Anniversary: Rocky Horror Picture Show

By Cat Eldridge: Forty-six years ago on this date, the Rocky Horror Picture Show film premiered. But before we get to the film, we need to go back to the London show as the film is based off the music, book, and lyrics that Richard O’Brien did for that production, which was a parody tribute to the SF and horror B-movies of the Thirties through to the early Sixties. The stage show was produced and directed by Jim Sharman. The original London production of the musical premiered at the Royal Court Theatre (Upstairs) on June 19, 1973. It would move around to several locations during its run before closing on September 13, 1980 after a total of 2,960 performances. It would go to tour the world pretty much everywhere. 

Now the film premiered just two years into the run of the London show. It was directed by Jim Sharman, and the screenplay by himself and O’Brien. (No surprise there.) it was produced by Lou Adler, co-owner of the Roxy Theatre which is where the live show had its first U.S. engagement, and Michael White who just produced Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in London’s West End.

The cast is phenomenal: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Meatloaf, along with cast members from the original Royal Court Theatre, Roxy Theatre, and Belasco Theatre productions, including Nell Campbell and Patricia Quinn. It is narrated by Charles Gray who was Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever.

Some critics liked it, some thought it “tasteless, plotless and pointless.” I think Time Out London summed it up best: “A 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.” The audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes currently give it a rocking eighty-five percent rating. And it has earned one hundred seventy million dollars to date on a total budget of one point four million dollars. 

An entire post could be written on audience participation which includes dancing the Time Warp along with the film, and throwing such things as toast, toilet paper, hot dogs, and rice at the appropriate points in the movie. And, of course, responding to dialogue in the film. Dressing up is expected for these fans and many locals approach that of professional theatre companies In their acting skills. 

A sequel by O’Brien was planned but obviously never happened. The title? Rocky Horror Shows His Heels

27 thoughts on “Anniversary: Rocky Horror Picture Show

  1. And of course Chip Delany and Marilyn Hacker met their new neighbor, Tim Curry, who got them tickets to this show he was in. And when they got backstage, they discovered that Richard O’Brien was a major Delany fan. But that’s all been recounted in Facebook, and a chunk of it here in File 770.

  2. I still remember being an enthusiastic participant at a midnight showing at my university theatre, with the rice and the spritz bottles and the toast – right up to the point where the person who’d brought me stood up, pointed at me, and shouted “VIRGIN!!!” 😀

  3. There was an actual sequel produced – Shock Treatment. Directed by Sharman, written by O’brien and Sharman, not starring most of the iconic cast.

    It is not worth your audience participation time.

    I first saw RHPS at Rutgers University a year or so after initial release. A short time later I was in the back row, taking a bow for every showing.

    What a ride.

    The remake, obviously, did not fare so well as many of the film’s concepts were simply no longer daring and transgressive. I think the only thing(s) saving the original from the suck fairy are the individual performances and nostalgia.

  4. For a while in the 1990s it was pretty standard to have a midnight Rocky Horror event at science fiction conventions, at least here in the Midwest.

  5. steve davidson says There was an actual sequel produced – Shock Treatment. Directed by Sharman, written by O’brien and Sharman, not starring most of the iconic cast.

    It is not worth your audience participation time.

    Not really a sequel I’d say.

    And the critical reviews were harsh to put it mildly.

  6. @steve davidson:

    I think the only thing(s) saving the original from the suck fairy are the individual performances and nostalgia.

    More than nostalgia–historical importance. I suspect when people finally look back carefully on the seventies, this movie will be one of the main vectors of glorious weirdness into mainstream society. When you put it on film and in theaters, it’s just like cooking it up and shooting it directly into the veins.

  7. John A Arkansawyer says More than nostalgia–historical importance. I suspect when people finally look back carefully on the seventies, this movie will be one of the main vectors of glorious weirdness into mainstream society. When you put it on film and in theaters, it’s just like cooking it up and shooting it directly into the veins.

