The theater darkens. The 20th-Century Fox logo flickers on. Then, two very red lips on a black background fill the screen. The theme music begins and the lips sing, Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still, but he told us where we stand. And Flash Gordon was there, in silver underwear, Claude Rains was the Invisible Man. You’re immediately drawn in by the tune, the lyrics and the fab falsetto of the singer. The lips continue singing for several verses while the opening credits appear. The theme song, like the movie, is an homage to early science fiction movies, B horror movies, and early rock-n-roll. Soon, people in the audience start wielding strange objects in the theater and talking back to the actors. By now you’re starting to wonder: just exactly what did I wander into? “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” of course. When I first saw this film in the mid-1980s it was like nothing else I’d ever seen. I was titillated, shocked, and rapturously seduced!
I had read a newspaper article about a cult film that attracted hordes of fans who actively took part in the movie experience by talking to the screen and using props such as squirt guns, toast, newspaper, rice, and lighters to mimic the on-screen action. I was intrigued. I went to a Saturday midnight showing and watched in fascination as moviegoers dressed as various RHPS characters danced and sang along with the songs. They threw rice at the screen (the opening scene is a wedding); shot squirt guns to simulate rain (the hero and heroine’s car breaks down and they have to walk through a storm for help); and held up lit lighters as the duo sang about a light in the darkness as they walked. This was all in the first twenty minutes. And the audience continued to employ props and talk to the screen throughout the entire movie!
Now, this 1975 film is really just your typical love story: boy meets girl. And boy. And boy. OK, typical if you’re from Transexual, Transylvania, which is exactly where the antagonist, Dr. Frank N. Furter, his two servants Riff Raff and Magenta, and groupie Columbia are from. I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. Sit back and relax.
Most of the movie takes place in a castle, where an Annual Transylvanian Convention is being held. The delicious Tim Curry plays Dr. Frank N. Furter, the mad scientist from Transexual, Transylvania, who hosts the convention to show his new creation – named Rocky Horror – to the world. In just seven days he’d made a man.
One of the most exciting parts of the movie is when Frank makes his first appearance: the heroine, Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon), and hero, Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick), are backing out of a large hall in the castle where they encounter the motley assortment of conventioneers, dressed in black tails and party hats, doing a catchy, pelvis-thrusting dance (20 years before Michael Jackson) called The Time Warp, and decide maybe this was the wrong castle to stop at for help. After all, there’s a big difference between The Time Warp and The Madison. A steady drum beat begins, heralding the arrival of something ominous and exciting. The camera cuts from the duo’s frightened faces to an open elevator descending behind them. The inhabitant, his back to the camera, wears a long black cape and chunky platform heels, which tap in tune to the beat. When the elevator reaches the first floor, the occupant turns around, fully wrapped in the cape, starts singing “Sweet Transvestite,” and walks to the front of the room. All the conventioneers’ eyes are focused adoringly on him as he faces the crowd and throws off his cape.
My, my, my, my…..my! It’s Frank, in all his transvestite sartorial splendor: black garter belt, black satin bikini briefs, fishnet stockings, chunky platform heels, long fingerless gloves, and corset. And, in Tim’s words, a pound and a half of Max Factor on his face. Don’t call it drag, though. Tim told an interviewer that it isn’t drag: it’s what people from Transexual, Transylvania wear. The heavy dark eyeshadow Frank wears makes the whites of his gorgeous eyes stand out, and when he looks at the camera and opens his eyes a little wider, they sparkle enticingly. And when he smiles? Could there be any more gorgeous creature on the face of the earth?!
There are 19 songs in the movie, from upbeat fast tunes such as “Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul!” sung by biker Eddie (played by Meatloaf) and “Dammit Janet” sung by Brad, to ballads such as “Don’t Dream It” and “I’m Going Home,” sung by Frank. I’ve listened to the LP (yes, I said LP!) many times. I’ve seen the movie four times at the theater and many times on VHS and DVD. I recommend seeing the movie at a theater, if possible, to fully appreciate the songs, the action, and the campiness of it all. Not to mention Tim Curry – larger than life on the big screen. And don’t forget to bring along a squirt gun, a newspaper, some rice and all the inhibition you can muster!
Until next time, don’t dream it, be it . . .
Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the movie. Isn’t Tim Curry/Frank N. Furter the sweetest transvestite you’ve ever seen?
© Janet Daniels, July 21, 2014
Janet Daniels is a freelance writer who’s simply MAD about movies!