Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
What is Halloween without The Rocky Horror Picture Show? An iconic horror musical that pays homage to the cheese B-movies of the 1950s while being a twisted look into the dangers of sexual desires. Its a strange mix but yet it works. There’s just something charming yet entertaining to its weirdness. And it may start to sound like I have mixed feelings but I really love this movie. The problem is that its a hard film to talk about considering there is so much to describe and discuss. Even my own blog post can’t do much justice seeing how big of a cult phenomenon this movie is. Its become a huge staple for midnight movie screenings where actors would dress up as the characters, shout back at the screen, dace to the Time Warp and even throw things around like toilet paper or cards. So how did this magnum opus written by Richard O’Brien get so big? Well, I’ll do my best to say how and why its such a famous crowd pleaser and a favorite movie musical of mine.
Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon are two teenagers turned fiances named Brad Majors (a$$hole) and Janet Weiss ($lut…I couldn’t resist) who love each other so much they plan to get married down the road. When attempting to visit an old colleague of theirs at night, they unfortunately get a flat tire and seek assistance from a spooky house not too far down the road. As it turns out, the house is full of strange people that are really aliens from the Planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania ( I know its weird on paper but just go with it). From then on, it becomes a hilarious send up and homage of cliches to horror films of the 1950s. Richard O’Brien is a creepy butler named Riff Raff, Patricia Quinn is a sultry maid named Magenta who is Riff Raff’s sister that talks in cryptic dialogue most of the time and Nell Campbell as Columbia who is ambiguously human seeing her character is labeled in the opening credits as a groupie. Its an interesting mesh of classic tropes from haunted house movies or even “whodunnit” mysteries.
But all that changes when Tim Curry literally drops in by means of an elevator shaft and this is when things really kick off. Tim plays a character with the archetype of a mad scientist named Dr. Frank N. Furter and is also a proclaimed “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.” Every scene he is in, you can’t take your eyes off him. Tim Curry gives it his all performance wise and singing wise. In his first number, you don’t know what to expect from him. He’s dancing around in a corset and fish-stockings while making subtle gestures to our heroes that their night has just begun and won’t be the same. It is truly a game changer I’m sure first time viewers will have no idea what to make of such a strange sight but yet press on further.
Basically, Dr. Frank N. Furter plans to bring a Frankenstein-like monster to life when its revealed that its a blond, tan and muscular man played by Peter Hinwood in his first and only film role. Again, it brings about a huge switch from the normal tropes of the classic monster movies and plays it up for laughs. What I like is the build up where its played out serious when Frank and company are turning on machines and really playing out like a Universal Monster movie. But when its revealed that the monster in question is just a hunk, we can’t help but laugh at the expectations knowing what its parodying.
And from here, I can’t talk about the story any further or it would I would be ruining a lot for new first timers. To describe the second half of the movie, it gets more and more bonkers as it goes along. We go from an old lab experiment played by Meat Loaf to a German scientist in search of his lost son to even a grand floor show unlike anything you have ever seen. This is truly a love letter to the monster movies of the past while spoofing them along the way or adding some adult twists to them. In a nutshell, its a really different flick that is memorable for how other worldly it gets from start to finish. Richard O’Brien once said that going to see a movie for the first time in theaters is almost like your virginity. We don’t know what to expect from a feature we have yet to see and wonder how it will play off of us or will it entertain in the end. That is very much what The Rocky Horror Picture Show is. There’s so many odd and unpredictable things that you really don’t know what to expect in the end. I’d go into deeper detail about why the songs are so good or my favorite moments but seeing the movie still plays in theaters I’d best recommend to see it there when you get the chance. But if you want to be lazy, it is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. But I must add that you will never experience the full power of Rocky Horror unless you have seen it in theaters to which it still plays at to this day.
