Director: Jim Sharman
Production: Twentieth Century-Fox; Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 100 minutes. Released 1975.
Producers: Michael White with John Goldstone; executive producer: Lou Adler; screenplay: Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien, from the play by O'Brien; photography: Peter Suschitzky; editors: Graeme Clifford; art director: Terry Ackland Snow; design consultant: Brian Thomson; songs: Richard O'Brien; music director: Richard Hartley; special effects: Wally Veevers; costume designers: Richard Pointing and Gillian Dods; costume consultant: Sue Blane.
Tim Curry (
Dr. Frank N. Furter
); Barry Bostwick (
); Susan Sarandon (
); Richard O'Brien (
); Jonathan Adams (
Dr. Everett Scott
); Nell Campbell (
); Peter Hinwood (
); Meat Loaf (
); Patricia Quinn (
); Charles Gray (
); Hilary Labow (
); Jeremy Newson (
); Frank Lester (
); Mark Johnson (
); Koo Stark, Petra Leah, and Gina Barrie (
); John Marquand (
Henkin, Bill, The Rocky Horror Picture Show Book , New York, 1979.
Hoberman, J., and Jonathan Rosenbaum, Midnight Movies , New York, 1983.
Samuels, Stuart, Midnight Movies , New York, 1983.
Hollywood Reporter , 26 October 1974.
Rayns, Tony, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1975.
Listener (London), 28 August 1975.
Stuart, A., in Films and Filming (London), September 1975.
Pitman, J., in Variety (New York), 24 September 1975.
Care, R., in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), no. 2, 1976.
Monthly Film Bulletin (London), March 1976.
Behar, H., in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), October 1976.
"South Africa Bans Rocky Horror Pic," in Variety (New York), 13 October 1976.
Time Out (London), April 1979.
Segell, M., " Rocky Horror : The Case of the Rampant Audience," in Rolling Stone (New York), 5 April 1979.
Baer, W., in Film und Ton (Munich), July 1979.
Von Gunden, K., "The RH Factor," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1979.
Bold, R., in Christian Century (Chicago), 12 September 1979.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, "The Rocky Horror Picture Cult," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1980.
Starburst (London), no. 36, 1981.
Austin, B. A., "Portrait of a Cult Film Audience: The Rocky Horror Picture Show ," in Journal of Communication (Philadelphia), Spring 1981.
Screen International (London), July 1982.
Schaefer, S., "Rocky X , Penny, and the Mylons," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1986.
Studlar, G., "Midnight S/excess: Cult Configurations of 'Femininity' and the Perverse," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 17, no. 1 1989.
Hoberman, J., and Jonathan Rosenbaum, "Curse of the Cult People," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1991.
Aviram, A. F., "Postmodern Gay Dionysus: Dr. Frank N. Furter," in Journal of Popular Culture (Bowling Green, Ohio), no. 3, 1992.
Aknin, Laurent, "'I Was a Regular Frankie Fan': Rocky Horror Picture Show , mode d'emploi," in Vertigo (Paris), no. 10, 1993.
Webb, C.H., "(Twenty) 20 Years Late to See The Rocky Horror Picture Show ," in Michigan Quarterly Review , vol. 34, no. 4, 1995.
"In a Time Warp," in Newsweek , vol. 133, no. 3, 18 January 1999.
* * *
Less interesting as cinema than as a social phenomenon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show began as a hit British fringe musical. Richard O'Brien's The Rocky Horror Show was first staged in 1973 at the Theatre Upstairs, with Tim Curry and O'Brien creating the roles of Frank N. Furter, bisexual transvestite mad scientist from another world, and Riff-Raff, Furter's hunchbacked assistant. The Rocky Horror Picture Show arrived on screens in 1975 just after The Rocky Horror Show closed disastrously on Broadway, prompting 20th Century Fox to throw it away. Nevertheless, the film made a comeback as a midnight attraction across America, gaining an increasingly devoted following. The fancy-dress fanatics who patronize the film indulge in an unprecedented interaction with the on-screen events, interpolating new lines as footnotes to the dialogue (yelling "No Neck" every time Charles Gray appears, for instance), and challenging the passive nature of the cinema-going experience. A write-off on its straight release, this midnight movie has been playing continuously for nearly 20 years, a rare cult movie whose cumulative earnings rank it financially with a mainstream first-run hit.
Informed by O'Brien's love for the arcana of 1950s American pop culture (rock 'n' roll, monster movies, Charles Atlas ads, rebel bikers), the show is filtered through a staid British sensibility (Americans can hardly be expected to recognize Gray's criminologist as a parody of Edgar Lustgarten), unleashed by the rock opera conventions of Hair (which O'Brien and Curry had been in) and the early 1970s craze for androgynous glitter rock. Borrowing an archetypal plot (perhaps from Edgar G. Ulmer's The Black Cat , 1934; or Don Sharp's disguised remake Kiss of the Vampire , 1964), the story opens with staunch hero Brad (Barry Bostwick) and virginal heroine Janet (Susan Sarandon) forced by a flat tire and a rainstorm to spend the night in a Middle American castle. They encounter a troupe of dancing aliens from the Planet Transylvania, and the fun-loving Dr. Frank N. Furter, who minces around in a basque and fishnet stockings belting out a torch song ("I'm a Sweet Transvestite From Transsexual, Transylvania"), creates a new-born beefcake monster Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood) for sexual purposes, and takes time to seduce both Janet and Brad. The liberated Janet has a fling with Rocky which, in a surprisingly conservative touch for such an abandoned production, brings disaster down as Frank goes out of control and has to be repressed by his puritanical servant Riff Raff.
O'Brien's catchy score is outstanding (the lyrics are especially clever) and the cast all have real attack (only Sarandon attempts subtlety), but the film is a less satisfying blend of horror pastiche and rock 'n' roll than Brian DePalma's The Phantom of the Paradise (1974). DePalma uses a classical horror story to get inside the equivalent myths of rock as an industry and a cultural force, but Sharman and O'Brien just scatter train-spotterish references to Famous Monsters of Filmland trivia (the first line, sung by a disembodied set of lips, is "Michael Rennie was ill the Day the Earth Stood Still. . . .") and scorchin' rock numbers through a panto-level plot. While its audience might take The Rocky Horror Picture Show as an endorsement of polysexual liberation, with an enthusiastic if joky depiction of transvestism and homosexuality, the theme has mainly been included to make jokes at the expense of Alice Cooper and David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust phase. Curry energetically makes a case for Frank, a camp icon over-the-top enough to be unthreatening, as a sympathetic libertarian, but the script has him as a Frankensteinian father who has created a child solely to molest him and, in a peevish moment, the casual murderer of a cast-off lover (Meat Loaf). The most honest emotional moment comes after the servant's slaying of his master, as Riff Raff's sister Magenta (Patricia Quinn) puzzles, "I thought you liked him . . . he liked you" only to have the hunchback, played by the real creator of Rocky Horror , howl " He never liked me !"
The straining necessary to restage an intimate musical in a studio makes the film ragged at the edges: the camera doesn't know where it should be in the dances, characters run about to little purpose, the action never strays from the old dark house, numbers end on awkward pauses for applause and feeble jokes ("Do any of you know how to Madison?" Brad asks after "The Time Warp"). These pauses invite the catcalls of the cultists, but they show up as dead spots when the film is seen on video or television or in a "straight" venue. The freakish nature of the film's success is underlined by its creators' inability, in the semi-sequel Shock Treatment (1981), to do it again.