The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #76

Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

Country: UK & USA
Language: English
Runtime: 100 minutes
BBFC: AA (1975) | 15 (1987) | 12 (1991)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 15th August 1975 (UK)
First Seen: TV, 31st December 1998

Stars
Tim Curry (Annie, Clue)
Susan Sarandon (The Front Page, Thelma & Louise)
Barry Bostwick (Weekend at Bernie’s II, Spy Hard)
Richard O’Brien (Flash Gordon, Dark City)
Meat Loaf (Roadie, Fight Club)
Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out, Diamonds Are Forever)

Director
Jim Sharman (The Night, the Prowler, Shock Treatment)

Screenwriters
Richard O’Brien (Shock Treatment, Digital Dreams)
Jim Sharman (Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens, Shock Treatment)

Based on
The Rocky Horror Show, a stage musical by Richard O’Brien.

Music & Lyrics
Richard O’Brien (Shock Treatment)

The Story
When straight-laced young couple Brad and Janet approach a spooky castle in need of shelter, they stumble into the strange world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who’s throwing a party to celebrate the ‘birth’ of his new creation: a tank-grown muscleman named Rocky. But it’s not only Rocky who’ll be getting an awakening…

Our Heroes
Good clean all-American kids Brad and Janet, newly engaged but forced to stop off at a creepy castle after their car breaks down in a storm. By the end of the night, they’ll certainly have learnt a new thing or two…

Our Villains
Dr. Frank-N-Furter — not much of a man by the light of day but by night he’s one hell of a lover. Just a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania, which would be fine if he didn’t get a bit murderous. Surrounded by a gaggle of home help and hangers-on, like hunchbacked handyman Riff Raff, mental maid Magenta, and vaudevillian groupie Columbia.

Best Supporting Character
Charles Gray is perfect as The Narrator, holed up in his wood-panelled study and telling the audience this fantastical story with admirable matter-of-factness.

Memorable Quote
“Let’s do the time warp again!” — everyone

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“I see you shiver with antici…

…pation.” — Dr. Frank-N-Furter

Memorable Scene
The title sequence: the opening number sung by a pair of very big, very red lips. Simple, but iconic.

Best Song
Rocky Horror is one of those musicals where almost every song is genius: the cleverly reference-filled, surprisingly melancholic, bookending refrain of Science Fiction/Double Feature; the wittily rhymed Dammit Janet; the mission statement that is Sweet Transvestite; the sweetly kinky Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me; the epic multi-part floor show climax… and more. That said, I always disliked the post-climax Super Heroes, and wasn’t alone: it was actually cut out of the original US release. But then I heard Richard O’Brien sing it with acoustic guitar on the DVD special features, and in that variation it’s a darkly beautiful song. But for all that, when talking about the best song in Rocky Horror you really can’t beat the utterly iconic Time Warp.

Making of
Many films have “Easter eggs” — little half-hidden treats for fans to discover — but not many have them literally. The exception, of course, is Rocky Horror. Apparently the crew had an Easter egg hunt (which, considering the movie was shot from October to December, doesn’t make much sense) but they weren’t all found, hence why some turned up in the final film. I won’t tell you where they are (I mean, five seconds on Google and you can find out), but there are supposedly three.

Next time…
Initially a flop, it was when someone got the idea to screen the movie for the midnight crowd that Rocky Horror caught on. The interactive, ritual-filled experience of these screenings is legendary, and they’ve continued ever since — to the point where some cinemas have it as part of their regular schedule, and the DVD & Blu-ray releases include alternate tracks featuring the audience participation. It also means that, officially speaking, Rocky Horror has the longest theatrical run in movie history. In 1981, Sharman and O’Brien produced a sort-of-sequel, Shock Treatment. A new adventure for Brad and Janet (both recast), it featured several Rocky Horror actors (O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Charles Gray) in new roles. It didn’t go down very well, though apparently it has its fans — a cult following within a cult following, I guess. In 2010, once-popular high school musical TV series Glee aired a tribute episode, The Rocky Horror Glee Show. It is truly horrendous; a plasticky, sanitised, neutered version of something that should never be those things. So I don’t hold out much hope for the next thing the same network (Fox, of all places!) have planned for the property: after years (decades?) of rumours, they’re finally making good on the threat by remaking the film. Officially dubbed The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, the clips released so far look almost as bad as the Glee version. We’ll see. Finally, the original stage show has continued across numerous productions, and last year a 40th anniversary gala performance was simulcast to cinemas across Europe and later aired on TV. It’s now available on YouTube. I’ve not watched it, but I suspect it’s a better bet than that Fox version.

Awards
1 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Golden Scroll nomination (Horror Film (it lost to Young Frankenstein))

What the Critics Said
Rocky Horror is actually a very good film in its own right; made on a small budget, it’s a triumph of clever filmmaking by Sharman, who should have gone on to bigger things (and might have, had he not arrived at the end of an era). Yes, there are little technical glitches, but rarely has there been a more cleverly and creatively shot and edited film. Nearly every angle, every cut, every zoom shot, every optical transition is used to effectively maximize its respective scene. […] Remember the cult status, yes, but sometime try watching Rocky Horror just as a movie. It pays real dividends.” — Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress

You What?
“Viewed on video simply as a movie, without the midnight sideshow, it’s cheerful and silly, and kind of sweet, and forgettable.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (Rocky Horror is many things, but “forgettable”? Hm.)

Score: 80%

What the Public Say
Rocky Horror is so distinctive, so unique, that it could’ve come off as bizarre, alien, and off-putting, but it didn’t. It has such self-aware charm, a catchy soundtrack that sticks in the head for days, and hilarious performers, that it overcomes its rather dull protagonists. Of course, Brad and Janet have their own charm as parodies of the square-jawed hero and his girl, but they will always be the least interesting characters on screen.” — That Other Critic

Verdict

Some people dismiss Rocky Horror as a film, thinking its only worth (if they acknowledge it has any) is as a live experience. I’ve never seen it ‘live’ (and don’t have an especially great desire to) but will happily fight its corner as a solo viewing experience. It’s camp and transgressive, but ‘safely’ so — that’s not a criticism, just an observation that it can work well as an eye-opener for the young or more conservative. But beyond that social impact, the outré style belies an underlying cleverness, with witty writing that features abundant references to sci-fi B-movie classics, precisely pitched performances, and, of course, the unforgettable toe-tapping tunes. Whether alone or in a packed auditorium throwing stuff and shouting back at the screen, it’s just fun. To watch it is to, indeed, give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

#77 will be… the greatest love story the world has ever known.

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