Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Mother of all cult movies

Frankly speaking I didn't know anything about or that this movie even existed before seeing that Glee was doing a tribute episode for the 'cult-movie' and perhaps no other film defines 'cult movie' as well as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". With perpetual midnight showings and a dedicated fan base, this movie still taps into a segment of society largely ignored by mainstream filmmakers. 

Movies become classics, tremendous hits or legends based on the star power contained in the movie or better yet groundbreaking effects or controversial themes but perhaps no other film embodies the concept of a cult film as much as Rocky Horror does. A good cult film should be unique in its genre, a rarity among its own peers. Certainly there had never been a rock musical spoof of the horror film genre before RHPS, and there hasn't been anything like it since. A good cult movie should also have a strong following among discriminating fans. More than anything, a good cult movie should have an impact on its audience that goes beyond the literal storyline. With its unorthodox examination of human sexuality and the underlying tones of sexual exploration, Rocky Horror did indeed impact a segment of society which had previously been kept in the closet.

When the film was first released in 1975 it was ignored by pretty much everyone, including the future fanatics who would eventually count the hundreds of times they'd seen it. "Rocky Horror" opened, closed, and would have been forgotten had it not been for the inspiration of a low-level 20th Century-Fox executive who talked his superiors into testing it as a midnight cult movie.

But just what is this all about anyway?

In the late 60s and early 70s, a brilliant but eccentric young British songwriter named Richard O'Brien was working in the fringes of the musical world. O'Brien was a troubled man, trying to reconcile his own sexual and social confusions with the realities of a conservative society. Inspired by a childhood fascination with Grade Z horror movies, O'Brien created a Science Fiction rock musical intended to spoof the often cheesy horror films. Originally titled 'It came from Denton High', the stage play was performed in a small, grungy theatre in London. Among the early performers was a flamboyant actor/singer named Tim Curry, whose performance as the anti-hero Dr. Frank-n-Furter soon became legendary. As the production became more polished, the title was changed to the Rocky Horror Show.

When the play became a surprise hit, Curry and several other cast members were invited to stage a new production in Los Angeles. Sitting in the audience was an ambitious studio executive, Lou Adler, who had already had several successes both in the music business and filmmaking. Impressed with Tim Curry's bravura performance and O'Brien's musical score, negotiations began in earnest for a film version of the play. Thus, the Rocky Horror Picture Show was born. Tim Curry would reprise his role as Dr. Frank-n-Furter, and many of the original London castmembers were also cast in the film, including O'Brien himself as the duplicitous servant Riff Raff. Two relatively unknown American actors, Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, were cast as the naive All-American couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss. 

Queen of all cult movies

The plot of the film itself is fairly quite straightforward, even if the execution of said plot can be a bit convoluted. A young, naïve and a bit slow couple, Brad and Janet, decide to visit the professor who introduced them. After their car breaks down on a deserted backroad, they decide to call for help from a castle that appears from nowhere. The castle turns out to be a front for aliens, lead by a lascivious and volatile alien scientist named Frank-n-Furter. Frank has been working on a Frankensteinish experiment to create the perfect man, Rocky Horror. Brad and Janet's sudden and uninvited appearance creates a problem for Frank and his assistants, Magenta and Riff Raff. Fearing exposure, Frank keeps Brad and Janet in the castle, and eagerly seduces both of them into silence. The plan almost works, until the professor, Dr. Scott, stumbles upon the castle himself, in search of his missing cousin, Eddy played by Meatloaf. Eddy had been captured by the aliens earlier, and was now dead. Sensing that his days are numbered, Frank quickly assembles his captives for a final musical production number, but is sabotaged by his duplicitous assistants, Magenta and Riff Raff, who promptly dispose of Frank and return the castle to their home planet, leaving some confused earthlings in their wake.

The appeal of here lies more in the messages than in the medium itself. On the surface, Rocky Horror is a mediocerish movie with some great musical moments and some atrocious dialogue. Beneath this cheap exterior, however, is an honest attempt to deal with some important social and sexual issues. The openness by which many of the Rocky characters live their lives has had quite an impact on some socially confused young people. Few movies before Rocky Horror had explored the underlying issues facing homosexuals in a rigid society. Tim Curry's 'Frank' may have been portrayed as evil, but some fans could associate with his self-assurance and courage to live his life without bending to society's rules. In that sense, the movie does send out a clear message of tolerance for those who choose a different form of sexual expression.

At last I only have an advice To those who haven't seen Rocky Horror, don't bother reading reviews about it. It won't mean anything. Don't rent it on DVD which it recently came out on. It also won't mean anything, because it's missing the thing that gave it and the stage play that preceded it life... the audience. By definition, a cult film is meant to be seen by a group. Preferably, a large one.
  So for a cult movie I’ll give it a 10/10.


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