The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
September 24, 2022 1:30 PM - Subscribe

This low-budget freak show/cult-classic/cultural institution concerns the misadventures of Brad Majors and Janet Weiss inside a strange mansion that they come across on a rainy night. After the wholesome pair's car breaks down in the woods, they seek refuge in a towering castle nearby. Greeting them at the door is a ghoulish butler named Riff Raff, who introduces them to a bacchanalian collection of partygoers dressed in outfits from some sort of interplanetary thrift shop.
posted by johnofjack (43 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
For a couple of years I had a dating profile the contained the line I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. I had moderate success with that profile and a couple people asked me about that line but not one person who contacted me recognized it. Whether that is because the line is somewhat obscure or because everyone who did recognize the line wisely opted not to talk to me is left as an exercise to the reader.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:15 PM on September 24, 2022 [18 favorites]

I see you shiver with antici
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:21 PM on September 24, 2022 [10 favorites]

I love this movie so very much. I have to do the Time Warp when I hear the song.
posted by Kitteh at 2:21 PM on September 24, 2022 [5 favorites]

:::eyes widen:::
posted by sara is disenchanted at 2:25 PM on September 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

Don’t dream it. Be it.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 6:55 PM on September 24, 2022 [3 favorites]

A toast! 🍞
posted by jazon at 6:58 PM on September 24, 2022 [4 favorites]

I have to do the Time Warp when I hear the song.

Twice now in my working life, I have somehow ended up being the last person to leave an office for the day; either it was before a holiday and I was finishing something up, or there was a storm coming and everyone else was skedaddling quick to commute home in time (and I lived next door and would be fine).

Both times, as my last act when I realized I was alone, I pulled up Time Warp on my computer, cranked the volume up, and danced through the office.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:18 PM on September 24, 2022 [13 favorites]

The Greek chorus embraced by the 20th century.
posted by fairmettle at 8:23 PM on September 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

The mansion where they filmed this is now a fancy hotel, about 20 minutes drive from Heathrow Airport.

The room where they filmed the time warp is now a fancy dining room.

A butler caught us doing the time warp there.
posted by simonw at 8:28 PM on September 24, 2022 [14 favorites]

You know it's a classic when a town will rewrite its antiquated lewdness law to be able to show it.
posted by emjaybee at 9:54 PM on September 24, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have to do the Time Warp when I hear the song.

A few years back, I was in an all female production of Julius Caesar. Every dress rehearsal and show night, in between fight call and opening the house, we had Dance Party on stage to get our energy up. The best one was when we did the Time Warp.

(It turned out there were four tap dancers in the cast, so when we got to Columbia’s tap solo we had a quartet.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:55 PM on September 24, 2022 [9 favorites]

My folks were fans in the late 70s and I grew up singing along to the songs on 8 track. Imagine a suburban new jersey 6 year old singing at the top of my lungs that I was a sweet transvestite. I still know all the words.
posted by roue at 12:08 AM on September 25, 2022 [7 favorites]

I used to go to RHPC midnight show about 30 minutes away from my house when I was in hs. One of the regulars met a was indeed a sweet transvestite (what he called himself) named Peter, and I had SUCH a crush on him. I was there the night the theater said, suddenly, this would be the last showing as it was too much mess for too few ticket sales. The cast member who played Janet couldn't make it and because I knew the cast they had me step in for her even though I was more a Columbia.

During lockdown, I watched online with a friend and started doing all the audience participation lines I could remember. Thirty years later and I remember a lot of them.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:36 AM on September 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

For a couple of years I had a dating profile the contained the line I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. I had moderate success with that profile and a couple people asked me about that line but not one person who contacted me recognized it.
of all things, the second episode of the anime G Gundam starts with the narrator — who never interacts with any character — saying, in English, “I would like, if I may, to take—” and then apologizing in Japanese and starting over with the exposition.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:46 AM on September 25, 2022 [6 favorites]

It's weird to think that there's now more time between the present and the making of Rocky Horror than between the making of Rocky Horror and the films it was referencing.

