It’s hard to believe the film version of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” came out in 1975 because the sexual politics are so bold. Men cross-dress, wear makeup and sleep with each other. Then again, the movie was a giant flop when it debuted, only rising to acclaim once introduced on the midnight screening circuit. The freaks come out at night, and then they attend late night movies.
“Rocky Horror” isn’t a very good film, if I’m being honest – but it’s an essential cultural experience and an indisputable cult phenomenon nonetheless. Most easily described as a “musical comedy horror” (genres that don’t seem like they should go together), “Rocky Horror” is weird, over-emphasized and campy, and therefore the perfect flick to watch stoned this Halloween (or go see the live performance at the Strater!) Based on a 1973 musical stage production of the same name, “Rocky” seems more like a stage play than a movie, even on the big screen, not least because of its interactive value. Fans all over the country (the movie still screens regularly in theaters) dress up to attend, recite lines and sing along with the actors and carry props. Few films beside this one – perhaps none – have inspired such a fervid communal tradition.
British actor Tim Curry stars in his crowning cinematic moment as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a transsexual dude in fishnet stockings and a corset. We meet Frank when all-American, lily white couple Brad and Janet (a very young Susan Sarandon and a very nerdy Barry Bostwick) stumble upon his castle one rainy night when their car breaks down. Brad and Janet just want to use some Good Samaritan’s telephone, but are instead lured inside a haunted mansion populated not by spooks and spirits, but by raunch and mad science.
Frank-N-Furter’s castle is adorned with taxidermied animals, cobwebs and several creepy servants who refer to him as “master”; two women with ferociously painted faces and one hunchbacked fellow, the apparent brother of one of the women (but also her lover). There’s an annual convention of some sort taking place inside the house, for which dozens of bizarre party-goers in party hats have arrived. Frank is unveiling something to them, his very own creation (and a nod to his namesake, Frankenstein): A blonde, muscled male beauty called Rocky, who will apparently serve as Frank’s sexual lackey.
Made during a period of struggle in America between conservatism and sexual revolution, the story of “Rocky Horror” is also one of Brad and Janet’s sexual awakening. They’re clad in only underwear for a good portion of the film, and both end up sleeping with Frank-N-Furter, despite their formerly conservative ideals. A somber criminologist narrates the entire tale from his office (multiple characters are murdered, so it is kind of a crime scene), as though the events taking place are too insane to be understood without the benefit of analysis. And they probably are.