Director: Jim Sharman
Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Peter Hinwood, Nell Campbell, Meatloaf, Jonathan Adams and Charles Gray
Plot: A couple’s car breaks down in the woods and they seek shelter from the rain in a castle, presided over by the mad scientist, Frank N’ Furter (Curry).
Before I watched the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I was described as the uninitiated. I never really understood the term, until I finally watched this cult 70s film that has inspired one of the biggest followings in cinema to date. And the truth is there is no way to prepare for the movie you are about to watch, until you are actually watching it. I could tell you that it is a slim adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with a mad doctor creating life. I could tell you that the majority of the film’s running time involves madcap musical numbers and men dressed as women. But that doesn’t quite explain the insanity and brilliance that is Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Picture Show. There isn’t a movie like it out there – and I highly doubt there ever will be.
The most important thing for a director to consider when creating a film that is this out there is that it needs to be holistic. If one actor isn’t up to speed on the zany tone of the film, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Essentially, films like the Rocky Horror Picture Show (if any film exists), are like a house of cards. One layer too many and the cards fall to the ground. Any aspect of the movie could end up a devastatingly destructive misstep. Thankfully, the absence of such a mistake is the true success of this cult movie. Despite the total craziness of the script, everyone is on the same boat. Susan Sarandon wears the bug-eyed Gothic heroine role like a badge of honour, a face of both fear and wonder plastered to her throughout the whole film. Richard O’Brien’s Riff Raff wins you over from the first look at his out-there costume. Peter Hinwood appears as a hulking mass of muscle for the female audience in his single main acting role. Someone managed to convince Charles Gray to act as the narrator, sitting behind a desk in a suit and chipping in with foot-notes in seemingly random and pointless asides. His straight-faced delivery almost steals the show. However, there is only really one man who deserves full credit for show-stealing in this movie and that is the legend that is Tim Curry. For one, he goes above and beyond the line of duty, portraying Frank N’ Furter, the mad scientist at the centre of this story. Dressed to the nines in black stockings and a corset, armed with legs smoother than most supermodels, Curry is a sight to behold. From the moment, he walks on screen, the movie focuses on nothing else, the camera panning around his performance, like he has become the gravitational pull of the movie. It is both the little things and the big things he does with the role. The musical numbers are delivered with an abundance of style. The jokes are always laugh out loud. He is a character so trapped in his world that his odd actions feel perfectly grounded. You will leave this movie totally enthralled in the ethos that gave birth to this cult following: “don’t dream it, be it!” But it is the smaller lines that deliver too. “It’s not easy having a good time!” he wistfully drones, after turning half the cast into stone. Sometimes it is just the way he looks at the camera, obviously breaking the fourth wall, during a song. He is both a monstrous and pitiful character, treating the world like his playthings, but, by the end, you cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness as his world crumbles down around him. You might not understand what is going on, but the emotions resonate nonetheless.
Of course, there is plenty to enjoy on a simply superficial level. This is a musical after all and in between these brilliant beats of character, the soundtrack is undeniably catchy. This is not for the close-minded, the audience being forced to embrace the camp nature of the film. There is a reason you are forced to cross-dress to most of the theatre performances of this film. One iconic moment in the end of the film sees five of the characters, all dressed in women’s clothes, coming together in a mass of bodies. In the fumbling of the moment, it is almost impossible to tell who is groping and kissing who. It cleverly put aside any stubborn prejudices at the door. It’s this ‘who cares?’ attitude that really puts The Rocky Horror Picture Show ahead of its time in terms of political smarts. But if you can get onboard with the tone, the songs act as a juicy treat for the audience members brave enough to stick around. We all know the Time Warp… its joy comes from the randomness of its appearance. The Time Warp’s job in the movie is to begin the madcap descent into craziness. Before that song, things are drifting along relatively normal. It is almost impossible to have Riff Raff, who has just randomly exploded into a high-pitched singing voice himself, lead the characters into a room, full of cross-dressing extras dancing to the Time Warp (including a cameo from Christopher Biggins), and not become some form of cult moment. However, there are plenty more crazy moments to commend. Tim Curry promptly comes down in tights and sings about his transvestite tendencies. Soon after, Meatloaf randomly drives in on a motorbike, singing a rock song, before never showing up the movie again after. It is all delightful insanity. Finally it ends, as musicals are forced to do, on a show-number so over-the-top, theatrical and wonderful, there was no way The Rocky Horror Picture Show couldn’t go down in movie history.
Final Verdict: A risky gambit from, not only Richard O’Brien, but all involved. The risk has paid off with one of the most iconic movies to date.