I don't think it's possible for the younger generation to truly understand how important this movie was to so many of us. I'm a cis guy who grew up in the Midwest, Catholic and straight and goody-goody but wanting to rebel, back in the 80s. I got called slurs all the time for being a nerd, back when being tagged as "gay" meant social death. Rocky Horror was the first place I found where being a weirdo was celebrated, where being a slut was much better than being an asshole, where kinks were not shamed and you could belt out "Don't dream it, BE it" with tears streaming down your face.

Before the internet, it was much harder to find your people. Rocky Horror was a place that could happen, and it wasn't just one kind of social outcast, but a rich blend. It's easy to look now and just see some awful messaging about consent and a weird take on "transsexual," but it was literally life-saving for many thousands of people over the years.
posted by rikschell at 5:47 AM on September 25, 2022 [38 favorites]

Back when I was in college I was friends with a young woman for whom this movie made her absolutely, seriously, horny. The movie hit her squarely on levels she didn’t know existed (or, at least, she hadn’t yet explored) It was quite fascinating to hear her talk about the effect the film had on her.

Anyhoo...I do love this movie, though it’s been ages since I last watched it. I’m not sure it would hold up without the attendant theater full of fans playing-along. Though, I will say that, if you had not seen the film before, sitting through your first viewing with a theater full of those toast-throwing fans can be a highly frustrating experience.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:37 AM on September 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

I went in completely blind, with no knowledge of what was about to happen besides that there would be people yelling and a movie playing, and had such an absolute blast it took me a full day to come down from it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:27 AM on September 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

I've worn golden underwear in a darkened theater way more than once because of this film.
posted by Catblack at 10:02 AM on September 25, 2022 [8 favorites]

posted by cuscutis at 10:39 AM on September 25, 2022 [15 favorites]

So, okay, I loved this movie as a preteen and young teen. I went to a couple midnight showings dressed in short little skirts. I know most of the songs still. I was queer and weird, and I enjoyed it a great deal. But I'll confess I don't really understand the circumstances under which it was created and probably most of the pop culture references it makes are lost on me. By the time I found it about it, it was the nineties and it had been a thing for ages. Why does this movie exist and how did it become the midnight movie it became? Is there an oral history I can read? If you saw it when it was newer, how did you hear about it and what did it mean to you? What other things did people like who liked this movie?
posted by potrzebie at 2:14 PM on September 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

rikschell, that was very well said, "Rocky Horror was the first place I found where being a weirdo was celebrated, where being a slut was much better than being an asshole, where kinks were not shamed and you could belt out "Don't dream it, BE it" with tears streaming down your face."
That's it, it was a way of screening the people one met as a teen, twentier, etc.,-- had they seen it? Did they like it? Did they love it and get dressed up and hang out with other people who went and got dressed up? Did they go to bars, clubs, events, where a similar blending of musical styles, gender ideas, fashion, happen? Was it a window into a life so very different from the 50's revival that all the adults seemed happy about.
posted by winesong at 3:24 PM on September 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

potrzebie, a good place to start would be getting familiar with the movies it’s inspired by: the horror and sci-fi films of the 1930s-1960s. Because of the Motion Picture Production Code issues like sex, queerness, racism, xenophobia, and a lot of other “transgressive” stuff was “coded” into the subtext. Genres like horror and sci-fi were often used to slip these themes over the heads of the WASP establishment. Star Trek and The Twilight Zone were doing the same sort of thing on TV. The RHPS uses a basic plot structure that could have been lifted out of a 1950s B-movie to bring these themes out of the subtext. It was a wink at the moral panic of the establishment over the “corruption” of their clean-cut, well-brought-up kids to the 1960s-70s counterculture.

Just watching the movies mentioned in the theme song would be an interesting exercise.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:22 PM on September 25, 2022 [5 favorites]

Especially the one with the androids fighting.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:48 PM on September 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

(And fucking, and sucking on…)
posted by dragstroke at 10:12 PM on September 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

potrzebie - The Rocky Horror Show was written by a resting (i.e. unemployed) actor to keep himself entertained and maybe make work for himself. So a huge amount of the show is there for no better reason than Richard O'Brien thought it might be fun for it to be there.

