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.


The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Source:

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.

O’Brien, Richard (1975). The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 20th Century Fox.

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

About Emma Louise Backe

PhD student in Medical Anthropology at the George Washington University and independent consultant, focusing on the intersections of international development, global health, reproductive health justice, gender-based violence, and the politics of care. Social justice sailor scout working on behalf of survivors of sexual violence, gender equity, and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health among vulnerable populations.

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