For the original stage play, see The Rocky Horror Show.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 musical comedy horror film directed by Jim Sharman. The screenplay was written by Sharman and Richard O'Brien based on the 1973 musical stage production, The Rocky Horror Show, also written by O'Brien. The production is a humorous tribute to the science fiction and horror B movies of the late 1930s through early 1970s. It stars Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick along with cast members from the original Royal Court Theatre, Roxy Theatre and Belasco Theatre productions.
The film was shot at Bray Studios, and an old country estate called Oakley Court, in Berkshire, England. The estate is best known for its use in Hammer Horror productions. Twentieth Century Fox insisted on casting the two characters of Brad and Janet with American actors, Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. Some of the costumes from the film were originally used in the stage production. Props and set pieces were reused from old Hammer films. Although the film is both a send-up and tribute to many of the science fiction and horror movies from the 1930s up to the 1970s, costume designer Sue Blane had not conducted any research in designing for the film. Blane believes that the costumes in the film directly impacted on the development of punk music fashion.
Although largely ignored upon release, it soon gained notoriety as a midnight movie when audiences began participating with the film at the Waverly Theater in New York City in 1976. Audience members returned to the cinemas frequently and talked back to the screen and began dressing as the characters, spawning similar performance groups across the United States. Still in limited release nearly four decades after its premiere, it has the longest-running theatrical release in film history. Today, the film has a large international cult following and is one of the most well-known and financially successful midnight movies of all time. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2005. The film's creative team also produced Shock Treatment, a stand alone movie using the characters of Brad and Janet and featuring many of the same cast.
A criminologist narrates the tale of the newly engaged couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss who find themselves lost and with a flat tire on a cold and rainy late November evening. Seeking a telephone, the couple walk to a nearby castle where they discover a group of strange and outlandish people who are holding an Annual Transylvanian Convention. They are soon swept into the world of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a self-proclaimed transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania. The ensemble of convention attendees also includes servants Riff Raff, his sister Magenta, and a groupie named Columbia.
In his lab, Frank claims to have discovered the "secret to life itself". His creation, Rocky, is brought to life. The ensuing celebration is soon interrupted by Eddie, an ex-delivery boy, partial brain donor to Rocky and Columbia's ex lover, who rides out of a deep freeze on a motorcycle. In a jealous rage, Frank corners him and kills him with an ice axe. He then departs with Rocky to a bridal suite.
Brad and Janet are shown to separate bedrooms where each is visited and seduced by Frank, who poses as Brad (when visiting Janet) and then as Janet (when visiting Brad). Janet, upset and emotional, wanders off to look for Brad, whom she discovers, via a television monitor, is in bed with Frank. She then discovers Rocky, cowering in his birth tank, hiding from Riff Raff, who has been tormenting him. While tending to his wounds, Janet becomes intimate with Rocky, as Magenta and Columbia watch from their bedroom monitor.
After discovering that his creation is missing, Frank returns to the lab with Brad and Riff Raff, where Frank learns that an intruder has entered the building. Brad and Janet's old high school science teacher, Dr. Everett Scott, has come looking for his nephew, Eddie. Frank suspects that Dr. Scott investigates UFOs for the government. Upon learning of Brad and Janet's connection to Dr. Scott, Frank suspects them of working for him. Frank, Dr. Scott, Brad, and Riff Raff then discover Janet and Rocky together under the sheets in Rocky's birth tank, upsetting Frank and Brad. Magenta interrupts the reunion by sounding a massive gong and stating that dinner is prepared.
Rocky and the guests are served dinner, which they soon realize has been prepared from Eddie's mutilated remains. Janet runs screaming into Rocky's arms and is slapped and chased through the halls of the castle by a jealous Frank. Janet, Brad, Dr. Scott, Rocky, and Columbia all meet in Frank's lab, where Frank captures them with the Medusa Transducer, transforming them into statues. They are then forced to perform a live cabaret floor show with Frank as the leader.
Riff Raff and Magenta interrupt the performance, revealing themselves and Frank to be aliens from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. They stage a coup and announce a plan to return to their home world. In the process, they kill Columbia, Rocky and Frank, who has "failed his mission." They release Brad, Janet, and Dr. Scott, then depart by lifting off in the castle itself. The survivors are then left crawling in the dirt, and the narrator concludes that the human race is equivalent to insects crawling on the planet's surface.
Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter, a scientist,
Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss, a heroine,
Barry Bostwick as Brad Majors, a hero,
Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff, a handyman,
Patricia Quinn as Magenta, a domestic,
Nell Campbell as Columbia, a groupie,
Jonathan Adams as Dr. Everett V. Scott, a rival scientist,
Peter Hinwood as Rocky Horror, a creation,
Meat Loaf as Eddie, an ex-delivery boy,
Charles Gray as The Criminologist, an expert,
Jeremy Newson as Ralph Hapschatt,
Hilary Farr as Betty Munroe Hapschatt (as Hilary Labow),
Concept and development:
Richard O'Brien, a Briton raised in New Zealand, was living in London as an unemployed actor in the early 1970s. He wrote most of The Rocky Horror Show during one winter just to occupy himself. Since his youth, O'Brien had loved science fiction and B horror movies. He wanted to combine elements of the unintentional humour of B horror movies, portentous dialogue of schlock-horror, Steve Reeves muscle flicks and fifties rock and roll into his musical.
O'Brien showed a portion of the unfinished script to Australian director Jim Sharman, who decided to direct it at the small experimental space Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, Chelsea, which was used as a project space for new work. O'Brien had appeared briefly in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar, directed by Sharman and the two also worked together in Sam Shepard's The Unseen Hand. Sharman would bring in production designer Brian Thomson. The original creative team was then rounded out by costume designer Sue Blane and musical director Richard Hartley, and stage producer Michael White was also brought in to produce. As the musical went into rehearsal, the working title, They Came from Denton High, was changed just before previews at the suggestion of Sharman to The Rocky Horror Show. Originally presented in a small sixty-seat theatre, it quickly moved to larger venues.
The Rocky Horror Show would eventually play in the United States in Los Angeles and New York City as well as other cities. Producer and Ode Records owner Lou Adler attended the London production in the winter of 1973, escorted by friend Britt Ekland. He immediately decided to purchase the U.S. theatrical rights. His production would be staged at his Roxy Theatre in L.A. In 1975, The Rocky Horror Show premiered on Broadway at the 1,000-seat Belasco Theatre.
Filming and locations:
The film was shot at Bray Studios, and Oakley Court, a country house in Berkshire, England and Elstree Studios for post production, from 21 October to 19 December 1974. Oakley Court, built in 1857 in the Victorian Gothic style, is known for a number of Hammer films. Much of the location shooting took place there, although at the time the manor was not in good condition. Twentieth Century Fox insisted on casting the two characters of Brad and Janet with American actors, Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. Filming took place during autumn, which made conditions worse, and during filming, Sarandon fell ill with pneumonia. Filming of the laboratory scene and the title character's creation occurred on 30 October 1974.
The movie is both a send-up and tribute to many of the science fiction and horror movies from the 1930s up to the 1970s. The film production retains many aspects from the stage version such as production design and music, but features new scenes added not in the stage play. The film's plot, setting, and style echo those of the Hammer Horror films, which had their own instantly recognizable style (just as Universal Studios' horror films did). The originally proposed opening sequence was to contain clips of various films mentioned in the lyrics, as well as the first few sequences shot in black and white, but this was deemed too expensive, and scrapped.
Costumes, make-up and props:
In the stage productions, actors generally did their own makeup. However, for the film, the producers chose Pierre La Roche, who had previously been a makeup artist for Mick Jagger, to redesign the makeup for each character. Production stills were taken by rock photographer Mick Rock, who has published a number of books from his work. In "Rocky Horror; From Concept to Cult", designer Sue Blane discusses the Rocky Horror costumes' influence on punk music style. "It was a big part of the build up to punk." She states that ripped fishnet stockings, glitter and coloured hair were directly attributable to Rocky Horror.
Some of the costumes from the film had been originally used in the stage production. Props and set pieces were reused from old Hammer productions and others. The tank and dummy used for Rocky's birth originally appeared in "The Revenge of Frankenstein." These references to older productions, in addition to cutting costs, enhanced the status of the film.
