The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Dir: Jim Sharman, 1975

9/10

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Are you shivering with antici…….pation?

Richard O’Brien’s movie of his hit stage production The Rocky Horror Show is a fantastic, feel good, foot tapping, rousing, rollicking good time.

Inspired by the sci-fi B-movies he used to see at Tasmanian cinemas as a young boy, O’Brien (who’s real name is the less than ordinary Smith) wrote, scored and starred in this Frankenstein tale with a twist.

Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) are two, young high school sweethearts. Whiter than white and purer than a mountain stream, the straitlaced couple decide to see their old tutor, Dr. Everett Scott, who’s science class they first met.

Attending a mutual friends wedding, Brad decides to pop the question to Janet to which she excitedly accepts

At various points, the criminologist/narrator (Charles Gray) relates the story of Brad and Janet and their life changing night.

Driving to their friend’s house, the car bursts a tyre and the spare isn’t fixed, either. Pouring down with rain, they both decide to go to the castle they passed by earlier in the hope of using a telephone.

Reaching the doors to the gothic abode, they are greeted by a hunchbacked, dour, morose butler, Riff-Raff (Richard O’Brien).

Inviting them in out of the rain, the wholesome duo are introduced to Riff-Raff’s sister and maid, Magenta (Patricia Quinn). An exuberant party is taking place in the ballroom. It is there that they also make acquaintances with Columbia (Little Nell), a groupie.

Joining them is the master of the house and host of the party, Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter (Tim Curry); a mad, transvestite scientist clad in stockings and suspenders.

Frank has created a man for his pleasure and the guests are invited to witness the spectacular ‘birth’ of his work, Rocky (Peter Hinwood).

The soiree is interrupted by a previous test gone awry when Eddie (Meat Loaf), erstwhile delivery boy and boyfriend of Columbia, is defrosted from the freezer.

Enraged at Eddie’s impertinence, Frank murders him with a pick axe.

With the affair reaching the end, the uptight couple is shown to separate bedrooms. Brad and Janet are both seduced by Frank, taking their virginity.

Filled with guilt and shame, Janet searches the castle for Brad and finds Rocky whimpering. They have sex.

The duo’s old teacher, Dr. Scott (Jonathan Adams), arrives at the castle with questions about Eddie.

Over dinner, it is revealed that Eddie was Dr. Scott’s nephew and posted a letter to his uncle fearing for his life.

A further revelation is that the meat they were eating was, in fact, Eddie himself!

Angry at what he feels is a betrayal by Rocky and the guests, Frank has them turned into statues by the Medusa machine, Columbia included. Scott informs Brad and Janet that Frank and his cohorts are, in fact, aliens.

Dressing them up in corsets and suspenders, the scientist turns them back to humans via the De-Medusa machine. An extravagant floor show is performed with Furter being the main star.

However, the performance is brought to a halt by Riff-Raff and Magenta, brandishing a laser. They mutiny against their employer and seize control of everything, killing Frank ‘N’ Furter, Rocky and Columbia.

They release the trio of friends and blast the castle, which is a disguised spaceship, back to their home planet of Transsexual, in the Transylvanian galaxy.

The friends are caught in the blast of the take off and crawl the ground, charred and burnt, lamenting of what they’ve experienced and the impact it will have.

First staged in 1973 at the Royal Court Theatre (Upstairs), the primary feeling of the cast, and O’Brien himself was that it was a time filler, lasting three weeks at best. The cast included Julie Covington, Christopher Malcolm, Tim Curry, Little Nell, Jonathan Adams, Patricia Quinn, Raynor Bourton and O’Brien.

It performed for just little over a month to critical and commercial acclaim. Music mogul Jonathan King saw the show and offered the cast the chance to make a cast recording.

Transferring to Broadway, the play didn’t make as big of an impact but enough to garner some recognition. Twentieth Century Fox made a deal to turn the show into a film.

During production a new structure had occurred at Fox and senior management was replaced. The replacements hated Rocky Horror and wanted nothing to do with it.

A very modest budget at only $1.4 million, and no effort in publicising, the film was a financial and critical failure, bombing at the box office. Fox, was all ready to write it off.

After the success of midnight screenings of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos and cult exploitation flick Reefer Madness, Fox tried their luck. It was a hit and a phenomenon was started.

It’s not difficult to see why it bombed on release. It was too “out there” for the cinema. Mainstream America didn’t know what to make of it. Britain had the stage show and the film doesn’t really compare to it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a brilliant film. The music is outstanding. It’s so much fun. Watching this gives you a great feeling. A feelgood movie.

But, once you’ve seen the stage play it pales in comparison. The spontaneity of the live performances, the ad libbed dialogue, the risque jokes..all gone. Seeing it on stage with the audience dressed up as the characters and interacting with the cast is one of the best times you’ll ever have.

The film feels somewhat muted. Being projected onto a cinema screen some elements of the play had to go. There is no longer an Usherette singing the opening theme while walking up and down the aisles and scenes had to be deleted.

Employing bigger effects, the cheap B-movie feel that they were going for is lost. On stage, it’s all cardboard sets and flashing lights. A winning combination.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s soundtrack is more professional but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Listening to the 1973 original cast recording of the show, you can sense an amateurish mix which is wonderful. There is kind of a flat sound to it and a slight off-kilter tone to the singing. Here, the songs are more rocky (every pun intended). Heavy guitars, saxophones, an orchestra. A prime example of more is less.

Released in the UK with an ‘AA’ certificate, it meant only people aged 14 and over could see it. It was released on video in the early 80’s with a ’15’ certificate.

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Initial UK video release with an head scratcher of a sleeve

Strangely, the film was edited in America as it was felt that the ending was too downbeat, so the end song, Super Heroes, was removed.

US video availability for the film didn’t materialise until a lot later than other countries and with a hefty price tag of somewhere between $80 and $100. And it was the edited version.

Sometime in 1990, the film was rereleased on video in Britain, again with the ending intact.

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1990 Re-release

Confusingly, after a time, the tape began to be issued using the US print which had the ending missing.

It has been re-released several times on VHS, most prominently in 1995. This reissue restored the ending and featured the deleted song, Once In A While as an extra at the end.

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1995 digitally remastered re-release fullscreen version with glossy lettering. A wide screen video was also released.

A 2 disc DVD and single Blu-Ray has also been pressed, both of which are excellent, and special features packed including a commentary by the man who started it all, Richard O’Brien and his onscreen sister, Patricia Quinn.

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UK 2 disc DVD

To say how uninterested Fox was about the film, and how quick they were ready to bury it, they’ve certainly changed their tune, judging by all the cinema rereleases, video reissues, merchandise, you name it. A huge money maker for the billion dollar empire.

What is truly amazing is how a show that was nothing more than a hobby and had a life span of, roughly a month, if they were lucky, has become the sensation it has. Comics have been printed, a spin off made (O’Brien’s own Shock Treatment), and even computer games!

O’Brien and famed master of the macabre, Christopher Lee, teamed up to make the interactive CD-ROM game, The Rocky Interactive Horror Show.

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Advert for the CD-ROM game

So, bring your knees in tight and pelvic thrust the night away to Thr Rocky Horror Picture Show! Let’s do the time warp, again!

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