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The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
DIRECTOR: Jim Sharman
SCREENWRITER: Jim Sharman, Richard O'Brien
MUSIC BY: Richard Hartley, Richard O'Brien
STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
RELEASE DATE: September 26, 1975
MPAA RATING: R
A Madcap Musical Becomes a Marvelous Movie

Written by Chris Pandolfi

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an utterly mad concoction – all at once a rock musical, a goofy parody, a sex romp, and a sci-fi/horror B-movie, which have all been gathered together to make one of the most gloriously campy guilty pleasures I’ve ever seen. To watch it is to have pure, unadulterated fun, with nothing pesky like plausibility, tidiness, continuity, subtlety, or even reason for being getting in the way. It’s one of those films that doesn’t merely demand that you put your brain on autopilot, but actually uses its cheesiness to charm you into doing so. Yes, I said its cheesiness; with its tacky production design, amateurish screenplay, and bizarre characters and plot, there are sensibilities at work more sophisticated audiences are unlikely to appreciate.

The plot, adapted by co-writer/co-star/composer Richard O’Brien from his musical play The Rocky Horror Show, couldn’t be any stranger. Brad Majors and Janet Weiss (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon), a newly engaged conservative middle-American couple, get stranded in the middle of nowhere when their car blows a tire. After wandering for a few miles in the pouring rain, they find themselves at the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a transvestite mad scientist from another planet, appropriately called Transsexual. You’d think his outlandish appearance – a costume consisting of a corset, a garter belt, fishnet stockings, and spiked heels, a face buried under an inch of very gaudy makeup – would inspire outbursts of laughter, but when coupled with his raw sexuality, to say nothing of the film’s atmosphere, it’s strangely hypnotic.

Brad and Janet coincidentally arrive the very night our glammed-out doctor, equal parts decadent hedonist and cruel taskmaster, unveils his newest creation: A blonde-haired, muscle bound, adorably simple-minded Frankenstein creature named Rocky (Peter Hinwood), who dons nothing more than gold underwear and matching gold boots. Inexplicably convinced to stay for the night, Brad and Janet find themselves at the mercy of the castle’s weird inhabitants, including a sequined, tap dancing groupie named Columbia (Little Nell) and the incestuous brother/sister duo of Magenta (Patricia Quinn) and Riff Raff (O’Brien), respectively posing as a maid and a butler – the latter with a hunchback, no less, and a real gothic command of the word “master.” Brad and Janet also act upon sexual desires thus far repressed, aided in no small part by Furter’s insatiable appetite for physical pleasure.

A significant part of the film’s appeal is that the story is told through song, specifically in 1950s style rock ‘n’ roll, with just a dash of ‘70s glam thrown in for good measure. Here is a film where you don’t find yourself analyzing the relevance or even the literacy of the lyrics; most songs are so infectiously rhythmic that you’re liable to get caught up in them against your will. Take “The Time Warp”; I can’t begin to tell you what its narrative significance is or even what the song is about apart from instructions on how to perform the dance, and yet I can say that it inspired me to stand up, tap my foot to the beat, and perform the steps as instructed to me by the film’s characters.

But there’s also notable cinematic influences, especially in regards to the British Hammer Pictures horror films. It was shot, for example, at Bray Studios, where The Curse of Frankenstein, the 1958 version of Dracula, and The Curse of the Werewolf. Furthermore, the first time you glimpse Frank N. Furter’s castle, you’ll no doubt recognize it as the same castle featured in films such as The Brides of Dracula, The Plague of the Zombies, and And Now the Screaming Starts!. And we can’t forget the tank in which Rocky’s bandaged body and submerged in water before being brought to life via a mixture of liquid rainbow colors; with one look at its glass panels and red riveted steel, you’ll know that it’s the same tank Peter Cushing used to bring his Frankenstein creature, played by Christopher Lee, to life.

The film is, above all, just plain fun. It doesn’t want to preach. It doesn’t want to edify. It just wants the audience to let loose and have a good time – in a far less innocent way, it cannot be denied, than watching exuberant entertainments such as Singin’ in the Rain or My Fair Lady or The Sound of Music. The simple fact is that not all musicals have to be family oriented. Whoever said that they did really need to lighten up and consider expanding their horizons. The Rocky Horror Picture Show – with its music, its characters, its atmosphere, and yes, even its blatant tastelessness – is a refreshing deviation from the norm, a film that embraces its differences and has little difficulty encouraging audiences to do the same.


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