Ever since I discovered The Rocky Horror Picture Show in my teens, on VHS, I’ve been a big fan, so, as it’s just been re-issued in a shiny steelbook Blu-ray edition, I thought it time to take another look, as its been a while since I’ve actually sat down to watch the movie.
As the new Blu-ray gave me the option I chose to watch the US cut of the movie rather than the UK version which I presumed I was more familiar with. To be honest there is not much difference between the two until the second to last song, but more of that later.
Kicking off with a huge pair of red lips filling the screen, the scene is set as the lips act something like a curtain in a theatre instantly signaling us to suspend our disbelief and just go with what we see while, in the lyrics to Science Fiction, Double Feature, its clear we are heading into b-movie referencing, 1950s nostalgia territory.
The opening scene is the only one that tries to be set in the real world, but even this has its odd moments with some American Gothic referencing cameos and a billboard in a graveyard that sets the off beat tone for what is to come.
From this scene on its clear that this is adapted from a stage musical, and many of the performers were veterans of that version, so some of the musical numbers have a somewhat stagey feel but, it is to the credit of the direction and editing, that this is varied just enough with cutaways and similar techniques to never become stagey and it actually heightens the non-realism of the movie in the process.
As our protagonist duo of Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) head away from the chapel and into the night the pace picks up and, really, never lets up. My remembrance of the movie was that, despite everything, there was something of a lull after Sweet Transvestite, but for the one hour thirty-eight minutes of it The Rocky Horror Picture Show is non-stop – if it’s not a song, there is something happening pushing the boundaries of taste and absurdity in one way or another and all delivered with a sense of knowing mischievous delight.
This tone really comes through in the performances and, while Richard O’Brien is clearly the heart and soul and giving the most committed performance of his own script as Riff Raff, the whole cast seem to be giving it their all.
The real star is Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter combining creepiness with camp to create a character who varies from malevolent to genuinely empathic at different points and has a truly triumphant pathos drenched end with I’m Going Home.
Across the movie the production values vary wildly so while the sets are all impressive and big design pieces, from Frank’s lab to the floor show finish, the dance routines at times have something of the am-dram to them and there are many moments where both continuity and dubbing go out of the window. But this never really matters if you’ve got swept up in the whole thing, which is where the cult status of the film comes into play.
I have a feeling that anyone coming to the film fresh will have one of two reactions; a love they can’t quite explain or they simply won’t like it and will think it’s a bit of a mess, which I suppose is fair enough, though as someone who falls into the first camp, its likely I’ll never really understand the second.
As I was saying earlier, the US cut excises a couple of verses of the song Superheroes which gives the film a more conventionally rounded ending as we see Brad and Janet (and Dr. Scott) escape.
This though sits at odds with the overall tone of the film when compared to the cut with the full version of the song which adds a sense of melancholy to Brad and Janet’s ‘escape’ from the Transylvanians and leaves things on something of an ambiguous note that is far more in-keeping with the rest of the movie.
In the end, even nearly 40 years after its release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show stands up as a subversive treat that is at once silly and shocking and epitomises cult cinema in a way very few other films have managed. It merges The Wizard Of Oz with 1950s sci-fi and the kind of movies that only seemed to come out of the 1970s typified by the likes of John Waters all with knowing charm that really shows this could only be the product of Richard O’Brien’s mind and really that is what we are watching translated onto a cinema screen.
As an extra note I’d highly recommend Stuart Samuels’ documentary Midnight Movies as a companion piece to The Rocky Horror Picture Show if you’re in something of an exploratory mood (sorry about the quality of the trailer, it’s the only one I could find)…