“I’m just a sweet transvestite, from Transsexual Transylvania” – Dr. Frank-N-Furter
As Halloween draws ever closer, every kind of monster movie gets dusted off and played nationwide again. And there is no film more kooky or beloved than this cult classic. The year is 1975, a time that saw Charlie Chaplin knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, Wheel of Fortune debut on NBC and Atari releasing the first home version of Pong. So let’s do the time warp again back to a great year with one of its most memorable films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Jim Sharman’s taking the 1973 stage show and turning it into a feature film took creative genius. Working in tandem with the show’s creator Richard O’Brien, they took a screwball comedy horror musical and turned into one of the fabulous films of the decade. He managed to plug right into the core of the show, a wacky musical both honoring and lampooning B-movie horror and sci-fi movies, with a wonderful end result.
There are many elements that make The Rocky Horror Picture Show such a memorable movie. Chief among those are the zany plot, ensemble cast of actors and actresses and, of course, out of this world songs.
This whole movie is both homage and mockery. It’s intended target is the classic B-science fiction and classic horror movies that flourished in previous decades. Drawing from many of the cinematic greats, Sharman and O’Brien’s final work is an engaging and out there plot that spirals totally out of control. Throw in the far-out cast and it’s clear why there is no movie quite like Rocky Horror.
As previously stated, the cast for a movie like this is massive, with everyone sharing equal amounts of screen-time throughout. From Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon as heroes Brad and Janet, to Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell as Riff Raff, Magenta and Columbia, to Peter Hinwood as muscle man Rocky and Meat Loaf as Eddie, each and every single person gets time to shine. They fill roles that are almost stereotypical for the stories they are honoring/making fun of, but at the same time, all deviate from the norm. There’s a lot going on underneath Brad and Janet’s wholesome exteriors, and it comes out in a big, big way thanks to the efforts of Riff Raff, Magenta, Columbia, Rocky and especially their “master,” Dr. Frank-N-Furter (played by the fantastically talented Tim Curry).
No star shines quiet as bright as Tim Curry, stepping once again into the wild role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter. From the moment he appears on camera to his final scene with a sad/dramatic death, Curry has a way of stealing the show. His movements, his voice, his singing and acting, all of them are what has made Frank-N-Furter one Curry’s most beloved characters over his many years of performing. Tim is both sinister and sensual, fun and frightening, mad and marvelous. In short, he’s dynamite strapped to a rocket set straight for the stars and there’s been no turning back since.
Such a movie also needs its two ‘straight’ men, actors who are well-established that fill small but vital roles. Enter Charles Gray (The Criminologist) and Jonathan Adams (Dr. Scott). Gray and Adams were mainstays of theater, movies and TV by the time they were called up for the cast. And while Adams as Dr. Scott also succumbs to the musical decadence of Frank-N-Furter, Gray as the Criminologist gives strong narrative and even could be seen as the only ‘sane’ figure in story filled with madness.
It would be utterly criminal to write about such a cult classic and not talk about the songs. There is not one piece of music that isn’t beloved and well-known. From ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature‘ and ‘Dammit Janet’ to ‘Hot Patootie’ and ‘Rose Tint My World,’ there isn’t probably a person alive who doesn’t know several of these tracks. And let’s not forget two of the most famous and fabulous songs, ‘Time Warp‘ and ‘Sweet Transvestite.’ ‘Time Warp’ is a classic, both as a song and a dance, people know it just from the just opening notes. ‘Sweet Transvestite’ is very much the same, a piece that resonates throughout people’s lives for its vapidly vivid and proactive lyrics. Truly, there is no soundtrack quite like this one, and it will remain a powerhouse for decades to come.
At the time of its release, the movie sadly flew mostly under the radar. The few critics that paid it notice didn’t give much in the way of favorable reviews. Roger Ebert wrote a piece on it a year after its release, stating that:
While only one part of his overall review, it’s clear that even one year later, the movie wasn’t thrilling the critics. Audiences on the other hand, are another story. To this day, around Halloween, movie theaters everywhere put The Rocky Horror Picture Show on their screens and fans congregate for late showings dressed up as their favorite characters to participate in the midnight madness that comes along for the ride. It’s the only film to date that is still shown in limited release yearly, making it the longest running movie in the history of cinema.
There’s a certain wonderful warmth about a movie like this. It’s timeless, it’s gaudy, it’s wonderful and wild and insanely silly. And yet it is also a beloved piece of cinematic delight for long-time fans and newcomers. This is without a doubt one of the main staples of the Halloween movie scene, and should for sure be on the film list for everyone who enjoys this time year. So make a point to kick back and relax, do the time warp again over at the Frankenstein place, and enjoy what will always be a great piece of fright comedy gold.