It was originally put on in a sixty-seat theatre above the prestigious Royal Court (which had tended to be the home for edgier, maybe more political, theatre, so Upstairs was the fringe part of that), but was an immediate hit and moved to larger venues and went international very quickly - it opened in London in 1973 and by the end of the year was running in the U.S. and had the film in development. The film's main cast came from the original production, though obviously Brad, Janet and Eddie were new castings (Meat Loaf came from one of the U.S. casts, possibly Los Angeles).

The zeitgeist it caught was glam (and Richard O'Brien has been quite explicit about this), so one thing to look at is the aesthetic and sound of that - Roxy Music, Bowie, Eno, and more mainstream stuff like The Sweet or even Slade. It might be a mistake to filter glam through a modern queer paradigm, simply because you miss a lot of connections to the wider culture and adjacent subcultures. It's one of the places it came from, but not the only place, and it fits within a wider theatrical, artistic and cultural landscape. I hope that doesn't come across as scolding or similar. A similar phenomenon from around the same time that might be worth looking into is Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World. The older I get, the more wonderful it becomes, at least in retrospect.

It may be significant that the director and designer were Australian expats, as was Little Nell - I'm really not an expert in this, but that generation had a strong sense of being enthusiastic hedonists from a very traditional, conservative retrospective culture.

Pop culture from the thirties through the fifties was floating around in seventies pop culture in the same way that the sixties, seventies and eighties are today - even by the early seventies there was fifties revivalism (Malcolm McClaren started by supplying clothes to the nascent Ted revival), and the sleek stylishness of pre-rock 'n' roll was held up as the antithesis of the slightly messy contemporanea - this is particularly evident in the style of Roxy Music, for example. The other thing about campy media from those earlier decades was that it was around (fifties science fiction movies would turn up on TV a lot), it was cheap and it was silly. And there was a lot less stuff around in those days - in 1973 in the UK, there were three TV channels, of which most people only watched two (and many of those basically plumped for BBC1 or their local ITV channel), so small things took up more space, relatively speaking.

Also, look at what else was going on in movies at that time - Ken Russell, for example, although there are lots of aspects of what he did that probably wouldn't fly today, in terms of the aesthetic and approach he's quite similar - particularly Tommy, though if you can bear it there's also Lisztomania, if you really want to see Franz Liszt swooping down from heaven in a space ship shaped like a church organ to zap Richard Wagner (turned into a Frankenstein's monster Hitler) with a laser beam. Be warned - Lisztomania is more fun to describe than watch, though as with a lot of Russell, it usually gets the capsule review "What the hell did we just watch?". Though he takes himself seriously in a way that the RHS people didn't really.

Alternatively, again more straight-laced but representative of the retro-tinged, jokey aesthetic that RHS is definitely a part of is Robert Fuest. Though not a name people recognise, he was a part of the team that created The Avengers (John Steed and Emma Peel) and brought that approach to his Dr Phibes films and his version of Michael Moorcock's The Final Programme, which are roughly contemporary with RHS.

One member of Russell's gang was Derek Jarman - there's a direct connection in that O'Brien and Little Nell would later appear in Jarman's Jubilee - Jarman's work is often a representation of his milieu and social circle, so you can trace the connections through it - Jenny Runacre was Miss Brunner in The Final Programme and Elizabeth I in Jubilee, for example, and later a winner of Alternative Miss World, which was won by Jarman in 1975.

Another thing to remember is that although the stage musical was a colossal hit all over the world, the movie was a flop, which is why it fell into the same late-night cinema demi-monde as the things it was referencing. My generation became aware of the existence of the movie because the interactive show was featured in Alan Parker's film Fame (which they discovered through the TV series). I was already aware of it from a large photo and a tiny reference in Alan Frank's book about horror movies, which is where I learned about most things horror cinema.

