Study Guide

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Introduction


Release Year: 1975

Genre: Comedy, Musical

Director: Jim Sharman

Writer: Richard O'Brien, Jim Sharman

Stars: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick


When we go to the movies, we want complete silence from our seatmates. You can laugh. You can cry. You can breathe, as long as your nose doesn't make any funny whistling noises. But don't whisper to your friends (or yourself, you crazy person). And if you talk on your phone or text, we will drown your phone in imitation popcorn butter, which will void your warranty so hard.

That applies to 99.9% of movies. The rules are a little different if we're at The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When you're there, you best get out of your seat, take your clothes off (keep your underwear on, please), and do "The Time Warp" in the aisles.

That's right: RHPS is a movie so sensational, so insanely charismatic, that audience participation isn't just a-okay…it's mandatory.

You'd assume that a movie with such a devoted, fishnet-wearing, stiletto-rocking, and red-lipstick-smacking audience would have started off as a box office smash. Except, when it hit theaters in 1975, Rocky Horror wasn't an instant hit. It was a total failure at the box office. American audiences took one look at this bizarre movie (which was based on an obscure musical that featured men in women's clothing, singing, and cannibalism), went "Hrrugh?" and bought tickets to see Jaws again.

In an alternate, much less glamorous universe, that would be the end of the story. We wouldn't be writing about this movie. Most tragically, we wouldn't ever see Tim Curry or Susan Sarandon dancing wildly in their bustiers again.

But we live in this universe, where someone decided to market Rocky Horror a little differently: by showing it at midnight.

At the witching hour, people are either a lot more fun, or don't care if the movies they're seeing are way outside the realm of normal cinema and hyper-confining good taste. They ate up the story of Brad and Janet, two normal people (read: total squares) who find themselves in a Gothic castle owned by Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a mad scientist who's created Rocky, a hunky stud muffin of a man for his own personal pleasure. There's singing. There's dancing. There are laser guns.

It's a wild and rowdy time, and the film had audiences dressing up like their favorite characters, talking back to the screen, and literally dancing in the aisles. What started out as one of the biggest flops of 1975 became a cult hit that's grown into a mainstream sensation over the last forty years.

  

It was also Tim Curry's first film. (Not every actor gets to make his debut in fishnet stockings in heels.) Curry was such a force to be reckoned with that he became a star, later appearing in the campy comedy classic Clue (1985) and as the evil clown Pennywise in Stephen King's It (1990). Dr. Frank-N-Furter is basically a combo of the two, being funny, scary, and with a taste for human flesh.

Rocky Horror also launched the career of Susan Sarandon, who would later drive into the Grand Canyon with Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise (1991) and win an Oscar as a nun who comforts death row inmates in Dead Man Walking (1995).

A lesser-known sequel called Shock Treatment was released in 1981. Like Rocky Horror, it was written by Richard O'Brien and directed by Jim Sharman. It didn't feature Sarandon or Curry, however, and wasn't nearly as successful and iconic as Rocky Horror became.

Since its release, Rocky Horror was revived on Broadway in 2000 and was performed by the cast of Glee in 2010. Its iconic song "The Time Warp" featured in the video game Just Dance4. And it was performed live on Fox starring Orange is the New Black's Laverne Cox as the gender fluid Frank-N-Furter, with Tim Curry taking on the task of the stoic narrator. That's a horror worth tuning into…unlike watching Christopher Walken tap dance as Captain Hook.

Theaters across the country still host live viewings where you can strip down to your skivvies like Brad and Janet and ask your fellow moviegoers to touch-a touch-a touch-a touch you. If that's too much for you, there are plenty of options for you to get your freak on in the privacy of your own home. Frank would want you to allow your pelvic thrusting to really drive you ins-a-a-ane, wherever you are.

What is The Rocky Horror Picture Show About and Why Should I Care?

Calling The Rocky Horror Picture Show just a movie is like calling 1968 just a year, or like calling Barbie just a doll. Because RHPS— like 1968, and like Malibu Barbie—is 100% a cultural phenomenon.

This is a movie that has had people dressing up in fishnets, stilettos, and corsets (oh my!), throwing toast at screens, and generally bringing like-minded so-called weirdoes and freaks out of the woodwork and into the movie theater since 1975.

And considering it's been hyper-popular for over forty years, it's safe to say that Rocky Horror ain't going anywhere. It's staying right here on earth where all of us earthlings can enjoy its mayhem and learn from its way-before-its-time progressive message.

