Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

While almost everyone I know intimately has seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), often repeatedly and occasionally in costume, I never saw it. I have seen snippets of it over the years, and even knew songs from it (“Time Warp”) but had never sat down to watch it. Certainly in 1975 it was unlikely I would have found it at a local Central Florida theater, as it was found in eclectic venues if at all. But even if I were interested in a movie about a transvestite transsexual from (the planet of, go figure) Transylvania, I didn’t have a car.

Thirty six years later and at more than thrice my age then I finally found the time and interest to watch it, although the DVD still sat next to my TV for a few weeks. Even thirty-six years later, I am still not interested in transvestite transsexuals from Transylvania, but I can see how this B movie quickly developed a cult following. It was the first of a kind movie, even though today seeing guys in drag and transsexuality are not unknown themes in movies. In 1975, homosexuality was barely acknowledged and even good liberals were anti-gay. A movie with Tim Curry in fishnet stockings that as Dr. Frank-N-Furter “swung both sides of the aisle” must have fried the brains of nearly everyone who was not in the queer community, and that includes former stoners and flower children. I imagine the reaction of these at the time to the movie was largely a dazed and slack-jawed look.

In 2011, there are still plenty of uptight people who would be dreadfully offended by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then there are the rest of us for whom the movie viewed with fresh eyes is now not particularly shocking but is a lot of fun, at least until the movie is about halfway through. A forty-five minute movie would have been too short to show in theaters, of course, so it had to be padded and filled out, mostly with inanity. So the movie may be appreciated best if stopped somewhere in the middle.

While it lasts, the movie still gives one helluva a kick. This is because for a bad movie it is done so very well. Director Jim Sharman does a great job with the casting, and fills the movie with a near ideal cast of bizarre misfits all of whom are obviously enjoying themselves. Bizarre does not apply, at least at first to Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), a nerdy Republican couple who announce their engagement shortly after attending the marriage of Brad’s best friend. Just in case you don’t understand how straight-laced Brad and Janet’s friends are, the farmer and his wife from American Gothic frame themselves in the church door.

The best part of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is probably the musical part. Yes, it’s a musical and a pretty darn good one at that, with great dancing, choreography, catchy tunes and fun lyrics. The music helps you forget how tedious the second half of the movie becomes. Seeing people in drag and fishnets, however, quickly loses its shock value, at least in Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle that, by the way, doubles as a rocket ship.

There is not much plot to this movie. Brad and Janet serve as convenient stereotypes for straight-laced America, and Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s job is to quickly break through their inhibitions. Curry, of course, is great as Frank-N-Furter. Just as Faye Dunaway monopolized Mommie Dearest, Curry comes at us with all cylinders firing, and apparently a half dozen extra as well. What’s amazing about the movie is how well it works, until like a fireworks festival after the first fifteen minutes, at some indeterminate point about halfway through it loses all its shock value. That’s when this campy movie moves from a fun B movie into a tedious one. The only question after the “Meatloaf” is served is how to wind down this weird movie. I personally cannot get enough of a young Susan Sarandon on screen in a bra and panties. That kept me watching until the end.

I’m not sure if it could have been done, but there might have been a way to make the last half of the movie sparkle as much as the first. Perhaps it would have required another gimmick, like having the castle invaded by Bible thumping Christians holding bright silver crosses. The movie’s energy comes from the conflict between puritanical and unrestrained behavior. Once past, it becomes like a soufflé that goes flat.

So I’ve finally seen it. Since I usually rate movies I feel I should rate this one as well, but won’t. Rocky Horror is, quite frankly, a bad B movie, but oddly a lot of fun for the first half of it with plenty of memorable songs to hum afterward. When it works, it works brilliantly. When it stops, you can use the excuse of that super-sized cola to pay an extended visit to the men’s room. And you would be wise to do so.

One response to “Review: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)”

  1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show came out when I was in college and I probably saw it about ten times or so. It was the thing to do in my circle at the time. I agree that it slows down and actually gets a little tedious in the second half. I always felt that it was done that way on purpose to make it seem like a dream that would never end and instead would just keep getting weirder and weirder.

    The movie is full of amusing little details. Did you notice that the American Gothic couple and most of the other guests at the wedding were also present at the Frankenfurter mansion? I watched it again this summer with my college roommate after having not seen it in about 30 years. It was shocking and exciting back then in addition to being fun. Now it’s just plain fun. I enjoyed your review.


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