The Weekly Geekout: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

By Emma Louise Backe

Well folks, it’s October again, which means that it’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) season. For the uninitiated, The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a movie bred of a love of B horror movies, science fiction and campy musical theatre. Billed as a Science Fiction/Double Feature, the movie is described by Richard Hartley, the composer, as “Frankenstein with a twist” (Abbott 2013). The film follows Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, who stumble upon a castle full of Transylvanians, the most notorious of whom being Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a self-described “sweet transvestite.” The movie is thoroughly steeped in horror history, filled with metareferential, self-parodying moments and characters, including Riff Raff, Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s handyman. Apart from being a humorous homage to early science fiction and horror films, the movie delightfully subverts the expectations of the genre and defies categorization, telescoping from space opera to punk rock musical.

Source: http://www.musicboxtheatre.com/images/made/assets/stills/13769034395883158102_610_407shar_s_c1.png

The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Source: MusicBoxTheather.com

As Brad and Janet (damnit) become enmeshed in the Annual Transylvanian Convention, they discover Rocky, Dr. Frank-n-Furter’s scientific sexual creation, witness murder, reconnect with an old teacher working on UFO investigations for the government, and experience their sexual awakenings. The increasing sexual fluidity of Brad and Janet is perhaps one of the titillating aspects of the show, but it’s Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-n-Furter who is the real star. The songs are all fabulous, especially with guest stars like Meatloaf, and the entire movie is made for Halloween season excess, transformation, subversion and debaucherous revelry.

Rocky Horror’s staying power comes from the annual live performances staged throughout the country. While the movie is played on a cinematic screen, real-life doubles perform the parts, coaxed along by audience participation. There is an entire repertoire of call and responses for the audience, which have been spawned over decades of live performances. A script of the audience’s lines (which admittedly have changed over the years and across geographic localities) can be found here. Experienced Rocky fans will also bring along the necessary props, including toast, umbrellas, bubbles and newspapers. Rocky Horror “virgins,” however, have to undergo an initiation ritual, although the hazing might be more comfortable if you dress appropriately—in lingerie and corsets. The shows are typically held at midnight throughout the month of October, particularly around Halloween.

Having performed as Janet in my school’s production of Rocky Horror, I have to say that it’s a fantastical experience whether you’re in the audience or in a fish-netted chorus line. The show celebrates the subaltern, encourages sexual experimentation, and is deeply rooted in the repertoire of geeky movies, television shows and books. So come on guys, let’s do the time warp again.

 

Works Cited

Abbott, Kate (2013). “How We Made: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/mar/04/how-we-made-rocky-horror

O’Brien, Richard (1975). The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 20th Century Fox. http://web.mit.edu/adorai/Public/rhpscb.htm

Sharman, Jim (1975). The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 20th Century Fox.

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About Emma Louise Backe

I graduated from Vassar College, which makes me an official liberal-arts witch, where I majored in Cultural Anthropology and English. I focused on the intersection between medical anthropology and folklore, indigenous narrative practices and healing techniques, and the role of language and storytelling in healing. I'm a logophile at heart--the bookish type that's always carrying around three or four books, loves experimenting with language, and has something of an Indiana Jones complex. I've worked in South Africa at the Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit; interned with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, The NAMES Project Foundation, and the UCLA Center for Art and Global Health; served as Head Consultant of Vassar College's Writing Center; volunteered with Peace Corps on community health empowerment; and worked as the Research Assistant at The Global Women's Institute at George Washington University. I have spent most of my professional career working on human rights issues, specifically violence against women and girls and reproductive health rights. I am currently pursuing my Master's at George Washington University.

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