A lot of typing. I must be avoiding work, and should cease. Too much coffee, not enough coherence - tl;dr: The Rocky Horror Show came out of the theatrical/art left field of London in the early 1970s; The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out of a slightly confused but enormously fertile British film industry of the mid-1970s; However, the phenomenon that it became stems from being an ambiguously fun half-way house between straight culture and queer culture, a play-pen for everybody with good jokes, endlessly singable songs and pauses long enough to stick responses into, constantly re-played for enthusiastic young people everywhere. Its pre-eminence is probably largely Alan Parker's fault.

The same team made another movie, Shock Treatment, which is nowhere near as loved, though it does have its own myriad pleasures (not least the glorious voice of Jessica Harper). This despite the fact that it's astonishingly prescient - a 1981 movie about reality TV/influencer culture on the one hand and mental health culture on the other. No Tim Curry, but some Barry Humphries.
posted by Grangousier at 3:34 AM on September 26, 2022 [52 favorites]

Grangousier: I have a movie blog, and RHPS is on the queue for movies I need to review.

When I get there (in a year or so), you are hereby formally invited to write a guest post. You could probably just copy your comment above and polish it a bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:48 AM on September 26, 2022 [7 favorites]

Thanks, Grangousier, for the stunningly good comment. I've seen the stage production a couple of times and it really is a lot of fun to see how different stage companies approach it, knowing that much of the audience will come in with expectations based on the interactive midnight shows.
posted by rikschell at 5:40 AM on September 26, 2022

I’m not sure it would hold up without the attendant theater full of fans playing-along.

Another thing to remember is that although the stage musical was a colossal hit all over the world, the movie was a flop, which is why it fell into the same late-night cinema demi-monde as the things it was referencing.

The movie was directed by Jim Sharman, who had a long and very successful career as a theatrical director, including productions of The Rocky Horror Show in Sydney, London, and LA, but who only did a handful of movies; after Shock Treatment, he didn't direct another movie for over thirty years, until the short film Andy X, about Andy Warhol's final days, in 2012. Whatever he was able to bring to a stage production, he couldn't bring to the screen; neither could the director of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again, even though he had Laverne Cox, Adam Lambert, Ben Vereen, and Tim Curry as the narrator. Maybe it's just something about needing an audience with you while you're watching it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:57 AM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

This movie was an inseparable part of my life as a student at a Catholic high school, and then college. (In fact, many of the local cast retired the summer I graduated high school, so some friends and I wound up in the cast -- me as a Transylvanian and Doctor Scott understudy).

I took my kids to see their first shows when they were in high school, and one of them still goes occasionally.

There's no comparison between just watching the movie and seeing it with a live show. Even with a live show, the third act isn't as much fun as the first two, but it's still a hell of a lot of fun, and the soundtrack remains on regular rotation in my house.
posted by Gelatin at 7:58 AM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I am soooo glad I asked! Thank you!!
posted by potrzebie at 12:50 PM on September 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Bruce Campbell tweets:
While filming Congo, I sat on top of a Volcano talking to Tim Curry about that movie. He said one of the coolest things was that it saved a number of small indie theaters from going under, because they knew that two nights a week Rocky was going to do big business.

Ah, the Keystone, we remember ye well...
posted by Etrigan at 1:41 PM on September 26, 2022 [10 favorites]

My RHPS theater was the Biograph in Chicago, probably still best known as the place where John Dillinger was shot down, and apparently now a venue for live theatercontroversy.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:12 PM on September 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

The Vogue theater in Louisville for me, and RHPS absolutely did keep it in business for years (though, sadly, not forever).
posted by Gelatin at 4:14 AM on September 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I always feel like a rare RHPS fan who's perfectly content to enjoy the movie on video in the privacy of my home, in that I was primed to be the perfect fan, as a freshly out kid in '85 with a hip older sister who'd been doing the whole RHPS scene in the late seventies and early eighties, and who'd devoured Aaron Fricke's 1981 teen memoir Reflections Of A Rock Lobster, where he reveled in the sense of feeling at home he got from the film, and so I hit my first RHPS showing with great anticip—

