The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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Just The Facts

  1. The Rocky Horror Picture is a 1975 musical directed by Jim Sharman.
  2. It is the film version of The Rocky Horror Show, a West End (the British equivalent of Broadway) play created by Richard O'Brien.
  3. Over the past 35 years, it has become an international phenomena with a fan-base as rabid as those of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings (though with a considerably greater sex life).

History

In 1973, New Zealand actor Richard O'Brien, who had previously toured with the London productions of Hair and Jesus Christ: Superstar, drafted a stageplay titled "They Came From Denton High," a gothic-themed, schlock-horror, comic-book-fantasy romp. Stage Director Jim Sharman, who had previously worked worked with O'Brien on Jesus Christ: Superstar, suggested a more appealing title. Thus, The Rocky Horror Show was born.

The show was an immediate smash in England, and experienced similar success in America on the off-Broadway circuit. 20th Century Fox immediately commissioned O'Brien to write a screenplay, and granted him a budget of only $100K (today, $1 million is considered a small budget). In order to save money, O'Brien cast either actors from the original production (Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, and himself) or unknown actors (Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Peter Hinwood, and a pre-Bat Out of Hell Meat Loaf). The only "name" actor was Charles Gray, who played the role of The Narrarator, a criminologist. Gray's most famous role to date had been as arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever, today regarded by many to be the very worst Bond film (or at least the worst Bond film to also star Sean Connery).

Yeah, the one with these guys.

The Show

Rocky Horror is a tribute to the B-movies of '40s, '50s, and the '60s by RKO and Universal Studios. The opening song, Science Fiction/Double Feature (sung by a disembodied pair of ruby-red lips) references such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still and King Kong, as well as more obscure monster movies like The Day of the Triffids.
(What the hell is a "Triffid"?)

*This* is a Triffid.

We are introduced to straight-laced, All-American, Mid-Western couple Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and his high-school sweetheart Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon). Brad is an all-around douche, and is referred to by the fans as "Asshole." Janet is an annoying prude, and for the first half of the play is referred to by the fans as "Bitch." At the wedding of two friends, Brad proposes to Janet. Because they are both a couple of squares, their idea of celebrating is to visit their old science professor, Dr. Everrett Scott.

Driving through the middle of the woods in the middle of a storm at the middle of the night, they get a flat tire and decide to see if the castle they passed (in the middle of nowhere) might have a phone they could use (how many castles have phones?).

They are greeted by the hunchbacked manservant Riff-Raff (O'Brien) and the maid, his sister/lover Magenta (Patricia Quinn). As it turns out, the castle is hosting the "Annual Transylvanian Convention," where the covention-goers (referred to as "Phantoms" in the theatre productions) break-out into one of the most memorable dances of all-time: The Time Warp

Anyone who has ever seen RHPS before just dropped whatever they were doing and started dancing.

Our host then makes his grand entrance:

Doctor Frank N. Furter, in a role that Tim Curry will never escape even if he lives to be a thousand. In a kinky re-imagining of the Frankenstein legend, Frank explains to Asshole & Bitch that he has discovered the secret of life, and has created the perfect man. However, rather than doing so out of a twisted God-complex, Frank is out to satisfy his insatiable sex-drive. The girl that tap-danced during the Time Warp, Columbia (Little Nell Campbell), was formerly Frank's lover, until he decided to build his own sex slave. Now she is a more or less a groupie.

In the laboratory, Rocky is "born" and breaks into song lamenting his existence. However, his demeanor quickly changes when everyone praises his beauty. You see, Rocky only has half a brain, taken from Columbia's former boyfriend, Eddie (Meat Loaf) who is quietly decomposing in a meat locker. Or so Frank thought. Eddie bursts out of deep-freeze on a motorcycle, toting a tenor sax (why he would have either of them is baffling). Unfortunately, Columbia's joy is short-lived, as Frank quickly dispatches Eddie with a pick-ax. Everyone else is able to laugh it off, as Frank escorts Rocky to the "honeymoon" suite.

It should be worth noting that the actor playing Rocky, Peter Hinwood, is not an actor. He was an underwear model, who was only chosen for his physique. All of his songs were dubbed, and all his lines of dialogue from the original story (much like the original Frankenstein monster) were cut from the film, instead only grunting. If you pay attention to him during the dance numbers, it is obvious that he hasn't learned the routine. His eyes are always focused on the feet of the other actors, trying to keep up with their movements. Unsurprisingly, he is the only one who didn't have a career afterwards.

After he has had his way with Rocky, Frank sneaks into the (seperate) bedrooms of Bitch and Asshole, and manages to seduce them both with little effort. While Frank is busy having his way with Brad, the Bitch wanders into the lab and observes them on a closed circuit monitor and feels betrayed (what did she think she was doing fucking Frank a half an hour ago?). She finds a scared Rocky, who has been hiding from Riff-Raff, and takes pity on the mindless oaf. With her previous inhibitions now long gone, she wastes no time in jumping Rocky's bones. It is here that Janet is no longer referred to as "Bitch", but now "Slut." While singing about about all the time she's wasted not having sex, she fantasizes about banging every resident of the castle. Everyone is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Dr. Scott (Jonathan Adams). According to Frank, Dr. Scott now works for the FBI and is investigating UFO phenomena. He suspects that Asshole & Slut were sent as spies. Scott attempts to quell Frank's suspicions that he is simply searching for his missing nephew: Eddie. Over dinner (the guests are served meatloaf) Scott explains Eddie's delinquent past, but reveals a letter Eddie sent him warning him of the Transylvanians (who we can now assume are in fact aliens) nefarious plans for Earth. Of course, no-one ever bothers to expalin what these evil deeds might be. Frank responds by casually displaying Eddie's dismembered corpse, and trapping his guests (along with Rocky and a rebellious Columbia) is suspended animation. With their plans now exposed (whatever they were to begin with) Magenta wants to return to Planet Transylvania, but Frank is having too much fun.

