The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Still Driving Us Insane 45 Years Later

“Stay sane inside insanity!” is a line that perfectly describes the cultural phenomenon that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Originally written by Richard O’Brien as a play, and later adapted into the big screen by director Jim Sharman, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, first released forty-four years ago, still spawns massive troops of faithful followers on a weekly basis, troops that know the movie by line, memorize the fan-made counter point dialogue and dress up as the characters in delicately made costumes. But one might hear that a movie about a mad transsexual scientist who later turns out to be an alien from a galaxy called Transylvania is the longest-running theatrical release in film history and blamelessly wonder why.

Brad and Janet go to their friends’ wedding, and Brad takes the opportunity to propose, and thus they become engaged. To celebrate, they decide to visit ex-tutor and now friend to both of them, Dr. Everett Scott, who was the reason they first met. On the road, a tire blows up and they seek help in a castle whose front sign clearly says, “Enter at your own risk”. They enter of course, and they are greeted by Riff Raff, one of the servants in the castle, who then leads them to the main hall, and they witness a ceremonial dance called the “Time Warp”. After the dance is over, Dr. Frank N’ Furter, scientist and owner of the castle, makes his entrance and invites the couple to spend the night, although invite is a bit of a misleading word, as their clothes are literally torn off them by the servants who shepherd them to an elevator afterwards. Frank N’ Furter reveals to his “unconventional conventionists” that he has discovered the secret to life itself and succeeded in creating a muscle man to please his wild sexual fantasies. Minutes later, Rocky is born, but his first birthday is interrupted by Eddie, ex-lover of Dr. Frank. The mad scientist who doesn’t want the spotlight taken off his new beautiful creature brutally murders Eddie with an axe, and then he and Rocky walk to their bridal suite in the midst of claps and cheers. The party then is obviously over and Brad and Janet are led to separate bedrooms, where they are later visited by a disguised Frank N’ Furter who takes both their virginities. In the meantime, Riff Raff assaults Rocky and sets the castle dogs loose on him, and after a long escape, he finds his way into the arms of Janet. Dr. Everett Scott then arrives, and he and the rest of the characters enter the room where Janet and Rocky are “being intimate” and an enraged Frank N’ Furter leads everybody to dinner with “formal dress to be optional”. The meal is then revealed to be Eddie’s corpse, and when Janet in fright runs to the arms of Rocky, Frank gets even angrier and freezes everybody through a device called Medusa. The floor show then begins with Brad, Janet, Colombia and Rocky getting unfrozen and performing fractions of a song in praise of Frank N’ Furter’s sexuality and voluptuousness, and then he makes his entrance and sings his fraction which also praises the same things, and the performance is finished with the five of them jumping into a pool and repeating the words, “Don’t dream it, be it.” Riff Raff and his sister Magenta enter the stage and reveal to everybody that they and Dr. Frank are from a planet called Transsexual in a galaxy called Transylvania, and then they murder their master, evict Brad, Janet and Dr. Scott, and beam the castle back to their home planet, and the film ends with the young couple questioning the meaning of their existence as they roll around in dirt. Quite a simple plot, isn’t it?

Dr. Frank N' Furter during the floor show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, now an international cultural phenomenon, had very humble beginnings. Creator Richard O’ Brian wrote the script during one winter to keep himself busy as a tribute to classic science fiction and B horror movies, and when he showed the script to Jim Sharman, the latter decided to direct it at a small theater in London. It did fairly okay, and two years later, it was decided that it should be adapted into the silver screen. The film was shot at a building which was famous for a number of Hammer films, which Rocky Horror pays tribute to. Filming conditions were very poor as it was shot during autumn, and Susan Sarandon even fell ill with pneumonia. The costumes, which the world would later come to know and adore, were designed by a Sue Blane, who admits that she knew nothing about science fiction and that she did not conduct any research beforehand. The costumes however turned out to be a massive success and were a direct influence on Punk fashion and the LGBT scene.

Frank N' Furter's iconic costume in RHPS

The film performed very poorly upon its release in 1975, and was immediately pulled off theaters. But a year later, it was shown again through midnight screenings and started to gain more popularity. But what gave it its current fame is the fans, who after a while, started showing up in costume, talking back to the film, which became known as the counter point dialogue, forming fan clubs, reenacting the scenes as the film played out and holding annual conventions. Decades later, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and cult classic are almost synonymous and the craze is nowhere near dead, nor do I think it ever will be.

Fame (1980) depicting a midnight screening of RHPS

Admittedly, there are very few plots that are as crazy as Rocky Horror’s and one might wonder if it has any meaning at all. Well, the film is mainly meant to be a tribute, a tribute to many things. The opening song, “Science Fiction\Double Feature”, is a brilliant homage to classic science fiction films of the 1930’s to the early 1960’s, such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Day of the Triffids (1962) and When Worlds Collide (1951). The film is also a tribute to classic Rock N’ Roll and early Glam Rock. Eddie in the film represents the values early Rock N’ Roll preached, and then it was quickly replaced by Glam, which Rocky in the film represents, a genre that was more about looks than music. One of Dr. Frank N’ Furter’s lines in the film clearly shows this depiction. When he is done murdering Eddie, he goes to Rocky and says, “It was a mercy killing, he had a certain naïve charm, but no muscle.” When Riff Raff and Magenta rebel against Frank, they say, ” Your mission is a failure, your lifestyle is too extreme”, which was the reason why Glam didn’t last for long.

It would be nearly impossible for me to say anything bad about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’ve seen it dozens of times, I know it by line, I listen to its memorable soundtrack on the way to school, I quote obscure lines from it in random conversations and receive weird reactions. But what is humbling and at the same time amazing about the whole experience is knowing that there are millions of fans out there who are just as passionate about this film as I am. Tim Curry, the actor who played Dr Frank N’ Furter, turns 74 years old today, and I took the opportunity to finally review my favorite film of all time, and I’d like to end it with my most sincere thanks to that man who more than once made my face do anything but ache.


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