Oh Wanderers, where do I start? Until recently, I’d never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and now I can’t get it out of my head.
This low-budget cult classic concerns the misadventures of Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and his fiancée Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) inside a strange mansion that they come across on a rainy night.
The story is told by the Criminologist (Charles Grey), who introduces the wholesome pair – clean cut, very American, very bland kids – who announce their love and get engaged in an opening song set at a friend’s wedding. Naturally, their car breaks down in the woods on their way to visit an ex-tutor of theirs, Dr. V. Scott (Jonathan Adams), and they seek refuge in a towering castle nearby. Greeting them at the door is a deformed butler named Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien), who introduces them to a group of people – a variety of sizes, shapes and gender identities who manage to simultaneously enthral and horrify them with the Time Warp.
The host of this gathering is a transvestite clad in fishnets and corset, Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a mad scientist who claims to be from another planet (“I’m just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania”). With assistants Columbia (Nell Campbell) and Magenta (Patricia Quinn) looking on, Frank unveils his latest creation – a figure wrapped in bandages and submerged in a tank full of liquid. With the addition of coloured dyes (which turn the tank into a rainbow) and some assistance from the weather, Frank brings to life a blond young hunk of muscle (Peter Hinwood) wearing nothing but skimpy golden shorts, who launches into song in his first minute of life, despite being unable to verbalise anything else. Just when Brad and Janet think things couldn’t get any stranger, a biker – ex-delivery boy, partial brain donor to Rocky, Columbia’s lover, and previous pet of Frank’s – (Meat Loaf) bursts onto the scene. By the time Frank’s dealt with him, it’s clear that Brad and Janet will be guests for the night, and that they may be next on Frank’s list – though whether for murder or carnal delights is uncertain. And just what is that mystery meat they’re eating for dinner, anyway? And what can they expect from his exotic floorshow?
With lyrics and screenplay by Richard O’Brien (to whom those famous scarlet lips belong), this is a splendidly sassy spectacular of epic proportions. While touching on aspects of gender identity and sexuality, it’s also a fantastically fun-filled hour and a half of thrills. Although frankly, I’m not sure it should be rated 15 – its consistent pushing of boundaries, explicit references to sex and its graphic violence makes me think it’s better suited to an 18 rating.
If there was just one reason to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s the music. For the most part, the lyrics are inspired – and you would be missing out if you never heard Barry Bostwick crooning Once In A While (a deleted scene which is definitely worth a watch). The score and musical numbers – written and scored by Richard O’Brien and Richard Hartley – are beautifully composed and harmonised, and encompass a variety of genres from rock and roll (Hot Patootie) to traditional musical numbers (Over at the Frankenstein Place, Don’t Dream It).
This cult classic slumped on its premier, but in the 38 years since its release, it has grossed $175,000,000, over 125 times its budget, and has been selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry – all of which goes to show that a slump in the box office can always be redeemed by its fandom!
I’d give this musical/film 4.5 out of 5. Yes, really.
Hannah Carter (is going to dance around the flat singing)