Costume designer Sue Blane wasn't keen on designing for the film until she realized Tim Curry, an old friend, was doing the show. Tim and Blane had worked together in Glasgow's Citizen Theatre in a production of "The Maids", where Curry had worn a woman's corset in the production. Blane arranged it with the theatre to loan her the corset from the other production for Rocky Horror. Blane admits that she did not conduct research for her designing and had never seen a science fiction film, and is acutely aware that her costumes for Brad and Janet may have been generalizations.
The budget for the film's costumes was $1600, far more than the stage production budget, but having to double up on costumes for filming was expensive. For filming, corsets for the finale had to be doubled for the pool scene with one version drying while the other was worn on set. While many of the costumes are exact replicas from the stage productions, other costumes were new to filming such as Columbia's gold sequined tuxedo and top hat and Magenta's maid's uniform.
Costume designer Sue Blane was amazed by the recreation and understanding of her designs by fans. When she first heard that people were dressing up, she thought it would be tacky, but she was surprised to see the depth to which the fans went to recreate her designs. Rocky Horror fan Mina Credeur, who designs costumes and performs as Columbia for Houston's performance group, states that "the best part is when everyone leaves with a big smile on their face", noting that there's "such a kitschiness and campiness that it seems to be winking at you". The film still plays at many theatre locations and Rocky Horror costumes are often made for Halloween, although many require much time and effort to make.
The film starts with the screen fading to black and over-sized, disembodied female lips appear overdubbed with a male voice, creating the androgynous theme to be repeated as the film unfolds. The opening scene and song, "Science Fiction, Double Feature" consists of the lips of Patricia Quinn (who appears in the film later as the character Magenta), but has the vocals of actor and Rocky Horror creator, Richard O'Brien (who appears as Magenta's brother Riff Raff). The lyrics reference science fiction and horror films of the past and list several film titles from the 1930s to the 1970s, including, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Flash Gordon, The Invisible Man, King Kong, It Came from Outer Space, Doctor X, Forbidden Planet, Tarantula, The Day of the Triffids, Curse of the Demon, When Worlds Collide and The Bride of Frankenstein. The disembodied lips are featured on posters and other merchandise for the film, with the tag line "A Different Set of Jaws", a spoof of the poster for the film Jaws, which was also produced in 1975.
The soundtrack was released in 1975 by Ode Records and produced by Richard Hartley. The album peaked at #49 on the Billboard 200 in 1978. It reached #40 on the Australian albums chart and No. 11 on the New Zealand albums chart. The album is described as the "definitive version of the Rocky Horror score."
"Science Fiction/Double Feature" - The Lips (those of Patricia Quinn; voice of Richard O'Brien),
"Dammit Janet" - Brad, Janet, and Chorus,
"There's a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)" - Janet, Brad, Riff Raff, and Chorus,
"The Time Warp" - Riff Raff, Magenta, The Criminologist, Columbia, and Transylvanians,
"Sweet Transvestite" - Frank,
"The Sword of Damocles" - Rocky and Transylvanians,
"I Can Make You a Man" - Frank with Brad, Janet, Riff Raff, Magenta, and Columbia,
"Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul" - Eddie and Transylvanians,
"I Can Make You a Man" (reprise) - Frank, Janet, and Transylvanians,
"Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me" - Janet with Magenta, Columbia, Rocky, Brad, Frank, and Riff Raff,
"Once in a While" (deleted scene) - Brad,
"Eddie" - Dr. Scott, The Criminologist, Janet, Frank, Rocky, Brad, Riff Raff, and Magenta,
"Planet Schmanet Janet (Wise Up Janet Weiss)" - Frank, Janet, Brad, and Dr. Scott,
"Rose Tint My World" - Columbia, Rocky, Janet, and Brad,
"Fanfare/Don't Dream It, Be It" - Frank with Brad, Janet, Rocky, and Columbia,
"Wild and Untamed Thing" - Frank with Brad, Janet, Rocky, Columbia, and Riff Raff,
"I'm Going Home" - Frank and Chorus,
"The Time Warp" (reprise) - Riff Raff and Magenta,
"Super Heroes" (only present in the original UK release) - Brad, Janet, and Chorus,
"Science Fiction/Double Feature" (reprise) - The Lips,
The film opened in the United Kingdom on August 14, 1975 and in the United States on September 26, premiering at the UA Westwood in Los Angeles, California. It did well at that location, but not elsewhere. Prior to the midnight screenings' success, the film was withdrawn from its eight opening cities due to very small audiences, and its planned New York City opening on Halloween night was cancelled. Fox re-released it around college campuses on a double-bill with another rock music film parody, Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise, but again it drew small audiences.
