TITLE: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
DIRECTOR: Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman
CAST: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Meat Loaf, Charles Gray
SELENE PAXTON-BROOKS does the Time Warp again as she looks back on cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Let’s do the Timewarp… oops, sorry! Watching this film truly brings you into a world like no other.
Richard O’Brien claims that he wrote the original theatre production as an excuse to use songs that he had written but never performed, but what he actually did was create a musical phenomena that has become the longest running cinema film release of all time.
Originally just a fringe theatre production, 20th Century Fox bought into it with their only constraint being that two American actors, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick (apparently an item at the time), played lead roles.
The film was shot in six weeks at Bray Studios and Oakley Court in Berkshire, and its style echoes that of the Hammer Productions which were also filmed there.
Dr. Frank N Furter’s castle, the beautiful Victorian gothic folly also features in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein and Plague of the Zombies. At the time of filming it was in a state of disrepair, but it has since been renovated and is now a luxury hotel and conference centre on the A308 between Maidenhead and Winsor.
Classified as a musical comedy, I have never really found it funny in any way.
I originally saw it at one of its midnight showings at a local London cinema in 1983, and if today you manage to find one of these still frequent midnight extravaganzas best dress appropriately (as a gothic party goer preferably wearing stockings and suspenders) and take your props!
The film has been voted No.1 Cult Classic of all time and has a huge following famous for its audience participation, based on dramatic pauses and verbal call backs – in fact you can even print off a whole script of come backs, particularly useful for parties in front of the DVD at home!!
Right, back to the film itself! The film begins with Magenta’s (Patricia Quinn) disembodied lips introducing the ‘science fiction double feature’. Here O’Brien is harking back to his favourite classic horrors and Sci-fi movies produced between 1930s to 50s, mentioning King Hong (1933) and Forbidden Planet (1956) in the lyrics.
We then join the throng of guests at Betty and Ralph’s wedding in front of Denton church, a seemingly normal occasion except for maybe the church wardens, who show an amazing similarity to the painting ‘American Gothic’ (Grant Wood, 1930) standing outside the chapel doors – now remember to throw your rice! We meet the young, innocent, all American couple Brad and Janet, and as Brad proposes his love to Janet, ‘Damn it, Janet’ we are also introduced to three of the other actors in the film; O’Brien, Quinn and Campbell, albeit out of costumes worn throughout the main chunk of the film.
Our next meeting is with an eminent criminologist (Charles Gray) who becomes our narrator throughout the film. Dressed in the typically British detective attire of velvet suit and cravat, and looking particularly ‘Penguinesque’ (Batman’s Burgess Meredith springs to mind), he, along with his files and diagrams, is here to help us through the intricate details of the show from his equally Victorian office.
With claps of thunder and torrential rain the heroes find themselves with a tyre blow out and using the immortal words ‘Didn’t we pass a castle back down the road a few miles…’ (Get your newspapers ready!), leave the car in search of a telephone. This feels very ‘Scoobie Doo’ cartoonish, with the ‘Enter at your own risk’ sign and the ‘kids’ walking up to the castle where they can see a light (lighter, candle or phone torch at the ready). I love the next few scenes! Castle, lightning and our first view of Riff Raff at the window, all reminiscent of Hammer Horror’s antisippppppppation before something vile and evil begins!
Brad and Janet enter the haunted house and realise there is some sort of party going on. The clock chimes (actually this coffin clock contained a real skeleton and was auctioned off by Sotherby’s in March 2002 for £35,000) and the audience is introduced to the party by way of ‘The Timewarp’. ‘It’s just a jump to the left… just follow the instructions, like everyone else, it drives you ‘quite insssssaaaaaane, let’s do the Timewarp again’. (I know I can’t help myself, an I’m just a little too in love with Richard O’Brien in this part of the film… swoon!) Amazingly, this scene was only added in rehearsals as it was felt they needed a dance number to pad out the original 40 min script, you wouldn’t have thought it as it’s now probably the most famous selection of the film.
Our next treat is to meet Dr. Frank N Furter (Tim Curry) himself, with his Dracula cape, Monroe pearls, seductive pouts, ‘Boss’ tattoo and… basque, suspenders and stockings. The sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania, introduces himself with an amazing singing voice and Curry’s portrayal is totally believable, in fact I go as far as to say that he makes the film, truly a joy to behold! Frank is Dr. Frankenstein with a twist, creating a man in his lab, even giving us a speech that tells us he holds the secret to life itself (don’t forget your rubber gloves and football rattle).
Frank introduces us to his man/monster, Rocky, wrapped in bandages, with Riff Raff playing the part of Igor, Frank’s trusty servant. This is shot just like many classic horrors and could actually be seen as quite scary on the first viewing, with its sound and lighting effects that bring Rocky (Peter Hinwood, who was actually a model, had never acted before and never speaks in the movie) to life. However, Rocky’s singing (vocal dubbed by Trevor White) lightens the mood with a Rock ‘n’ Roll style audience participation ‘It ain’t no crime’, and Frank chases him round the lab on his hands and knees draws us back to the ridiculousness of the scene.
