This movie has been featured on my podcast, Peculiar Picture Show. You can listen to the episode here.
“I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey.”
There’s no film that embodies the term “cult classic” more than The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Directed by Jim Sharman (Shock Treatment, The Night, the Prowler) and starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick, this delightfully deviant rock opera started showing in 1975 and saw its greatest success with midnight showings. Some theaters have been hosting midnight showings regularly since 1975, making this the longest theatrical release in history. This quirky film gathered a strong cult following and became a cultural phenomenon, and it’s widely regarded as one of the most successful independent films in history. Despite coming out in 1975 (with the original stage play coming out 1973), this is still sharper and edgier than most films being made today. It doesn’t really discuss controversial topics so much as celebrate them, and this is more fun than most other films from any era.
The plot follows Brad Major and Janet Weiss, a recently engaged couple, as their car blows a tire on a dark road in the middle of nowhere during a thunderstorm. They walk to a castle, hoping to use a phone there to contact someone for help, only to discover that the castle belongs to a pansexual transvestite named Dr. Frank-n-Furter, from Transexual, Transylvania. He and the other Transylvanians are throwing a party to celebrate Dr. Frank-n-Furter’s success in creating life: Rocky, a blonde beefcake who breaks into song within minutes of his “birth.” With no phone and no relief from the weather, Brad and Janet reluctantly stay the night in the castle, but Dr. Frank-n-Furter is determined to seduce both of them.
So come up to the lab and see what’s on the slab. I see you shiver with antici… pation.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is both ridiculous and gratuitous, and that’s exactly why it’s so great. It doesn’t dabble in these things; it dives into them and revels in them. This is a celebration of the strange, and it invites all of its viewers to wear their weirdness openly as they watch this. One great thing about this film is that it doesn’t just feature, but it celebrates sexual preferences outside of the norm. Bisexuality, gender identity, cross-dressing, polyamory, and more are all here. If those things offend you, I’d recommend staying away from this film. But for the many people for whom one of these things is normal, it can be very difficult to find movies that make you feel normal. And in the 70s, it was even harder to find films like this. (I’m fortunate enough to have been born a heterosexual cisgender male who’s happy with monogamy, but I still loved this film.) Dr. Frank-n-Furter wears lingerie throughout most of the film, and other characters don similar outfits later on. This film doesn’t try to shove morality in your face—it just has fun with these things, and I had fun watching them.
The appeal of this film was hit or miss with a mainstream audience, but the people who liked this film really, really liked this film, with the following becoming almost cult-like. Live screenings, still happening in many cities across America, feature audience participation, ranging from breaking out a few props during certain scenes to having live actors act the whole thing out as the film plays. There’s a whole subculture that’s formed around this film, as portrayed in other films like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and that’s where the film became legendary. This film was for the last generation what The Room is for this generation: an underground hit that’s best experienced in a theater full of active participants.
The film itself is a barrel of fun with its quirky characters, upbeat rock soundtrack, and clever humor. It’s hard not to have a smile on your face as you watch this and there are a lot of genuinely funny moments. The music is fun 70s rock reminiscent of Meat Loaf’s early albums. (Meat Loaf actually has a minor role in this film and sings a song, just two years before he released Bat Out of Hell and started his career in rock music. He actually got his start in the stage production of this.) Even people unfamiliar with the film have probably heard the song “Time Warp,” which is probably the best song on the soundtrack but is also representative of the rest of the songs on there. As a musical comedy, this does not disappoint.
For Generation X, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a rite of passage—a part of growing up in the 80s and 90s. For many others, this is a fun celebration of strangeness that invites us all to kick back, be our weird selves, and have fun. And for a few underrepresented groups, this movie was an anthem, celebrating the parts of them that they so rarely saw reflected in the rest of society. This is a hugely important film, and it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. If you haven’t seen it, watch it; if you have seen it and you liked it, maybe see if there are still live screenings in your town. This was a cultural phenomenon and it’s still going strong in some areas—catch it while you still can!
View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!
Director: Jim Sharman
Genres: comedy, horror, indie, LGBT, musical