That's right—RHPS allowed people to gleefully and pridefully sing about being a "sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania" and cheer on a Frank-Brad snog-fest a mere two years after homosexuality was removed from being classified a "mental disorder" in the DSM. (Source)

RHPS allowed people to cheer for Janet as she learns to open up and enjoy being a sexual creature and demand that Rocky "toucha-toucha-toucha-touch" her at a time when feminism was in its infancy—the first Sexual Discrimination act was just being passed. (Source)

And it allowed people to revel in the genre-bending fun of sci-fi, horror, musicals and coming-of-age drama at a time when the word "genre" was synonymous with "shlocktastic bad taste."

Basically, The Rocky Horror Picture Show doesn't just tolerate flying your freak flag; it encourages it, and it brings out the freaky sides of people who seem perfectly normal on the surface. (Whatever "normal" means. This movie will make you think "normal" doesn't even exist.)

Rocky Horror features characters that don't adhere to rigid binary norms of gender and sexuality. They sing and dance. They're more than a little kinky. And everyone is searching for love, even if they all have different ideas of what they want from it. Who can't relate to that?

These ideas were especially radical back in the mid-1970's. People went to Rocky Horror live shows as a safe haven, a place they could express themselves where they weren't being judged, they were being celebrated. The movie's still popular among people who are trying to find their own identities…much like Brad and Janet in the film.

As we read in The Perks of Being a Wallflower , going to a Rocky Horror live show is a coming-of-age ritual for many. Movies come and go, but rites of passage are forever.

Trivia

"Riff Raff at the wedding" would be the perfect name for a Rocky Horror cover band. It's also what's happening at the beginning of the movie. If you pay attention to the background, you can see Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, and Tim Curry in the background at the wedding scene. Are they playing the same characters, like Frank-N-Furter disguised as a minister? There's no definitive answer, so use your imagination. (Source)

We've all seen the Clue movie, so we know that Tim Curry went from Rocky Horror to have a great career. Richard O'Brien, who both wrote and starred in the film, had a…different career path. One of his most high-profile roles was hosting The Crystal Maze, one of the most popular game shows in the UK in the early '90s. It's like Legends of the Hidden Temple for adults, and with Riff Raff instead of Olmec. In other words, it's amazing. (Source)

No one wants a tattooed hot dog, but we wouldn't want Frank-N-Furter any other way but inked. The tattoo on his shoulder says "boss" which is self-explanatory. Another, on his thigh, is the number 4711. Some have speculated it's the number of lovers Frank has had, but wouldn't he had to keep changing it like a video game score board? In fact, the tattoo is the logo for a brand of cologne popular with gay men in the 1970's. It's been in production for over two hundred years, and is still around today if you want to experience eau de 1975. (Source)

During "Sweet Transvestite," Frank suggests they "take in an old Steve Reeves movie." Who the heck is Steve Reeves, and why is Frank a fan? Because Steve Reeves played Hercules in 1958, and the man was a bona fide hunk. And you know how much Frank likes muscles. (Source)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Resources

Websites

ID Please
Download your official Rocky Horror Fan Club Membership Card in case you're carded at the next midnight showing.

Out of This World
Cosmo's Factory touts itself as the Internet's largest Rocky Horror fanpage. But who's Cosmo? Cosmo Kramer?

Book or TV Adaptations

Live from New York, It's Rocky Horror!
Watching Rocky Horror live at home means no one can see how bad you are when you do the Time Warp in front of your couch.

Articles and Interviews

Island in the Mainstream
It was a long journey, but RHPS went from cult hit to part of our culture.

A Loving Tribute.
On the 40th anniversary of RHPS, writer Bill Wyman writes a tribute to the movie that proved to him it's okay think outside the gender binary box.

Come as You Are
In brief(s), performing in Rocky Horror encourages body positivity.

Video

Spicy Curry
We're not sure what the best part of this interview is: getting an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek at Rocky Horror from Tim Curry himself, or Curry's amazing 1970's moustache.

Dammit, Hermoine
Emma Watson magically channels Susan Sarandon doing Rocky Horror in The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Columbia House
Whoa, Nelly! Little Nell, who played Columbia, is still on fire forty years later.

Un-Lazy Susan
Susan Sarandon describes how she landed her role in Rocky Horror, which launched her career into the stratosphere.

Audio

It's Astounding, Time is Glee-ting
If you scream with glee whenever you hear "The Time Warp," you might get double glee from seeing the cast of Glee perform it, gleefully.

Riffs on Rocky Horror
NPR's movie critic has been a Rocky Horror fan longer than most of us have been alive, and he fondly remembers the film on its ruby anniversary.

Images

Reunited and It Feels so Good
Brad, Janet, Frank, Magenta, and Eddie reunited, but where's Riff Raff? Sweeping the aisles?

A Nice Slice
We want to eat the cake on this poster.