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Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Directed by: Jim Sharman

Premise: A married couple (Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick) find themselves stranded at the house of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry).

What Works: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is vaudeville musical theater on film. The picture is unique among musicals in that it doesn’t emulate Broadway in the way many high profile cinematic musicals have and continue to do, from The Sound of Music to Chicago. The inspiration for Rocky Horror is based in the science fiction and horror films of the 1940s and 50s such as Bride of Frankenstein, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Forbidden Planet, making a film adaptation of the show a natural transition. Rocky Horror uses references to these older films with a self consciously over the top and kitschy style that makes the film very endearing for those who get the joke. For all musicals, the single most important element is its songs and the great musicals are often great because they have memorable music. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has several enduring musical numbers including “The Time Warp,” “Damn It Janet,” and “Sweet Transvestite” that crossover from vaudeville musical to mainstream pop. These musical numbers are carried by a unique cast of characters who are permutations of the stock characters from Rocky Horror’s inspirations such as the hunchbacked lab assistant played by Richard O’Brien or the good looking, unequivocally heterosexual, god-fearing protagonists played by Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick. Although there are a lot of unique and memorable characters in Rocky Horror, the performance most widely associated with the film is Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Curry is the queen of cinematic queens and as he struts and swaggers on screen and it’s the performance that largely makes the movie.

What Doesn’t: The Rocky Horror Picture Show is really more than a film; it’s a phenomenon and even a subculture, and the uninitiated are likely to be perplexed by the film upon first viewing it. Any attempt to evaluate Rocky Horror on its cinematic merits is useless and ultimately beside the point. Of course it isn’t a “good movie” in the way mainstream filmgoers normally think of the term but the joy of Rocky Horror is really in its flaws, its messiness, and its insanity.

DVD extras: The two-disc 25th anniversary edition of The Rocky Horror Picture Show includes both the U.S. and U.K. versions, an option to view the film with crowd interactions, a documentary, featuretes, outtakes, and a trailer. 

Bottom Line: The Rocky Horror Picture Show may not be to everyone’s taste but that is why it is the ultimate cult film, and for that reason alone it is important. But the film has a certain cheeky genius about it that is the source of its appeal and Rocky Horror Picture Show’s longevity is a testament to the power of a devoted fan base.

Episode: #310 (October 17, 2010)