Time Warp This: The Rocky Horror Picture Show Remains Ageless

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975
Directed by Jim Sharman, Written by  Jim Sharman & Richard O’Brien
Starring: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Meatloaf, Richard O’Brien, Barry Bostwick

When I was 18, my friends tried to convince me to go to a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on our university campus. I immediately had a flashback to being terrified of the VHS cover of this movie as a child after finding it on the bookshelf in the family room. It was just a pair of blood red lips,  the title in a menacing font. I put my foot down, refused to watch it with my friends, and found myself in a classroom 30 minutes later watching the opening credits. And thus began my love for this ridiculous, fabulously bizarre film.

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Directed by Jim Sharman, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in 1975, but prior to that it was a 1973 stage production created by Richard O’Brien (who co-wrote the film’s screenplay and also played a lead role). The film watches as a young couple becomes engaged and then finds themselves stranded with a flat tire during a storm. Hoping to find a phone they approach a large castle where they meet a handful of the most peculiar characters. The film follows their night as they play the role of guests humouring their strange host and bearing witness to this odd household and its inhabitants. If I were to start mentioning details, a lot of confusion would ensue.

Tim Curry plays the fabulous Dr. Frank-N-Furter who enjoys strutting around in 5-inch heels and sparkly corsets. Susan Sarandon, looking young and fresh faced, Barry Botswick, Charles Gray, and Meat Loaf also star in this cult classic. This film was like nothing any one had every seen before. The puns, the blatant sexual humour, the reference to homosexuality (remember, this was the 70’s) the costumes, and the overall craziness of the film swirled together to make what is now the longest running theatrical release in cinematic history.

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The music used in the film doesn’t fit the typical structure of musicals like Mamma Mia or Hairspray. Songs from those films seem to convey the characters feelings so emotionally and organically. In this film, songs are used to shock the audience, whether it’s Curry making his entrance looking like a vampire drag queen or Meat Loaf bursting out of a freezer back from the dead, or Sarandon confessing she’s a virgin, then proceeding to…ahem, eradicate that, with Curry’s boy toy creation. These are not songs you sing lovingly to the man of your dreams or to your daughter because she means so much to you. These songs are more of the punch-in-your-throat variety. They appear out of nowhere, usually accompanied by some “folk dancing” or a lot of running around, and they get a little more ridiculous as the film continues. The music, especially as the story follows the young couple into mad scientist’s castle, become Frank-N-Furter’s props as he reveals the kind of bizarre life he leads and his unusual hobbies.

Despite all of these fantastic elements that make this movie the stuff of weird legends, the film got off to a very slow start. It wasn’t doing well in theaters, so it was suggested that it be shown as a “midnight movie”, something that only screens in the late evening. Once that began happening, it exploded. The same people began to see multiple showings constantly and began dressing up like the characters to attend the shows. It wasn’t long after that moviegoers began quoting the film word for word at the front of the theater like a live action skit. Props were seen next and the result, after 40 years of evolution, is a movie experience that everyone should experience at least once.

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I went to a midnight showing on Halloween one year, and, having never been before, I had no idea what to expect. I was blown away at the elaborate costumes people were wearing in line. I, in jeans and a T-shirt, stuck out like a sore thumb against those in thigh-highs and sequins. In the theater was a mess of scattered rice, newspapers, toast, and other weird things that had no business being in a theater. Or so I thought. Audience participation is highly encouraged when viewing the movie in theaters. Those who have never been to one are considered virgins and usually come equipped with a list of cues to use props or yell things at the screen.  Picture 3A (2)

These showings can be found in major cities around the world and are part of the reason why the film continues to have the longest theatrical release in history. The entire experience is something to behold, or, if you feel as if it’s a bit too intense, the film itself pairs nicely with a couch and a pizza at home.

The film combines ordinary wit the almost unfathomable extraordinary, twisting the viewers’ world until they too believe that garter belts and gold Speedos are completely appropriate attire for men. The cult that surrounds it is fiercely loyal and has become a community that can be found around the world. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become better with age and continues to delight generations with its strange and twisted madness.

Further references for virgins: Prop list for showings: http://www.rockyhorrorfan.com/audience%20participation.html

Pretty much everything you want to know about audience participation: http://www.rockyhorror.com/participation/

Leah Morrison is a Toronto-based writer who recently wrote on another essential musical film: The Blues Brothers.  You can find Leah on twitter: @Leah12Morrison, Instagram or her blog.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show feature is part of our ongoing film review series: Lust for Life: The Music of Film, where Step On magazine writers take a look at all the films about music and made of great music that are the soundtrack of our lives.