THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (REVIEW)
Dir. Richard O'Brien
Reviewer. Dan Cook
The absolute definition of a cult movie, Jim Sharman’s decadent comedy horror musical THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW was a critical and commercial flop upon its initial 1975 release. However, its zany humour, catchy songs and off-kilter performances quickly gained a devoted following and 45 years later, it is one of the most successful and beloved films ever made - continuously playing on screens around the world and packing out theatres with fans who dress up as their favourite characters and enthusiastically belt out every single lyric to every single high-energy number.
The story, in its simplest form, centres around the young couple Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon respectively) who, during a thunderstorm take refuge in the strange castle of Dr Frank ‘N Furter (Tim Curry) - an eccentric gender-bending scientist whose latest experiment leads to the creation of Rocky (Peter Hinwood), a Herculean creature made to relieve Frank’s “tension”. What ensues is a bewildering saga of forbidden love, death, betrayal, cannibalism and pure decadence that could only have sprouted from the madcap mind of its brilliant but absolutely bonkers creator Richard ‘O Brien.
Intended to be a loving send-up of old B-movies, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, which itself was adapted from ‘O Brien’s popular stage show, delights in cheesy effects both audio and visual, retro set designs that call to mind both Hammer and Flash Gordon serials and unanimously over-the-top performances that perfectly echo those that would be typically seen in 50’s creature features and low budget sci-fi movies. In fact, the first, and in my opinion, the best song in the entire film named “Science Fiction, Double Feature” namechecks many of the classics of the genre and serves as a great itinerary list for fans of both sci-fi and vintage horror.
As mentioned, the performances are deliberately exaggerated and while some, such as Susan Sarandon’s squeaky voiced Janet becomes pretty hard to bear at times, for the most part, the cast do a great job fitting in to the movies insane world. Patricia Quinn is delightfully weird as the sultry voiced Magenta while Tim Curry is simply fabulous in his debut screen role as the defiantly unique Frank ‘N Furter who struts around the sets in a fashion that would make Freddie Mercury himself proud. One personal highlight is the inexplicably German wheelchair bound Dr. Scott (Jonathan Adams) who comes to Frank’s castle to find his layabout nephew (memorably played by the recently passed Meatloaf) only to fall foul of his host’s vengeful temper. He has what is by far the funniest reveal in the entire movie and makes what could be a throwaway character into my absolute favourite.
But for all of its retro visual flair and spirited performances, a musical is only as good as its songs and, for me, the numbers, written by ‘O Brien and composer Richard Hartley, are a very mixed bag. While many such as the gleefully naughty “Sweet Transvestite”, the show-stopping “I’m Going Home” and the insanely-catchy “Timewarp” are great fun and really well sung, others are rather bland and forgettable. Of course, with over a dozen songs, it’s inevitable that some are going to leave more of an impression than others but the contrast in quality between them in retrospect is undoubtedly noticeable. The sexually liberating “Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a Touch Me!” in particular is not only my least favourite song of the film but one of my least favourite songs ever written thanks to its uncomfortably lurid lyrics and an ear-destroying performance from Susan Sarandon who sounds like a cat with its tail trapped in a rotary fan.
A few forgettable songs and a near incoherent storyline that brings characters in and out at random intervals make THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW a sometimes frustrating watch. It’s certainly not one of my favourite musicals and in my opinion, Richard ‘O Brien’s 1981 pseudo-follow up SHOCK TREATMENT was a greater artistic expression with a more concise plot. However, I can’t deny that THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW is nonetheless an incredibly enjoyable watch that me and my wife quote almost every day and indulge in on a surprisingly regular basis. It doesn’t make a lick of sense but honestly, when it provides so much fun, who cares? It’s a broiling cauldron of sleaze, nostalgia and absolute pleasure that is almost impossible to resist. After all, how can you not immediately warm to a movie which features horror legend Charles Gray standing on a table and doing the famous “Timewarp” dance with a completely straight face? Ahhh, it’s the little things in life.