With Pink Flamingos (1972) and Reefer Madness (1936) making money in midnight showings nationwide, an executive at 20th Century Fox, Tim Deegan, was able to talk distributors into midnight screenings, starting in New York City on April Fools' Day of 1976. The cult following started shortly after the film began its midnight run at the Waverly Theater in New York City.Rocky Horror was not only found in the larger cities but throughout the United States where many attendees would get in free if they arrived in costume. The western division of the film's release included The U.A. Cinema in Fresno and Merced, The Cinema J in Sacramento and the Covell in Modesto. In New Orleans, an early organized performance group was active with the release there as well as in such cities as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Chicago (at the Biograph Theater). Before long nearly every screening of the film was accompanied by a live fan cast. The film is considered to be the longest-running release in film history. It has never been pulled by 20th Century Fox from its original 1975 release, and it continues to play in cinemas.
Broadcast and home video:
A Super 8 version of selected scenes of the film was made available. In 1983 Ode Records released "The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Audience Par-Tic-I-Pation Album", recorded at the 8th Street Playhouse. The recording consisted of the film's audio and the standardized call-backs from the audience. The film was released on VHS in 1990, retailing for $89.95 and had its US broadcast premiere on the Fox Broadcasting Company, including audience participation edited into the film, on October 25, 1993. A 35th Anniversary edition Blu-ray was released in the US on October 19, 2010. The disc includes a newly created 7.1 surround sound mix, the original theatrical mono sound mix, and a 4K/2K image transfer from the original camera negative. In addition, new content featuring karaoke and a fan performance were included.
A video game was released in 1985 by CRL for the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and Commodore 64.
Reception and reaction:
Roger Ebert noted that when released, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was "ignored by pretty much everyone, including the future fanatics who would eventually count the hundreds of times they'd seen it". He considered it more a "long-running social phenomenon" than a movie, rating it 2 out of 4 stars. Bill Henkin noted that Variety thought that the "campy hijinks" of the film seemed labored, and also mentioned that the San Francisco Chronicle 's John Wasserman, who had liked the stage play in London, found the film "lacking both charm and dramatic impact". Newsweek called the movie "Tasteless, plotless and pointless" in 1978.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 78%. A number of contemporary critics find it compelling and enjoyable because of its offbeat and bizarre qualities; the BBC summarized: "for those willing to experiment with something a little bit different, a little bit outré, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a lot to offer".The New York Times called it a "low-budget freak show/cult classic/cultural institution" and considered the songs featured in the film to be "catchy". Geoff Andrew of Time Out noted that the "string of hummable songs gives it momentum, Gray's admirably straight-faced narrator holds it together, and a run on black lingerie takes care of almost everything else", rating it 4 out of 5 stars. Dave Kehr of Chicago Reader on the other hand considered the wit to be "too weak to sustain a film", and thought that the "songs all sound the same".
In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
New York City origins:
The Rocky Horror Picture Show helped shape conditions of cult film's transition from art-house to grind-house style. The film developed a cult following in 1976 at the Waverly Theatre in New York, which developed into a standardized ritual. According to J. Hoberman, author of Midnight Movies, it was after five months into the film's midnight run when lines began to be shouted by the audience. Louis Farese Jr., a normally quiet teacher who, upon seeing the character Janet place a newspaper over her head to protect herself from rain yelled, "Buy an umbrella you cheap bitch". This self-proclaimed "counter point dialogue" became standard practice and was repeated nearly verbatim at each screening. Performance groups became a staple at Rocky Horror screenings due in large part to the prominent New York City fan cast, and fans are credited with the talk back lines. The cast was originally run by former schoolteacher and stand-up comic, Sal Piro and Dori Hartley. Dori was one of several performers in a flexible, rotating cast to portray the character of Frank N. Furter, shadowing the film above. The performances of the audience was scripted and actively discouraged improvising, being conformist in a similar way to the repressed characters.