Eddie (Meat Loaf) then rides through the deep freeze on a motorbike and we get to meet another of Frank’s creations, actually Dr. Scott’s nephew – but more of that later! This becomes a great Rock ‘n’ Roll romp, Columbia (Little Nell) is delighted to see her true love, but Frank is not a happy bunny and ends up chopping him up with an axe, complaining about his lack of muscle. Frank explains that ‘in just seven days I can make you a man’ and proceeds to marry Rocky (throw confetti, please).
From here on the film gets a little dull, we seem to have done with all the massive catchy dance numbers, so the film now plays on the audience becoming voyeurs of Frank’s deflowering of our sweet, innocent heroes, behind swathes of pink or blue (yep pink for girls etc) silk, almost like a Victorian peepshow played out on a ‘What the Butler Saw’ machine.
Meanwhile, Riff Raff taunts Rocky with a candle stick worthy of any Hammer Production, allowing him to escape off into the castle. Riff Raff alerts Frank and our lovely Janet comes across the sobbing Rocky, whom she obviously has to comfort! “Tell us about it Janet…” say Columbia and Magenta as they view and join in with her chorus ‘Toucher, toucher, touch me, Creature of the Night’.
We now meet our final main character, visitor to the castle Dr Everett V. Scott (Jonathan Adams) ex-tutor to Brad Majors and rival scientist to Dr. Frank N Furter, who arrives at the castle in his wheelchair, how he got there is never actually explained. Frank invites him up using a sort of magnetic route-way through the castle, through Columbia and Magenta’s typically 1970’s bedroom, through a wall and into the lab. Scott explains that he has come in search of Eddie, his nephew and ‘no good kid’, and we get, in my opinion, the only mildly comical scene in the film as the main characters meet and repeat each others names.
Dinner is then served! (Get toast ready to cast into the air) Frank carves with a traditional electric carving knife, just like my mum had in the 1970’s, and we see tankards, a carafe of wine, celery sticks on the table, and a plastic squeezy bottle of ketchup (yes, we had those too!). The cast sit perfectly still, it is dull, time is wasted (wear your party hat to sing Happy Birthday to Rocky) and after what has come before this part of the film seems slow, even with the revelation that we are dealing with aliens.
So after a brief reprieve, Frank reveals Eddie’s body, which apparently the cast didn’t know was hidden under the dinner table, and Janet falls into the arms of Rocky. Taking umbrage at this Frank slaps Janet and chases her through the house, back to the lab, telling her that she needs to ‘wise up, Janet Weiss’, whilst Brad looses his glasses and pushes Dr. Scott after them. Frank uses his ‘Sonic Transducer’ to glue them to the spot and in true Sci-Fi style Dr. Scott explains about the alien transportation device. Curry gives us another outstanding performance here, playing his part beautifully, really getting into character, ending with the classic line, ‘It’s not easy having a good time.’
Here we move to the grand finale, the grand ‘floorshow’ to end all shows. Cut to theatre stage, with all dressed with feather bowers, basques and suspenders, playing out their final parts. The stage curtain lifts to show a huge black and white ‘An RKO Radio Picture’ logo, again re-enforcing the connection with classic film, and based on the celebrated Hollywood production and distribution company of the 1930s which gave us King Hong and Citizen Kane. Frank sings ‘Absolute Pleasure’ perhaps reminding us of the fabulous b/w films of the past as well as the sexual innuendos hinted at in the song. In fact O’Brien’s dreams were coming true! Who would have thought that an American production company such as 20th Century Fox would have wanted to make a film out of his barely known stage show? Who was to know that the success of both the film and the theatrical production would last over 40 years, and would be loved and adored by thousands of fans all over the world?
Curry’s final rendition of ‘Don’t dream, it be it’ pulls at the heart strings of a project that could have ended up like the S.S Titanic’s buoyancy ring, which Frank uses to float around the swimming pool in, all at sea and sucked into obscurity.
We leave the film with the realisation that Riff Raff and his sister, Magenta, are really aliens from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. With fantastic glam-rock style costumes (by the way, makeup for the film was created by Pierre La Roche who devised David Bowie’s famous glam looks) and Magenta’s Bride of Frankenstein hair, there is certainly no comedy here! Frank’s ‘I’m Going Home’ shows us his ‘human’ side, we actually feel sorry for him, especially when Riff Raff uses his laser of pure antimatter, shaped like a pitch fork he holds in the opening scenes, to ultimately save the human race by destroying half of the cast. Rocky comes to save his master by, in true King Hong fashion, climbing the RKO tower, only to fall to his death in the swimming pool beneath. And so the whole castle is beamed into space to a reprise of the Timewarp, leaving Dr. Scott, Brad and Janet to crawl though dry ice, back to their lives in Denton.
I truly love this film! Rather than a comedy I think it is a good time film, one that wraps you up and splits you out at the end wondering what just happened to you in between. Great to see with friends, at the cinema or at the theatre, it is one of those small gems that make you smile, laugh and leaves you wanting more. Actually, there was a sequel made by O’Brien in 1981 called ‘Shock Treatment’, containing some of the original cast, but it just didn’t take off. How could it when ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ had already become such a cult success? There’s just nothing left to say, apart from… ‘Let’s do the Timewarp again’.