The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Directed by Jim Sharman
Written by Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman
Released August 14, 1975 in London
Review by Stephen O. Murray
September 13, 2002.
I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show—before it became a midnight extravaganza—in a second-run movie theater near the University of Toronto campus in the winter of 1975–76 (part of a[n early-night] double feature with either Royal Flash or Phantom of the Paradise). The audience did not (yet) know the words to the songs but thought most of the movie very funny. I liked most of the songs and got the soundtrack, which I was recurrently ordered to bring with me to parties in Tucson during the late 1970s. (It is surprising that I still like the music after having been forced to play it for visitors so often back then!)
I didn’t see one of the audience-participation midnight shows until I had moved to San Francisco in 1978, and did not see the movie again until a few months ago, when I watched it and a “making of” (25th anniversary) feature on AMC. I still found it funny and touching despite all the drag-queen knowingness.
There is a plot, a transvestized B- or C- science fiction movie plot about aliens partying in a mansion and very naive super-straight Middle Americans wandering into the alien lair and being frightened, perplexed, titillated, disinhibited…
Having taken a wrong turn driving at night, the (then offscreen as well as onscreen) couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) are marooned by a flat tire, having no spare. Wasn’t there a castle a ways back? They set out to ask to use the phone, are toyed with first by surly hunchbacked servant Riffraff (Richard O’Brien, who wrote the play and songs) and then by the master of the manse, Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry, recreating his London stage triumph). The party is to unveil and bring to life the transvestite’s fantasy blond sex toy, whom he will call “Rocky” (a vacuous muscleman played by Tim Hinwood). The main event is disrupted by the appearance of biker Eddie (Meatloaf), who sings “Hot Patootie” and then pays the price for upstaging Frank N. Furter.
Dr. Scott, a Kissinger sort of academic/spy, arrives to combat Frank for world domination (or something) but instead of being able to rescue his straight-arrow former student Brad shares his fate of being first turned to stone and then returned to life in high-lingerie drag. Plus a coup, a King Kong homage, and the departure of some of the aliens to their home on the planet Transylvania in a distant galaxy…
Although I’m no fan of chintzy 1950s sci-fi flicks, I at least know what the prolog song (sung during the credits by lips and tongue in extreme close-up) is referring to in the mournful “Late night double-feature picture show.”
The first song during the movie, Brad’s “Damnit Janet” is lame — parodic, but still lame. On the trudge through the rain, “There’s a light (over at the Frankenstein place)”, which has a vaguely gospel lilt as it goes from Susan Sarandon’s somewhat tremulous beginning to a chorus’s had-driving blessed assurance.
The big dance number is “The Time Warp.” Having been a disco bunny during the late-1970s, I’m certain that neither the song nor the dance made it out into the disco world, but the dance has been performed at innumerable audience-participation screenings.
Frank then has two expository numbers “(I’m a) Sweet Transvestite” and “I Can Make You a Man.” They establish the outré character of Dr. Frank and are intentionally corny (they can’t be campy, because camp requires sincerity on the part of those who seem laughable).
Meatloaf interrupts with his saxophone anthem “Hot Patootie,” a high-energy song that gets the partygoers dancing (when they are supposed to be looking reverentially at Frank’s triumphant creation of his boy toy).
As the virgin Janet is disinhibited by the omnisexual Frank (who goes from pretending to be Janet to pretending to be Brad) she bursts into “T-T-T-Touch Me (I Want to Feel Dirty)” and is immediately parodied by more jaded Transylvanians who have been watching everything on tv monitors. Magents then sings her dirge for “Eddie” and recalls when Frank was her partner (before Eddie, before Frank started working on making his muscle man).
A series of songs accompanies Frank’s floor show with all the main characters in female lingerie, centered on the hypnotic “Don’t Dream it, Be-ee- It.”
After Riff Raff takes charge, Frank has his Judy Garland ballad, “I’m Going Home” that segues into the King Kong climbing the RKO tower echo.
Those who have felt any sympathy for the strident but frustrated drag queen will be moved by the elegiac “Super Heroes,” which is followed by a plaintive continuation of the opening title’s “Late Night Science Fiction Double Feature Picture Show (I Want to Go).”
Most of the songs (except “Time Warp” and “Hot Patootie” move the story/ies along. I especially like the ones that comment on the failed aspirations (“Super Heroes” and “Science Fiction Double Feature Picture Show”) along with “Over at the Frankenstein Place.” I wouldn’t claim any are great songs, but they work very well to enhance the experience of feeling sympathetic for the arrogant killer transvestite.
Tim Curry was so convincing as Frank that it became hard for him to get cast as anything else. He asks “Whatever happened to Fay Wray?” in a song. At the time Curry probably did not suspect that he was going to recapitulate her experience of being forever defined by her role in “King Kong.” (However, in the King Kong homage, he is the ape, not Fay Wray.)
Susan Sarandon risked being typecast as a simpering bimbette, but went on to more serious roles, having demonstrated she could sing (like Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep, she is an actress who can sing, but not a singer).
Barry Bostwick continues to play charming befuddlement (Spin City and the Pepsi commercial in which Eddie Murphy asks “Who’s Barry Bostwick?” having peeled off Haille Berry). His Brad is touchingly game in trying to get along with the very strange group into whose midst he has stumbled with the fiancée he wants to protect.
Richard O’Brien is entertaining, especially when he gets into his space-travel tunic—and besides playing Riff Raff he supplied the lines and songs for everyone else.
I don’t think that Jonathan Adams is very funny as Dr. Everett Von Scott, but Peter Sellers (Dr. Stangelove) and Melina Mercouri (Nasty Habits) have done such hilarious parodies of Dr. Kissinger that it is tough to compete.
The criminologist/expert/talking head (Charles Gray) has better lines and the opportunity to spoof earnest experts in documentaries alternating between explaining the obvious and trying to explain what he has no clue about.
I think Rocky Horror remains funny and touching, with an entertaining, touching soundtrack with songs that are integrated into (indeed make) the story, rather than production numbers interrupting the story. (I’d say the same about last year’s Moulin Rouge).
published on epinions, 13 September 2002
©2002, 2016, Stephen O. Murray