…but alas, it was 1986, in the cold, hateful heart of the Reagan Memorial AIDS Epidemic™ and the culture had turned even more virulently and aggressively homophobic, and the crowd at theater was packed with drunk University of Maryland frat boys, which shouted "f*ggot!" at nearly every crowd line. Stuff flew around the theater on cue, though the folks who were the true believers got largely lost in the shouting. I felt demoralized, but I went back a few more times, hoping to catch that moment I'd anticip—

—ated from the accounts from my sister and Aaron Fricke, particularly as the eighties really, really made a kid wish for a place that would be that away place, where people gather and everything is joyous for that moment in the darkness…but the very last one I attended ended when some assholes sprayed pepper spray into the air and the mall police locked us in long enough to identify the perpetrators. Still, I had the soundtrack album on cassette to sing in the car, and I had the first edition official Rocky Horror Picture Show Movie Novel with the whole film in photographs, and a video release would come along soon enough, but I'd either just been terribly unlucky in my timing or the middle of the hatey-eighties just wasn't a good time for RHPS.

So my experience has been insular, but still comfortable, and I don't have an accurate count on how many times I've watched the VHS and then DVD, but it's there, parked on the shelf, for whenever the velvet darkness of the blackest night comes.
posted by sonascope at 11:06 AM on September 27, 2022 [6 favorites]

Yeah, while I accept the fact that some people don't enjoy the movie for its own sake without the audience participation, I'd be lying if I said I truly understood it. I absolutely love it alone in my living room.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:13 PM on September 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I have no interest in ever watching this movie again. It has a perfect little space in my heart, to pure to risk sullying with the gross matter of reality.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 PM on September 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I guess that makes me a RHPS gnostic….
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:55 PM on September 27, 2022 [2 favorites]


Me again. Sorry - silly thing, when I write as much as I did above (and, it appears, below) - especially, standard-issue deity help me, if I'm expressing opinions - I get something like extreme social anxiety and have to run away. No, really.

Anyway, if you remember, I was attempting to answer "where did the RHS come from?", and I got carried away with different things - my anxiety (and I generally like to do things that might keep my anxiety happy, otherwise it would really kick off) would like me to make explicit that it was an attempt to give context rather than to say "these things are like the RHS". Although some things are. But mainly the visual equivalent of reading around the subject.

There are a couple of antecedents I'd forgotten to mention (one important and one less so), and one thing that came later, but out of the same sort of milieu. They might already have come up, and if so, sorry, because I may be about to go on a bit.

The important one is Pantomime, or Panto, which has nothing to do with solemn Frenchmen in white make-trapped in invisible boxes. It's essentially a Victorian mass-entertainment that's somehow persisted through the years, a raucous, downmarket take on commedia del arte, usually based on fairy tales (Cinderella, Puss In Boots, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves), though a popular one is Dick Whittington, which is best thought of as an extremely loose political biography.

Anyway, that's not what's relevant - firstly, there's something in the RHS's exuberance which is very like panto (and in the call and response, which is central to panto's charm, even though the RHPS's call-and-response came long after the film was released) and if it is rooted in a tradition, I suspect that might be it; more significantly, in a pantomime the male lead (Prince Charming, Dick Whittington, Aladdin, etc) is played by a young woman and the most important comedy character (to most audiences the most important character) will be a middle-aged woman played by a man - the pantomime dame.

Many thousands of children go to see minor (and sometimes major) celebrities perform in these things every year, usually cross-dressing.

(Mansplained in painful detail for anyone who didn't already know all that.)

In a lot of ways, Frank is a (very glamorous) pantomime dame.