    I fully agree. I recently listened to the the soundtrack on Apple Music and even without the visuals accompanying the songs, they held up remarkably well. It’s certainly one of the best such soundtracks done, and the film itself hasn’t dated at all.

    I saw it live first in Seattle on a warm summer’s night a decade after it came out with a very enthusiastic audience.

  8. I saw the film in the late seventies (surrounded by people in costumes enthusiastically shouting at the screen, etc.), but never took to the film itself or the whole subculture surrounding it, although I understand John’s comment about the film’s historical importance. However, I’ve always liked the catchy theme song, “Science Fiction Double Feature.” By the way, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has an interesting entry on the film, with the following comment: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show is notable for summing up an entire generation’s attitude to sf: it is presented not as a bold facing-up to the challenges of the future but as a campy nostalgia for the luridnesses of the past.”

  9. Though I didn’t note it in my writeup, Tim Curry was the original actor for the Dr Frank-N-Furter role when the play opened in London and pretty much created the over the top character that you see on film. It was originally more restrained as written by O’Brien.

    I haven’t looked but I’m willing to bet some of the other performers came through from the London play as well.

  10. An entire post could be written on audience participation

    Heck, there are entire books on the subject…

  11. @Carl Rosenberg:

    I saw the film in the late seventies (surrounded by people in costumes enthusiastically shouting at the screen, etc.), but never took to the film itself or the whole subculture surrounding it, although I understand John’s comment about the film’s historical importance.

    You know, I didn’t either!

    I screwed up on my first try when my SCA girlfriend took me to a Columbia, Missouri midnight showing. I thought people were improvising! And did so and got shushed, as I should have been, but it was embarrassing enough that I didn’t hurry to my next few chances. As a result, I missed it when I was most open to it.

    I went to see it earlier this year and enjoyed watching people enjoy it, a lot. I enjoyed the movie, too, but I enjoyed their enthusiasm more.

  12. Lisa Riba says Heck, there are entire books on the subject…

    Oh tell. Now there’s a Secret History that I’m interested in.

    Now listening to Charles Stross’ Empire Games which is holding up remarkably well on this go around.

  13. @Steve Davidson and @Cat Eldridge —

    Yes, Shock Treatment really is a sequel to RHPS, it just goes in a different direction – but the main characters are definitely the same Brad and Janet.

    And I actually think that – as long as you don’t go in expecting another RHPS – it’s quite a good, satirical film. I’ll go so far as to say that I think the songs are better than RHPS’s.

    (Donning flame-proof suit.)

  14. There was an actual sequel produced – Shock Treatment. Directed by Sharman, written by O’brien and Sharman, not starring most of the iconic cast.

    It is not worth your audience participation time.

    The music for Shock Treatment, on the other hand, is very good (which is not surprising).

    It’s not a straight sequel, but many elements carry over (including the characters Brad and Janet).

  15. I first saw RHPS at the 1976 Mid-AmeriCon in Kansas City, but I was dead on my seat and kept dozing off through that and the next film, FORBIDDEN PLANET. When I finally woke up, there was this really weird amalgamation of the two in my head. I’ve enjoyed Rocky many times since. At one local theater, the assistant manager used to come roaring down the aisle on his Harley during Eddie’s solo and send the shadowcast scattering. Those midnight showings at cons are still alive here in Southwest Virginia.

  16. I first saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a teen during an audience participation showing in the high school auditorium.The flyer listed what props to bring, so we brought props, even though none of is knew the film.

    I didn’t expect much and mainly went, because my friends wanted to go. But then “Science Fiction Double Feature” started playing over the opening titles and I thought, “Wait a minute, I know all of the movies they’re singing about. But I thought no one knows those movies. Certainly not the idiots who dragged me here. They like Dirty Dancing.”

    During “Sweet Transvestite”, I annoyed the audience by explaining that transvestite and Transylvania have nothing to do with each other, except for the Latin prefix “trans”. Yeah, I took Latin in school.