There will never be another like it nor will there be. However, there does exist a supposed sequel called Shock Treatment. I should address that the release of Rocky Horror was not a big success but it got better when it ran in midnight movie screenings. Hence why it has never been pulled by 20th Century Fox and continues to play in theaters. To think a sequel to one of the greatest and legendary horror musicals ever made would be possible and it did have potential. Due to a writer’s guild strike, Shock Treatment went under many budget cuts to the point it was mainly shot on sound stages for reasons I’ll talk about shortly. It was released on Halloween of 1981 and despite the hype surrounding it, Shock Treatment flopped. The main reason is because 20th Century Fox only released it as a midnight movie thinking it would garner the same success as Rocky Horror this way. It never got a first run release or even giving a nationwide debut. Since then, it has been rediscovered by many fans and even given it the same treatment as Rocky Horror with it being a midnight movie though not as widespread and big. Many critics of today view it as being underrated. But unfortunately, I find it to be somewhat underwhelming.
The story did have promise as Denton is converted into a massive TV station where the citizens are reality show junkies. This is a really interesting commentary that had a lot of potential exploring the fascination behind the obsession for game shows or real life soap operas. But it doesn’t full pay off and the conclusion they use is very weak. Brad and Janet return but this time played by Cliff DeYoung and Jessica Harper. They are no Susan Surandon or Barry Bostwick but they really try. This time, Brad and Janet’s marriage is on the rocks for unexplained reasons as they go on a game show to coupe with their problems. Brad is placed in a ward and deemed criminally insane while the TV station’s founder sets Janet on an ego trip as a famous rock star. I will admit, this is a promise idea but not much potential lives up to it. I like how Janet goes all out and it really fits with her character to see her go through this ultimate transformation but it doesn’t pay off as much. I think this is because all Brad does is just sit around in a straight jacket for the most of the movie instead of giving something to do. Why not have him set up as a news anchor for gossip or even play with his ego more by having him as a soap opera star? I understand the villain is trying to tear them apart but why not play around with it further?
That is very much my main issue with Shock Treatment. It doesn’t do much the characters aside from Janet’s storyline which even then never gets a good payoff. In the original Rocky Horror, both characters were given more things to do where else here there’s not much done to explore them more both or even challenge. The only good things I can say is that SOME of the original cast members do return but as different people. Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell return as doctors and nurses while Charles Gray (who played the Criminologist in Rocky Horror that acted as a narrator) is now a canned news anchor that feels something is off with Denton.
I should also point out fans of Rik Mayall might be interested to know that this movie held one of his first film roles. He plays a character a character named “Rest Home” Ricky who very much takes random photographs and at one point gets to “sleep” with Nell Campbell’s character. Its a very small role but yet something about it feels memorable. He has little lines, its a very quiet character and vastly different from the loud and out of control humor he would later do for The Young Ones or Bottom. Even watching it now, its strange to say I didn’t think Rik was ever in this movie and it feels weird to say just how a performance like this can show that he had variety to his acting methods.
Lastly, the songs range from decent to a bit forgettable. No one will be able to top the Time Warp but it feels like with the opening number with the townsfolk singing about Denton. There are some good songs like the title number “Shock Treatment” because of its catchy beat and lyrics and “Lullaby” is probably my favorite for having a beautiful yet haunting feeling in the melody. Everything else I barley remember. There’s a number here and there I might recognize but its nowhere strong or have that charming allure that the original had. And I know I shouldn’t compare the two but they have so much similar things while being two different movies. Even at times, there is a short pause like we think there’s an audience callback to shout in like the first movie which makes me wonder if they intended it to be the next big Rocky Horror. Well, they tried alright but I can’t say its completely a loss. There are some things I do enjoy about it and it was a good try. But I can’t recommend this right off the fly because there’s too many problems in the narrative that just straight up bother me and there are character archs that just go nowhere. I heard this has a cult following and I can see why considering it is trying to be a follow-up to such a tough act to top. But for me, I just have too many issues with it to even consider a good movie to begin with. I’m sure they had fun trying to make it but I didn’t get that B-movie charm that Rocky Horror gave me. Instead, I felt lost in time…and lost in space…and meaning…
Posted on October 18, 2014, in Horror-Wood 2014 and tagged 1975, Barry Bostwick, Brad Majors, Charles Gray, Denton, Dr. Frank N. Furter, Horror Musical, Janet Weiss, Jessica Harper, Meat Loaf, Movie Musical, Nell Campbell, Patricia Quinn, Richard O'Brien, Rik Mayall, Shock Treatment, Susan Surrandon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tim Curry, Time Warp. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.