Week 19: “My Hate-Hate Relationship with The Rocky Horror Picture Show”
Anyone who has read some of my previous articles will know that I’m not a huge fan of musicals. Other than Mary Poppins (1964) and The Muppets growing up I pretty much stayed clear away from them. Even as an adult I’ve experienced and explored ever genre of film except really the musical for the simple fact that (for the most part) I can’t stand watching a great film that suddenly busts out into song for no apparent reason other than because it is a musical.
Now I will not deny that over the last decade I’ve come closer to appreciating the musical. I’ve seen Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) and The Phantom of the Opera (2004) and I actually enjoyed Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) and The Devil’s Carnival (2012) but those are all more modern day musicals. These films appeal more to my darker sensibilities and are made for the horror fan. This in no way has allowed me to understand or like anything that was made before the year 2000. Then there is the number one cult musical in history which is The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) which is based on the original stage show The Rocky Horror Show. This is probably the worst film I’ve ever seen.
Let me rephrase that – for my entire life I’ve been under the notion that this is the worst horror musical I’ve ever seen. This was a film I hated the first time I saw it as a child. I didn’t understand the film and it was a musical so that’s two strikes against it. The only problem is that it was a favorite film of my younger sister so I heard the music (but never really saw it again) a billion times especially growing up in the days of the VHS boom the fact that the film was constantly on repeat on cable stations. Now that I’m older I’m not afraid to admit that the film was just weird and I didn’t understand it. Putting aside the fact that I hate musicals (for the moment), The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an amalgam of cross dressing aliens, cheesy one-liners, crazy costumes and spectacularly over the top performances, so, in other words it blew my mind (as a child) to the point of a nuclear meltdown. This being said, I never could appreciate the film like so many other people could.
The film seemed to have a life of its own to me.
Every woman I dated loved the movie and my sister constantly reminded me that I should give it another chance because I was a filmmaker and that I should be open to all genres of film. When I went to college the musical was still the only genre I could not come to appreciate. When I studied the films of James Whale I finally saw Show Boat (1936) and that made me want to at least start watching the films that are considered classics. Needless to say, I FINALLY gave the musical a chance…but I still couldn’t stand The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
There was just something about this film that I just couldn’t grasp. Oddball characters. The oddball situation. It had Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry as Frank-n-Furter which should have sold it to me right there. I’m a huge fan of Curry’s but I still wasn’t a fan of this film. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a film that just eluded me at every turn. The merchandising was everywhere. Every theatre person I knew was a huge fan who had at some point been in the show. Every Halloween (my favorite holiday of the year) some friend of mine would dress up like a character from the film. What was the crazy allure of this weird film that just went WAY over my head?
And then it hit me. I had never seen the film LIVE. I had only seen it on the small screen with one other person and never more than that. Never in a group setting.
It was a friend of mine that told me that every weekend at an art house theater in downtown Atlanta a Midnight Screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with live actors performed the film to audiences. My friend was a huge fan of the film and she was dying to see the live performance so for her birthday I took her. For one, I thought it was a great way to try and understand why this film had affected so many people and for another my date was so obsessed with the film that she dressed up like Magenta from the film (which I must say was a huge turn on). I was the only one not in on the joke as when we arrived at the theater most of the audience was dressed up. The theater was a mixture of people who were dressed up and those not, of all genders and all races, and of all ages. This was a film that had crossed generations and was still being enjoyed by new audiences every day.
When we took our seats a Waitress (dressed for the part) walked through the aisles greeting everyone and informing them about what they were going to see (for the new comers). Those who had seen the performance before already knew what was coming. Everyone was excited and couldn’t wait for the lights to go down and the film to start. That is when things got even weirder. We weren’t just watching the original film on the big screen and we weren’t watching the stage version of The Rocky Horror Show, we were watching live actors perform the parts of the film as the film was playing and commenting and reacting to everything going on during the film. It was an interactive 4-D movie going experience like I had never seen before. It was as if the characters from the film jumped off the screen and started interacting with themselves and the audience at the same time.
This was a mind altering and mind blowing experience. Never before had I had such an “excellent” experience. The actors sang the songs and the audience members who knew the songs sang with them (and I realized my date knew every song in the film) and it was an exhilarating way to enjoy a musical. Needless to say, I finally got why the film’s popularity has endured for so long.
I had heard of Midnight Movies before. Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond (1981) and Zombie (1979), The Blues Brothers (1980), and El Topo (1970), to name a few, but there is no other film that can rival the popularity of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And now I know why.
I must admit that once you’ve seen the film performed live you probably can’t ever enjoy it as much. I not only can now appreciate the film for its contributions to the horror musical and to the Midnight Movie but I can honestly say that it’s not a half bad film. I even managed to seek out the sequel Shock Treatment (1981) and even though it doesn’t have the charm of Rocky Horror (nor Tim Curry) it’s not an altogether forgettable film. I can say that I can now appreciate the place that musicals play in the history and future of film and I’ve even found a way to enjoy them more because of this film. I’m a huge fan of Repo! The Genetic Opera and see that as a companion film and I probably would’ve never given this film a chance had I not finally come around to liking Rocky Horror.
For those of you lucky enough to live somewhere where The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a Midnight Movie success I recommend you checking it out and for those of you unlucky saps out there who don’t…well, you can always start your own because I’m sure there’s enough people out there who love the film enough to give you a hand.