The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Explained: The Cracked Guide To Cult Movies
Have you ever wanted all the fun and community of being in a cult without having to submit your immortal soul to a white guy with dreadlocks named Celestial Daddy Derrick Peacedove? Well, there is an answer: getting into cult films!
Over the next five days, Cracked will explore a different cult movie. A cult movie, if you’re not aware, is a film that maintains a devoted fanbase, has a set of rituals or traditions surrounding the film, and/or was hugely influential despite never achieving mainstream popularity. Unlike real cults, they generally don’t require you to cut off contact with your family and shave your head to enjoy them. Cult films are something I have quite a bit of experience with, so allow me to be your Virgil and guide you through the sleazy, exciting, subversive underbelly of Cinema.
We’re going to be starting with the grandaddy of them all: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
What’s This Movie About?
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a film adaptation of a stage musical called The Rocky Horror Show, which in turn is named for Rocky, the fifth or sixth most important character in the play. It follows two extremely repressed newlyweds named Brad and Janet, whom I would describe as “whiter than a fiduciary consultant eating a bowl of plain cottage cheese.” They’re whiter than the median member of Mumford & Sons. They’re so white they probably don’t eat spaghetti because they “don’t like ethnic food.”
On the night of their engagement, as they’re driving out of town, their car blows a tire during a thunderstorm and they’re forced to take shelter in a spooky mansion. Said mansion is inhabited by an absolute bevy of freaks, because before they invented Fetlife.com, gathering in rural mansions was essentially the only way that Complicated Sex People could meet up. (More power to you, Complicated Sex People. No shame in your game. I’m not going to make fun of you because your life is hard enough having to spend several thousand dollars on a custom human-sized vacuum sealing machine – and then on top of that the cost of clown makeup these days? I shall not add to your challenge, Complicated Sex People.)
The master of Complicated Sex Mansion is Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who just happens to be performing an experiment that very night to bring to life the perfect lover: a himbo bottom with the physique of a jocky top. This is Rocky, by the way. So it’s basically like if Dr. Frankenstein wanted to bang his monster, which incidentally was almost certainly the first fanfiction ever written.
Rocky has sex with Janet, Frank-N-Furter has sex with basically everyone (and, I mean, just look at 70s Tim Curry and you’ll understand why no one turned him down), and by the end of the night it’s revealed that Frank-N-Furter and his cadre of servants are actually aliens. The servants stage a coup and leave the planet, leaving Brad and Janet in a state of damnation, forever changed by their experience, forever chasing ever more depraved carnal pleasure. It’s essentially if Hellraiser was a musical comedy.
What Makes it a Cult Movie?
Interestingly, while it’s the ur-example of a cult film, Rocky Horror itself is an homage to what might be called proto-cult films. Other than that, I’m not really sure what exactly made it a cult movie. It’s funny, it’s sexy, it has legitimately great songs, it was extremely transgressive for its time. It’s also extremely, unapologetically gay, which for 1975 was a big deal.
If you know about one cult movie, you probably know about Rocky Horror. It’s been referenced in plenty of other films, books, and TV shows, from Glee to The Perks of Being a Wallflower to The Venture Bros. But in case you’ve just left your repressive Amish family today, I’ll tell you about it. (Oh, and happy Rumspringa, by the way.) On Saturdays at midnight, all around the world, people gather to watch Rocky Horror while a group of deeply dedicated weirdos acts what’s happening on screen as it happens on screen.
That’s called a shadowcast, and there are hundreds of them. They strive to make costumes as accurately as possible, and there’s a whole slew of rituals involved with the screening. Audience members in the know shout out jokes at the screen and throw toast, rice, and toilet paper in the air at specific times. There are very few cult films with a culture as relatively well-known as Rocky Horror. While the culture is still recovering from COVID, if you find yourself bored late on a Saturday night, go check out your local Rocky cast.
What’s the Cult Culture?
I could write about Rocky for days, because it is without a doubt the most important movie in my life. I’ve seen it in theaters at least two hundred times. Counting home viewings, that number must be closer to a thousand. I was in a shadowcast for many years, and like many other young outcasts, it was the first place I ever felt welcome. I met some of my best friends there. I met my wife there. I saw one of my close friends die on stage there – right when his character died, in fact. Let’s see Daniel Day-Lewis top that for commitment.
So, yes, Rocky Horror is basically my religion. I’ve seen it performed all over the country. I myself once performed as Brad in a theater where a deeply drunk Barry Bostwick was in the audience. And the performances are really just scratching the surface of Rocky Horror: the conventions are a whole other side of it. I could tell stories about things I’ve seen at Rocky Horror conventions, but then this article would technically only be legal to read in international waters.
As proof of my love for Rocky Horror, I’d like to share a photo. Be warned: you’re about to learn a lot more about me than you ever wanted to.
Yes, I know that photo looks like a still image the camera holds on during a horrifying crime documentary while the narrator gravely intones “the rest of the penises… were never found,” but there’s something magical about Rocky Horror, and if you haven’t experienced it yourself I’m not sure how to express it to you. Maybe that’s the reason for its longevity – it has the perfect, inexplicable magic of cinema.
William Kuechenberg is a repped screenwriter, a Nicholl Top 50 Finalist, and an award-winning filmmaker. He’s currently looking to be a writer’s assistant or showrunner’s assistant on a television show: tell your friends, and if you don’t have any friends, tell your enemies! You can also view his mind-diarrhea on twitter.
Top image: 20th Century Fox