The antecedent that I think is less important but interesting is Carry On Screaming - like the RHPS it was a parody of Hammer Horror films, and also, like the RHPS, although it superficially resembles those films if you actually look at it none of the details are really like horror films at all. There's a character who makes creatures, but not in a Frankenstein way, not really. His sister is kind of vampirella-ish, but she's not really a vampire (though she does exude smoke for the sake of a terrible joke). My take on it is that it's like the writer had never seen a Hammer film and didn't really want to, but just collected a bunch of those photographs they'd put in the foyer to promote the films and made up a story that fit with them. It really is a very strange film. One of the main stars of Carry On was Kenneth Williams, who was Julian out of Julian or Sandy, and was a friend of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell.

The other curiosity that might be worth looking up is Rock Follies, which is more of a feminist fable about three women who form a rock band and try to make it in the music industry - there's some cast cross-over with the RHPS (Tim Curry and Little Nell are in it and one of the stars is Julie Covington, who was the first Janet, as well as playing Eva Peron on the original concept album version of Evita), but mainly it's interesting to see how people were trying to do rock musicals in the mid-seventies. The songs are by the sax player out of Roxy Music. I think it's all on YouTube.

Ah, lots of words again, this time without the benefit of caffeine.
posted by Grangousier at 3:49 PM on September 27, 2022 [10 favorites]

Thank you so much for all this background, Grangousier. It helps make sense out of the movie as more than a phenomenon.

Maybe you would know this -- it's something I haven't thought of in ages, but your comments reminded me. Was there a RHPS pastiche/homage/knockoff that never quite took off in British theatre in the '90s? In Cambridge in the mid-'90s, I got to go see a production of a deliberately campy stage show based on sci-fi elements, with some covers and original songs, including one about robot sex. I remember wishing I enjoyed it a lot more than I did. Mainly I was just kind of achy and felt unwelcome because the ushers and usherettes, who were part of the acting company and heavily costumed, were nasty to us for being American. (Which, fine, but at the time it hurt.)

When I first saw RHPS, I was twelve or thirteen, in Mississippi. I had no clue, but I did have cool parents. They didn't say no to what I rented to watch myself. I'd gotten the idea that the more times you saw Rocky, the cooler you were, so I watched it eight times by myself, shouting the two callback lines I knew. Long story short, I eventually played Janet and Magenta in college, and between those times I was briefly but totally obsessed with Tommy. It all comes together, I suppose.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:18 PM on September 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

In high school I was too poor for cable but had saved up money from cutting lawns for the luxury of a VCR. One of my friends lent me this on tape, then the next day was eager to hear my opinion.

Me: “So … in this movie people just sing to each other, and the people around them know the words?”

Her: “Yes. It’s a musical.” Then, wide-eyed and grinning: “Have you never seen a musical?”

In middle school I had seen Little Shop of Horrors, and I’m fairly certain I had seen Singin' in the Rain. Beyond that? Maybe not.

I love it now for all the reasons I was put off by it then, as a sheltered and closeted fundamentalist: it’s arch and camp but manages actual emotion at the end; it’s hedonistic and exuberantly queer; it’s low-budget and ramshackle; it plays like delirious improvisation, one freewheeling “yes and” after another.

Shock Treatment had a Criterion release a while back. It is indeed astonishingly prescient, but in my book it has two critical flaws: it’s a musical with mostly forgettable songs; and it’s focused on the psychology of Brad Majors, who is one of the least interesting characters in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A musical about the daily life of Magenta or Columbia, or even Transylvanian #4, might have interested me more (or a prequel about what Frank N' Furter was up to before coming to Earth).

On another note entirely, I can’t watch Rocky Horror now without thinking of Silence of the Lambs. I know Anthony Hopkins said that he meant for Hannibal Lecter’s voice to be a cross between Truman Capote and Katharine Hepburn, but something about Riff Raff's nasal delivery puts me in mind of "don't lie, or I'll know" and some of Lecter's other lines.
posted by johnofjack at 7:23 AM on September 29, 2022 [1 favorite]

I love the beginning of this movie, but the end has put me to sleep more than once.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:26 PM on September 29, 2022

posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:31 PM on November 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

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