The Rocky Horror Picture was remarkably ahead of its time. This bizarre burlesque of science fiction and monster movie tropes, by way of the musical, anticipates an entire subculture of sexuality and entertainment. Screenwriter Richard O’Brien was a genius and an outside whose unique vision was perhaps too far ahead of its time in 1975 when the film was released to modest acclaim.
O’Brien would continue to show how ahead of his time he was with his follow-up feature Shock Treatment which presaged the era of reality television by a couple of decades. But it remains Rocky Horror Picture Show where the genius of Richard O’Brien shines through. The film is a bizarre, spectacular and groovy musical populated by wild characters and an even wilder and unconventional story.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show tells the story of Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), a pair of newlyweds whose car broke down outside of a strange looking mansion somewhere in Texas. Seeking to get out of the rain and get some help for their car, Brad and Janet attend to the mansion to find it in the midst of a swinging party where oddballs in outlandish costumes are engaged in a remarkably well choreographed dance.
Brad and Janet are eventually ushered into the laboratory of their host, Dr Frank N Furter (Tim Curry), a cross-dressing madman or madwoman, who, on this night, proclaims that he/she is bringing new life into the world. He’s created a perfect specimen of manhood that he is calling Rocky (Peter Hinwood). However, Rocky’s big reveal is nearly ruined by the arrival of Eddie (Meatloaf, in his feature film debut), a delivery boy whose brain, Dr Frank stole and gave to Rocky, or, at least part of it.
Eventually it is decided that Brad and Janet must spend the night at the castle. The couple is separated into different bedrooms and are each seduced by Frank. Janet then ends up in bed with Rocky and all heck begins to break loose with the arrival of Brad and Janet’s college professor who is also Eddie’s uncle and an alien hunter. All of this comes together with a series of songs as Rocky Horror Picture Show is a musical that adheres to tropes of classic Hollywood musical by way of the punk underground.
Rocky Horror Picture Show is a dizzying spectacle, a vibrantly strange and alluring movie with a punk-pop edge. The songs are catchy and exciting, especially The Time Warp, the song that transcended the movie to make it on to pop radio, even as the movie was not an immediate hit in theaters. Time Warp is a novelty song but it is a great novelty song, a wildly catchy and alive tune with an absolutely awesome hook.
By all accounts, Rocky Horror Picture Show should have arrived and left theaters with little fanfare but few movies tapped the subculture in the way Rocky Horror did. The embracing of outre subjects like Transsexuality, homosexuality, and the beguiling performance of Tim Curry made the film an object of obsession amongst an underserved minority audience eager for movies that stood apart from the norm.
Rocky Horror Picture Show could not be further from mainstream tastes and that is exactly what made it so iconic on the midnight movie circuit. The film is at once a safe alternative to the grindhouse terrors of the 70’s horror genre that dominated the circuit and yet still outrageous enough to keep the squares away. That plus the unique invention of audience participation at screenings have kept Rocky Horror in the culture far longer than most movies that have attempted to tap this subculture.
I came to Rocky Horror Picture Show almost by accident. I was trying to impress a girl who was a fan and we watched it together on Halloween night nearly 20 years ago. The girl did not remain impressed with me but the movie impressed me with how bold and unique it was. Being of mainstream taste at the time, I was drawn in by how unconventional Rocky Horror Picture Show was while at the same time being recognizably conventional in structure.
The film is an easy to follow musical with great songs and unique characters. The counter-cultural touches, the wide ranging sexuality of the movie may put off some more conservative movie lovers but for people like me who remain desperate for movies that break traditional molds, it was and is a revelation. The film is weird and wonderful, it’s filled with colorful characters and a blinding charisma.
Rocky Horror Picture Show is just so darned unique and fascinating and yet homey and familiar in a strange way. It’s a glitzy, glorious musical that happens to be about transsexual aliens from a transsexual planet. I watch Rocky Horror Picture Show every Halloween like clockwork and I can’t wait to watch it again this year.