    During the banquet scene, we all ate the cookies (I think we had Bahlsen cookies) we brought. And once it becomes clear just what they’re eating on screen (hint: not Bahlsen cookies), my then best friend Dagmar spat out her cookie half across the auditorium to everybody’s annoyance.

    In general, my reaction was, “Of my God, so many science fiction references and I get them all! Uhm, but why are they all wearing black lingerie?”

    I should also note that crossdressing wasn’t as taboo in 1980s Germany as elsewhere. There even was a drag show on TV around the same time, so that bit wasn’t shocking.

  17. I first saw RHPS at the 1976 Mid-AmeriCon in Kansas City, but I was dead on my seat and kept dozing off through that and the next film, FORBIDDEN PLANET. When I finally woke up, there was this really weird amalgamation of the two in my head.

    I just love the fact that somewhere they really had a double feature of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Forbidden Planet, since that’s exactly the double feature the opening promises.

  18. Cora Buhlert says I just love the fact that somewhere they really had a double feature of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Forbidden Planet, since that’s exactly the double feature the opening promises.

    Only a truly dedicated fan of Rocky Horror Picture Show would program that double feature.

  19. Any fans of Hedwig and the Angry Inch? I think it checks many of the same boxes as Rocky Horror. More out there in terms of gender roles. More musically oriented, not as science fictional, but it has an animated mythological fantasy segment that makes it at least genre adjacent. 1970s rock instead of 1950s — the songs are awesome. Can be watched over and over.

  20. I’d already gotten the Roxy cast album before seeing the movie. I’d read about it somewhere and picked it up at the little record store off campus (in Iowa) so had an idea of the music.
    Saw the movie and told friends they had to see it–without going into detail. The crowd I ran with loved it for the camp; the over the top of it all.
    Saw it several times that summer and the audience was mostly either gays; theater people (college town) or what is now called alternative. And of course those categories overlapped.
    Saw the Broadway show ages ago with Lea Delaria playing the Eddie/Dr. Scott roles and Dick Cavett as the narrator. Fun.
    That remake a few years ago was a disaster–the original appeal was the tacky shabbiness. . And I knew when they announced Laverne Cox as Frank that it wouldn’t work. No matter how they tried to spin it.

  21. Last year the Wisconsin Democratic Party did a fundraiser of it as a musical event with appearances from original cast members Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick and Nell Campbell, along with Connie Britton, Wilmer Valderrama, Lance Bass, Rosario Dawson, Jason George, Seth Green, Jason Alexander and David Arquette.

    I hadn’t know that Curry had a stroke nearly a decade back and frankly was appalled that he been included in this event as he shouldn’t have been. He was clearly that bad off.

  22. “I first saw RHPS at the 1976 Mid-AmeriCon in Kansas City, but I was dead on my seat and kept dozing off through that and the next film, FORBIDDEN PLANET. When I finally woke up, there was this really weird amalgamation of the two in my head.” That’s fun to imagine, Steve!

  23. Cat Eldridge: I hadn’t know that Curry had a stroke nearly a decade back and frankly was appalled that he been included in this event as he shouldn’t have been. He was clearly that bad off… the optics looked really bad none the less.

    I thought it was absolutely wonderful. Curry is disabled, he’s not dead. He is a main, essential part of RHPS, and to exclude him without offering him the opportunity to participate would have been inexcusable. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Curry “is particularly choosy about his public appearances since suffering a stroke” – so clearly this (participation in a Democratic fundraiser and get-out-the-vote effort a month before the Presidential Election) was something he felt strongly about.

  24. I saw it maybe thirty-five times in my student years, both at student film nights in Cambridge and at the Classic Cinema in Harold’s Cross in Dublin, which closed in 2003. I knew absolutely all the lines, and in Cambridge was usually able to persuade a friend to lend me underwear to dress up in. So much good fun.

    One of my favourite timing moments: if you can stand just to the right of the screen while Tim Curry is singing the “cards for sorrow, cards for shame” line, you can make it look like he’s throwing the imaginary cards to you, and even exchange a little wave of acknowledgement at the end.

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