The prisoners awaken in an empty auditorium, dressed in cabaret clothes and kabuki make-up. They perform a floor-show rejoicing their newfound sexual liberation. An orgy develops, but is soon interrupted by Riff-Raff & Magenta, now clad in space gear and brandishing laser guns. They announce that they are returning to Transylvania. Frank bids goodbye to his now devoted followers, but is quickly corrected by Riff-Raff: by "they" he meant only Magenta and himself. Frank pleads for mercy, but is killed, as are Columbia and Rocky (who is able to take a few shots before finally going down for good). Riff-Raff apologives to the Earthlings for any inconvenience, and gives them the opportunity to flee before the castle is beamed back to Planet Transylvania. When the "castle" beams up, you can clearly see that it's just a cardboard cut-out, with the real castle still visible in the background. The trio barely escapes as the narrarator questions the futility of existence.

The Aftermath & The Legacy

The movie received very limited release in the US. It was only after appearing on Elvira's Midnight Madness that people began to demand that their local theatres show the film. In a few short months, it had the cult following that it took Star Trek & Doctor Who years to develop. People were already dressing in costume, and the call-outs were just beginning. Every day, somewhere in America, a movie theatre is showing the Rocky Horror Show. As it was in the beginning, these are almost always aired at midnight and audience participation isn't just encouraged, it's expected. What can you expect? Well...

  1. Costumes. Unlike sci-fi conventions, you can half-ass a costume and no-one will care. Just a rule of thumb if you're unsure: guys, if Peter Doherty thinks you're dressed weird, than you're on the right track; ladies, if you wouldn't be ashamed to show yourself at your grandparents house, you're not nearly dressed slutty enough.
  2. Fitting in. You will be asked if this is your first time. Be honest, cause you're just gonna make it worse on yourself if you're caught lying. Some more "family friendly" shows might simply get you leid, in that you have to wear a Hawaiian lei as a symbol of your "virginity." Other more "adult" audiences will haul you on-stage for some heavy petting and dry humping. Look on the bright side: next week you'll be the one during the groping.
  3. Props. Sometimes you'll be given a brown paper bag, other times you have to buy one. It contains various props to be thrown at the stage/screen at certain moments. For e.g.: during the wedding scene, you'll throw rice; during the rain storm, you'll use a squirt-gun to simulate rain, while using a newspaper as an umbrella (that's what that cheap bitch Janet uses in the movie); etc.
  4. The Time Warp. You can fake your way through most of the other interactions, but for god's sake don't screw up the dance.
  5. Call-outs. Don't bother if you haven't gotten the show memorized. You'll just be calling attention to the fact that you're out of your element.

Earlier this year, MTV announced plans to remake RHPS as a made-for-TV movie, with new songs in addition to the originals. As could be expected, this news went over about as well as Borat announcing plans to remake Schindler's List.

O'Brien had planned on writing a sequel immediately, but was delayed by a writer's strike. Instead, we got a second-rate spinoff titled Shock Treatment. It's not ever worth describing further. In the late '90s, a script begin floating around the internet titled Revenge of the Old Queen, purportedly written by O'Brien, but never confirmed as so. It reads more like an elaborate fan-fic. O'Brien has announced recently that he has begun work on a direct follow-up, titled Rocky Horror: The Second Cumming, which will be performed strictly on stage rather than screen.

So where are our beloved performers up to these days? Who ended up like Harrison Ford, and who ended up like... well, everyone else in Star Wars?

  • Tim Curry had a couple of big roles in the 80s and early 90s, most notably in other cult films such as Clue, Legend, and FernGully, but mostly does voice-over work now. It is worth noting on a site with so many Bat-fans, that while Jack Nicholson was always the first choice to play The Joker, if the producers were unwilling to meet Nicholson's (some say "excessive") contractual demands, Curry was next in line to play the Clown Prince of Crime. While he admits that the constant adulation of fans got to be a bit annoying, he has come to embrace their love and devotion.
  • Susan Sarandon went on to become an acclaimed Academy Award winning actress, though her choices in recent years have been a tad questionable (The Banger Sisters? Mr. Woodcock?). Unlike her fellow castmembers, Sarandon has more or less gone out of her way to distance herself from the fandom, which leads to many Rocky fans to openly refer to her simply as "Bitch."
  • Barry Bostwick now has a semi-recurring role on the Law & Order franchise as a sleazy Defense Attorney, but his biggest role was as the Mayor of New York City on the Emmy winning Spin City.
  • Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Nell Campbell have returned to theatre.
  • Meat Loaf released Bat Out of Hell the following year, which went on to become the best-selling album of all-time by a solo artist, second only to Michael Jackson's Thriller.

The author of an older article referred to The Rocky Horror Picture Show as "...a movie so bad, people go to shows just so they can mock it." (He's apparently confused it with Plan 9 from Outer Space.) This is both true & misleading. Yes, the movie is very cheesy. The dialogue is corny, the performances are campy, and the special effects are cheap. But unlike Ed Wood & Uwe Boll who genuinely believed they were/are making Grade-A quality films, O'Brien did so intentionally. People don't care. Going to a midnight showing is among the most fun you can have not while high (though it does help). If you've ever felt geeky or awkward, worry no more. You are finally among your own kind.

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