On Halloween in 1976, people attended in costume and talked back to the screen, and by mid-1978, Rocky Horror was playing in over 50 locations on Fridays and Saturdays at midnight. Newsletters were published by local performance groups, and fans gathered for Rocky Horror conventions. By the end of 1979, there were twice-weekly showings at over 230 theatres. The National Fan Club was established in 1977 and later merged with the International Fan Club. A publication, "The Transylavanian" printed a number of issues, and a semi-regular poster magazine was published as well as an official magazine.
Los Angeles, Hollywood:
The Los Angeles area performance groups originated in 1977 at the Fox Theatre, where Michael Wolfson won a look-alike contest as Frank N. Furter, and won another at the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Boulevard. Wolfson's group eventually performed in all of the LA area theaters screening Rocky Horror, including the Balboa Theater in Balboa, The Cove at Hermosa Beach and The Sands in Glendale. He was invited to perform at the Sombrero Playhouse in Phoenix, Arizona.
At the Tiffany Theatre, the audience performance cast had the theater's full cooperation; the local performers entered early and without charge. The fan playing Frank for this theatre was a transgender performer. D. Garret Gafford, was out of work in 1978, trying to raise enough funds for a sex change operation while spending the weekends performing at the Tiffany.
In San Francisco, Rocky Horror moved from one location to the Strand Theatre located near the Tenderloin on Market Street. The performance group there would act out and perform almost the entire film, unlike the New York cast at that time. The Strand cast was put together from former members of the Berkeley group, disbanded due to less than enthusiastic management. Their Frank N. Furter was portrayed by Marni Scofidio, who, in 1979, attracted many of the older groups from Berkeley. Other members included Mishell Erickson and her twin sister Denise Erickson who portrayed Columbia and Magenta, Kathy Dolan playing Janet and Linda Woods as Riff Raff. The Strand group had performed at two large science fiction conventions in Los Angeles and San Francisco. They were offered a spot at The Mabuhay, a local punk club, and even performed for children's television of Argentina.
Rocky Horror is one of the last few western rites left that pertain to the carnivalesque. Annual Rock Horror conventions are held in varying locations lasting days. Tucson, Arizona has hosted a few times including 1999 with "El Fishnet Fiesta", and "Queens of the Desert" held in 2006. To the fans, Rocky Horror is ritualistic and comparable to a religious event, with a compulsive, repeated cycle of going home and coming back to see the film each weekend. The audience call backs are similar to responses in church during a mass.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has a global following and remains popular well into the 21st century. Sub cultures such as Rocky Horror have also found a place on the internet. Audience participation scripts for many cities are available to download from the World Wide Web. The internet has a number of Rocky Horror fan run websites with various quizzes and information specializing in different content allowing fans to participate at a unique level. New technologies are allowing for more personal access to all the things surrounding the cult. What would have been printed in a magazine are now available off the net.
In 1981, Sharman reunited with O'Brien to do Shock Treatment. This stand-alone feature was not a direct sequel to the original film. This film reunites character Brad and Janet and was originally conceived and written to depict the characters filmed in normal settings until the production changed to work around a Screen Actor's Guild strike. The eventual production would now entail the full film being shot entirely within a sound stage and purposely blending that into the story line. Shock Treatment has a cult following but not nearly as strong as the first film.
Ten years later, O'Brien wrote another script intended as a direct sequel to the cult classic entitled Revenge of the Old Queen. Producer Michael White had hoped to begin work on the production and described the script as being "... in the same style as the other one. It has reflections of the past in it." Although the script has not been published, bootleg copies can be read on the Internet. The script is currently owned by 20th Century Fox which produced the two original films. Most individuals associated with the project, including O'Brien, agree that the film will probably never be made, owing to the failure of Shock Treatment and the aging of the cast.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been featured in a number of other feature films and television series over the years. Rocky Horror themed episodes of Glee, The Drew Carey Show, and That 70s Show were broadcast and films like Vice Squad, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower The 1980 film Fame featured the audience, in some cases reciting their call back lines to the screen, dancing the Time Warp, the dance from the stage show and film that has become part of the light-hearted and fun novelty dances common at parties.
"The Rocky Horror Glee Show" aired on October 26, 2010 as part of the second season of the TV series Glee, which recreated several scenes from the film, including the opening credits, and featured Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf in cameo roles.
Rocky Horror remains a cultural phenomenon in both the U.S. and U.K. Cult film participants are often people on the fringe of society that find connection and community at the screenings although the film attracts fans of differing backgrounds all over the world.