REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Produced by: Michael White
Written by: Jim Sharman, Richard O’Brien (screenplay)
Edited by: Graeme Clifford
Cinematography by: Peter Suschitzky
Music by: Richard O’Brien, Richard Hartley
Starring: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Charles Gray, Meat Loaf
Based on the play The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien
Fans of this cult classic, I’m going to right here and now preemptively keep you from committing some kind of serious crime while also saving my own neck: If you unconditionally, unabashedly love this movie, do not read any further than this paragraph. I know there are fans out there who just absolutely adore this movie, and, to that I say, “Good for you.” I’m not going to begrudge your relationship and affection for the film. That being said, if you’re the kind of person who sends death threats and such to people you disagree with, do us both a favor and please stop reading now.
Still with me? Cool. I’m glad to know that there are some level-headed people in this world! Now, I went into this movie pretty much with an open mind. I had previously seen clips from this film, particularly that whole “Time Warp” musical number, and didn’t especially care for what I saw, but I knew that, in context, a better, more enjoyable film would possibly emerge and reveal to itself why so many people are gaga over this campy schlock horror tribute musical. When I announced on my personal Facebook, however, that I was watching the movie, I was advised to go see it at the independent theatre with the crowd participation. DVD already on its way from Netflix, however, and being a general recluse these days when it comes to crowds of noisy people, I opted instead to just watch it from the safety of my own apartment, where I could focus on the actual movie on a lazy Saturday, eating lunch, and generally not worrying about having to wear pants (Which, given what’s in the film, I guess probably wouldn’t have been too unusual — though not exactly welcome — a sight at that particular theatre…).
If you are uninitiated to the whole Rocky Horror thing, let me fill you in:
A young, newly engaged couple, Brad and Janet (“dammit”) from wholesome Denton, TX wind up with a flat tire one dark and stormy night in the middle of the woods. Hoping to borrow a phone, they trek back to a castle they passed by not too far back, but they are remiss to discover that they’ve stumbled upon what can be best described as the most swinging freak show on Earth, complete with a hunchback, multicolor-haired groupies, and, most of all, the transvestite alien scientist known as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. The prudish Brad and Janet are taken in and treated to the doctor’s unprecedented hospitality (but, notably, not a phone), and wind up baring witness to the birth of his latest creation: the perfect man/lover, Rocky Horror. The sexually repressed couple are forced to stay the night and, despite the doctor’s unceremonious but violent dispatching of his previous experiment, Eddie, they attempt to resist the temptations that Frank has to offer, lest they, too, wind up playthings in his intergalactic freak show.
Needless to say, the film is pretty much the definition of both “cult classic” and “campy,” unabashedly having a good 80% of the primary characters cavorting around in underwear and, in the case of Frank, ladies’ lingerie while partaking in scenes that are affectionate riffs on both classic and grindhouse horror films. Then, of course, there’s the fact that most of the dialogue takes place via silly, trashy songs with titles like “Sweet Transvestite” and “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me.” Possibly the most amusing part of the movie, at least for me, was the underused Criminologist that the film sometimes cuts to, a fairly serious-looking man who provides some dry narration and exposition regarding his investigation on the bizarre case of Brad and Janet’s abduction. This means that we get some amusing scenes from him as he, with deadpan delivery, describes and, in the case of the dance steps to the Time Warp, acts out some of the events of the film. If only they used him a bit more and more creatively, he could’ve easily been the amusing straight man to the hyper-sexualized insanity that is Frank-N-Furter.
And if I had to point out one specific failing of the movie, it’s that, for all its silliness and madness, it’s actually not all that amusing nor entertaining. Sure, a lot of the songs are catchy little earworms, and it’s not like the actors fail at playing their parts – in fact, Tim Curry, who justifiably launched his film career here by reprising the same role he helped debut on the stage production, is clearly enjoying playing the part of the glammed up Frank-N-Furter – but as I continued to watch the movie, mostly just smirking at the dirty jokes, I honestly didn’t quite understand why this, of all films, became the massive cult hit that it is. (Did you know that it’s considered to be the longest-running theatrical release in history?) Being so averse to the idea of even contemplating going to the public showings, despite having gone to the insane midnight premier of Snakes on a Plane when that first came out all those years ago, I guess I’m just not really the target audience for this film.
I can easily imagine the enjoyment of this movie is based primarily upon the enthusiasm of the crowd you’re with, but how the film got to the point of being a cult hit still remains somewhat of a mystery to me. I’m a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000, the very premise of which is to embrace a heckling audience as an actual attraction, but I can tell you now that that show wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if the films that they were making fun of were as self-aware as Rocky Horror is. It seems to me like, when a film is actually trying to be schlocky and ridiculous, some of the fun is sucked out of it, unless the movie just takes it to a whole new level and becomes, itself, a sort of self-aware parody – much like with Snakes on a Plane was retooled after the Internet’s reaction to the film’s title made the filmmakers see dollar signs. Rocky Horror, even with its unabashed sexual subject matter, does not reach that level, at least not for me.
Watching the film was like I became this bully, and Rocky Horror was the victim who decided to own up to the traits the bully was making fun of, completely disarming me and shutting me down in the process. That’s no fun for the bully, now, is it? But I have a feeling that maybe that’s why the film has endeared itself to actual fans of the film. It’s spunky and overall committed to its purpose, and it’s not completely without its admirable qualities and entertainment value. Perhaps I should’ve gone to a midnight showing, afterall, but since I’m somewhat of an introvert, I don’t think that idea is ever really going to appeal to me that much. (Don’t ask me why I was so driven to drag my friends along to see Snakes on a Plane, as I don’t remember why, either. Perhaps it was because it came out around at what was still the beginning of my transformation into a serious cinephile.) As such, I’m not going to give the film a bad rating, but I can’t honestly give it a good one, either. Instead, I’m just going to compromise.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5