Synopsis: A newly engaged couple have a breakdown in an isolated area and must seek shelter at the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-n-Furter.
Stars: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Meat Loaf, Charles Gray
Director: Jim Sharman
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: To truly appreciate a show like Richard O’ Brien’s The Rocky Horror Show, you have to see it live on stage. That’s really the only way you can get the full-on experience of how O’Brien originally conceived it and see it for its clever ode to the schlock cinema from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Set to O’Brien’s undeniably catchy tunes and lyrics that range from the divine “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes” to the make-it-work “Planet, schmanet, Janet!”, the stage version premiered in 1973 in a small UK venue and gradually moved up through larger houses as word-of-mouth buzzed through town. American producer Lou Adler caught the show one night, saw $$$ after the recent success of Jesus Christ Superstar on stage and screen, and began the musical’s journey to cinemas at the same time it was crossing the pond to take on the U.S.
By the time The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened in 1975, the stage show had played a successful run of nine months in L.A. (with original London star Tim Curry and future movie cast member Meatloaf), transferred to Broadway with the same players, and closed after an infamously short run after a disastrous NYC reception. In between the two bi-coastal runs Curry and Meatloaf flew to London to make the movie which was planned to be released while the Broadway run was enjoying a warm reception and oodles of awards. Sadly, only the mononymous Chipmonck was recognized with a Tony nomination for his lighting design of the 4 previews and 45 performances at the Belasco theater in March and April of 1975.
That was the stage show and the movie is a different beast all together, one that found a its own kind of status over time. At first, though, it looked like the hope for Rocky Horror finding longevity was slim. Opening in August 1975, director Jim Sharman’s film version is bound to be a strange experience for anyone coming in cold to the show. The title has such a history attached to it, with the legendary tales of midnight screenings and groupies that dress up like the characters and act out scenes in front of the screen while audience members talk back to the actors in the film. Toast is thrown, as are rolls of toilet paper, rice, cards (for sorrow), cards (for pain), and make sure you have a newspaper with you because someone will absolutely be squirting water during a rainstorm scene early on in the film. This all happens if you attend one of those packed screenings that still exist, but not as frequently as they had in the past.
I’ve seen the show multiple times in a movie theater and onstage but rarely at home with just myself and the television and watching it with my partner for his first time it was odd to have it so…quiet. Where were the people yelling back at Brad (A**hole!) and Janet (S*ut!)? Why was I the only one standing up doing the Time Warp? It did give me a chance to appreciate how nicely made most of the movie is, with several sequences edited with such immense precision it give me goosebumps (take a look at how sharp the opening to “Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch-a-Touch Me” is timed). True, the storyline is still a bit flouncy and drifts away every so often only to have O’Brien reel it in as we round the corner to the finish line, but it’s immense fun for the most part.
The chief reason why the movie worked then and continues to work now can be summed up in two words. Tim. Curry. All the recent hoopla about Ben Platt recreating his Broadway role in the film version of Dear Evan Hansen for no real reason should use a performer like Tim Curry (Clue) as an example of why sometimes it is the best choice after all to have the OG star in the film. 20th Century Fox pushed to have Barry Bostwick (Tales of Halloween) and Ride the Eagle’s Susan Sarandon (having an absolute ball here) cast in the roles of the virginal couple that get lost in the rain and find themselves mixed up with Curry’s party of weirdos but it would have been a death sentence for the film if Curry hadn’t been brought along from the stage show. No one has ever come close to beating him in the role and it’s so important that a performance of this magnitude has been preserved like this forever. Same goes for O’Brien, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, and Patricia Quinn (The Lords of Salem), all original stage stars appearing in the movie with only Adams not playing the same role he did onstage. Quinn, in particular is impossible to not watch every moment she’s onscreen…like a demented Bernadette Peters she’s always up to something.
It’s easy to throw around the term “cult” and randomly apply it as the status of a movie, but few truly earn it. The Rocky Horror Picture show is more than worthy of being bestowed that honor and while it went up in smoke during it’s early run in theaters, I think it wound up doing just fine over the last 46 years. The last count was that it has made over 170 million dollars in box office returns – not bad for a movie that cost 1.4 million originally. If you can’t make it to the theater to see it live, give this one a try at home. A bonus: you likely have the most important props (toast, newspaper, toilet paper) close at hand!