In a way, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a good example of a cult film that garnered mainstream appeal. Largely dismissed when it was first released (because let’s face it, mainstream film critics were always morons), it quickly became a huge enough hit that people would dress up as the characters (ladies and gentlemen, the birth of cosplay as we know it), and now every year the film is shown close to Halloween, which I guess is why I’ve picked this film. I saw a more recent performance of the play this film was based on (specifically the 40th Anniversary broadcast on Sky Arts), and at that point I didn’t see the film yet, and then wanted to see it more than ever, and when I finally did see it, I liked it, even though I wasn’t entirely surprised by how unapologetically campy it is.
The film’s plot is essentially a silver screen re-enactment of the musical, narrated by a criminologist. The story sees a couple – Brad Majors and Janet Weiss – who find themselves lost in the woods one rainy evening, and stumble on a nearby manor, wherein they assume they can find a phone they can use to call for help. Discovering a cavalcade of strange people with bizarre costumes, they are greeted by Dr. Frank N. Furter, a crazy scientist who, by his own admission, is an alien transvestite from a faraway planet, and apparently he is creating a superhuman beef cake that he wants to have sex with, while simultaneously seducing both Brad and Janet, who find themselves caught in a series of bizarre, goofy horrors set to upbeat music.
The story is in equal parts a B-movie parody and a glam rock opera, and it moves at a rather frenetic, yet enjoyably upbeat pace. It’s mainly the musical numbers that move the plot forward (this literally being an on-screen translation of the original musical), and it’s a pretty effective way to bring attention to the plot, and advantage that Rocky Horror has over the plethora of cheesy sci-fi and horror movies the filmmakers lovingly satirise.
The acting is one area where your mileage may vary, mainly because the acting is very campy. If you hate musicals you might not like it, but it seems to me that the actors perform better when they’re singing rather than simply speaking. I’m probably not the only one who’ll say that Tim Curry is the best performer in the film. I prefer his character to all the others, mainly because of his outlandish and deliciously devious performance. I’m also of the opinion that Tim Curry was the best possible choice for the role of Dr. Frank N. Furter. I’ve seen the trailer for the TV reboot (which looks pretty bad), and I’m sure Laverne Cox isn’t a bad choice, but let’s face it, there’s no beating Tim Curry.
Stylistically, the film has all the ingredients of a film that serves as both a parody and a loving tribute to the Hammer Horror films of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In fact, a number of props and set pieces, including the Oakley Estate (which was used as the setting for The Frankenstein Place), a frequent filming location in older Hammer films. Many of the costumes instantly remind me of the often equally outlandish glam rock scene of the time, but some of the other elements, including dyed hair and ripped fishnets, remind me of the punk movement (where they found a home after the film was released). Of course, I can’t go without mentioning the actual songs, and the songs are actually quite good, though a select few are truly memorable (nobody who’s seen the film can actually forget “The Time Warp”, “Dammit Janet”, or “Sweet Transvestite”).
It’s probably not for everyone, but if you want a wild, unapologetically fun film, then The Rocky Horror Picture Show is certainly for you. It looks, feels and sounds very much like a film of its time, but amazingly enough, its bold, unabashed appeal still holds up today.
- Score: 75%
- Grade: B