Glam rock meets B-grade horror meets rock and roll meets a horny scientist. Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s 1975 The Rocky Horror Picture Show, based on O’Brien’s stage musical, The Rocky Horror Show is the ultimate cult classic.
Panned by critics on its cinematic release, the combination of sex, aliens, and rock ‘n’ roll fuelled its appeal at midnight screenings in small theatres. The Waverly Theatre in New York started the trend of audience participation. Singalongs, costumes, shadow casts, lipsyncing, and throwing projectiles at the screen all created a great, fun atmosphere to watch a movie that is questionable in its cinematic quality but ticks the boxes for entertainment. The creative team from the stage production came straight over to the film version and it shows. This feels like a stage musical you’re seeing on the screen. The set pieces are big and open like a stage. The songs are worked in seamlessly but also fit their character. Frank’s songs are all performed to an audience, whether that be partygoers or through the fourth wall. Janet and Brad sing to themselves or each other as the shy fish out of water.
The casting is great, Tim Curry can’t be faulted as Frank N Furter, Sarandon and Bostwick as the demure newly-engaged Brad and Janet, the campness of O’Brien as Riff Raff, Patricia Quinn as Magenta and Little Nell as Columbia take the ‘schlock horror’ tribute to another level. Eddy, the motorcycle-riding delinquent rocker, seems like the role Meatloaf was born to play but the story goes that he only got the role on the American stage version because he was the only auditionee that could get out all the words to ‘Saturday Night’ in time.
As a piece of cinema, you can understand why the film critics didn’t take to it as well as the theatre critics. The production values meet the bare minimum in a lot of ways. The overacting as an homage to B grade, schlock horror is very likely to have gone over a lot of heads. The sexuality of it is nothing like anything seen in mainstream theatres before it, including the ‘transvestite’ main character. But it has been a hit with audiences since. It continues to be shown at midnight screenings all over the world, making it the longest continuous theatrical release in cinema history.
The openness of its sexual themes, the celebration of self, and the idea of giving yourself over to absolute pleasure, combined with some great singalong tunes is undoubtedly what makes it so popular and gives it the staying power to remain a cult classic today.