a massive cult following and garnered a huge legacy which stands proudly in many walks of life. It helped some low-budget art projects get off the ground, it has been a massive influence on sexual liberation, it is adored by certain areas of the LGBTQ communities, and it is considered one of the greatest pieces of art of its generation and is still standing strong in modern cultural entertainment. It is one of the few pieces of art that allows you to see a queue of bearded heterosexual men wearing fishnets and maid outfits, waiting in line to get into cinema re-runs or theatre productions when it comes to town.

On a personal level, I watched this film when I was young – early teens. I did not really get it other than it being very colourful, fun, and having catchy songs. It managed to grow on me and when I watched it in my late teens, I understood it a little more. It is not as perverse as a lot of people made it out to be, it is something that you can strip back and see various messages and metaphors with if you so choose, or you can just sit back and watch the random bonkers and listen to the foot-tapping goodness. One of things I learned early on from this is that it is okay to be different, it does not mean that something is wrong or bad because it is different. This film excels at being different, while relying on some familiarities that everyone can identify with. But who exactly is it different to; the hero and heroine that believe what society has told them; the sweet transvestite aliens who are having fun and living the carefree way they want to (using their interpretation of life on Earth as basis); the audience who isn’t quite sure of what to make of it all? Rather than worry about any of that or even the question I have just posed, embrace difference and it might just make the whole stinking world a nicer and more colourful place.

I recently watched this film with a view of writing this review, it has been at least 10-15 years since I last watched this film. I must admit, I enjoyed it as much now as I did years ago and still find that this is a film that I am happy to recommend. It is still as relevant today as it was in its heyday; in fact, it might be more relevant today with societies changing beliefs and identity than it ever was.

An arty musical film if ever you did see one – great music – colourful and interesting – good cinematography – great pace plenty of presence – and ultimately, lots and lots of fun!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (8/10)

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