If you have a dream about standing in front of your class in your underwear, you probably feel anxiety, embarrassment, or a host of other uncomfortable emotions. But if you were to actually attend class in your underwear every day, you'd eventually get used to it. Although it's embarrassing at first, it becomes the norm.
That's what happens to Janet and Brad in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Frank strips them down to their skivvies, putting them outside their comfort zone. They're initially uncomfortable, but they soon get used to it, and just when they're used to it, he dresses them again.
FRANK: How nice. And what charming underclothes you both have. But here. Put these on. They'll make you feel less...vulnerable.
He treats them like playthings that he can dress and undress as he pleases. They're just Barbie girls (and Ken guys) in his Barbie world.
On the other cheek, Rocky's born in his underwear, so he never feels embarrassed to be wearing almost nothing. He's like Adam, unashamed of his nakedness, and he never learns the meaning of shame. In that way, Rocky remains innocent inside Frank's little hedonistic Eden.
When attending a Rocky Horror show of your own, your feelings may mimic those of Brad and Janet, especially if you decide to parade around in your own underwear. It's odd at first, but no one judges you for it, so you feel comfortable. In fact, it might feel weird to put clothes back on.
The beginning of the movie shows us a happy wedding full of happy people. In this cinematic vision of rural Texas, they all live by a traditional moral code where the bride's saving herself for marriage. If you were cynical, you might think that people would get married only to have to sex.
Actually, you don't have to be cynical, because Rocky Horror tells us that this is exactly why Brad and Janet's friends get married. You can tell this by the side of their wedding car, which says, "WAIT TIL TONITE—SHE GOT HERS, NOW HE'LL GET HIS."
She got a wedding. He gets sex. We have to wonder if that's the same reason that Brad proposes to Janet. If so, the wedding might be off now that she isn't a virgin anymore.
The elevator in Frank's castle looks super cool. Who wouldn't want an old fashioned elevator in their place? Even if you only have one floor, the wrought iron bars would look amazing. Plus, stepping out of that cage wearing a sparkly bustier is a way to make one seriously exciting entrance.
The elevator's the main method of transportation in Frank's house. It takes people from the foyer and ballroom area into the lab. But the lab isn't in the basement. It's actually a level above everything else. Frank isn't ashamed of his experiments, and he doesn't feel a need to hide them underground.
The elevator allows Frank to move between the different planes of his house, but not everyone is as free as Frank is. In one scene, he uses the elevator to briefly hold Rocky hostage while Frank goes off to kill Eddie. Rocky freaks out being trapped inside, like a dog who doesn't want to go to the vet…and Frank has to comfort him.
FRANK: Oh baby! Don't be upset. It was a mercy killing. He had a certain naive charm but no muscle.
Frank's speech isn't too comforting, because there is the underlying threat that Frank brought Rocky into this world, too, and he can take him out. As a creation, Rocky isn't free to move about the mansion. He has to do what Frank tells him to do. But hey, at least he can practice his cage dancing while in there.
Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
It's bright and sunny at the beginning, when Brad and Janet's friends are happily married. They have a happy normal wedding, attended by happy normal people, and Brad proposes to Janet so they can be normal, happy, and married too.
On a dark and stormy night, which is how all good adventures should start, Brad and Janet get a flat tire, and must trek through the rain to a creepy castle in order to use the phone. If that place turns out to be normal, we'll be really disappointed.
Janet makes a literal refusal when she tells Brad she doesn't want to hang out at the creepy castle anymore.
JANET: Brad, let's go back, I'm cold and I'm frightened...
But Brad doesn't listen. He's going to regret it.
Frank-N-Furter is an unlikely mentor, but he makes an incredible entrance. From the moment he descends in the antique elevator in a sparkly lace-up corset, fishnets, and pearls, you can't take your eyes off him. A mentor generally teaches people something, and Brad and Janet are in for quite the education.
Janet and Brad's clothes are removed and they're brought into the mad doctor's laboratory. Even if they wanted to leave, at this point, they wouldn't be able to. They'd catch their deaths of cold in the rain.
Who are these freaks? What's going on? What have Brad and Janet, those two goody-goodies from Denton, Texas gotten themselves into? They have to find out if Dr. Frank-N-Furter; his minions, Riff Raff and Magenta; and his groupie, Columbia, are harmless weirdos or something more sinister.
When Frank-N-Furter reveals a mummy in a glass case, his true plan begins to take shape. Like his similarly sounding namesake, Dr. Frankenstein, he's going to make a man, and Brad and Janet will witness something they previously thought impossible.
Rocky is born. Eddie is killed. Brad and Janet have no idea who to trust, and they end up not even able to trust each other after Frank-N-Furter seduces them both. All this because of a lousy flat tire, too.
Janet experiences a sexual awakening after being seduced by Frank-N-Furter and realizes that Brad has also succumbed to his advances. She decides to take matters—and other things—into her own, um, hands, and pursue the hunky stud muffin, Rocky.
When Dr. Everett Scott shows up, he brings with him the potential to rescue Brad and Janet and bring things back to normal. But he's also looking for his nephew, Eddie, and he finds him at dinner. Actually, Eddie is dinner, sending Janet screaming for the exit—any exit.
The gang is turned into marble statues with the Medusa Transducer, but soon resurrected to perform as backup singers in Frank-N-Furter's swan song.
Brad, Janet, and Dr. Scott are finally able to leave the mansion after Frank and Rocky are killed and Riff Raff and Magenta return to their home galaxy. But our three heroes don't return with an elixir, they return with hopelessness after being ejected from a weird world of magic and back into the mundane dirt of earth.
The outlook is sunny at the beginning of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. We open at a church, all bright, happy, and covered in crosses. It's the polar opposite of the sexily depraved castle we'll find ourselves in within the next fifteen minutes.
But if you're paying attention, almost everything in the church foreshadows Brad and Janet's arrival at the castle. Many actors, like Richard O'Brien, can be seen in the background. O'Brien and Patricia Quinn, who play Riff Raff and Magenta, stand still on the church stoop, looking like psychotic re-enactors of "American Gothic."
Plus, as Brad proposes to Janet, the Quaker-esque workers change the church from a festive wedding to a somber funeral. Brad and Janet's engagement might be the death of them.
Speaking of the painting "American Gothic," a copy of this painting hangs in the foyer of Frank's mansion, letting you know that the imagery you saw at the church wasn't entirely in your imagination.
This movie is an "American Gothic," even though the play originated in England. It's a peppy musical in the vein of Grease, mixed with Gothic horror, including mad scientists, creepy labs, and skeletons inside of grandfather clocks.
Grandfather, is that you? Riff Raff looks like the old guy with the pitchfork stepped right out of the painting, and his laser gun at the end is three pronged, like that scary-looking farmer's implement.
Yes, we said laser gun. Frank's house is so strange and unique, you might think it's out of this world. And you'd be right. The house ends up being a spaceship that returns Riff Raff and Magenta to their home planet. Nothing that crazy actually exists on earth…especially not in Texas.
The first time you see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you're an outsider looking in. But before you know it, you've tugged on your fishnets and applied more eyeliner than Katy Perry uses during an entire concert tour.
Your journey mimics that of Brad and Janet, the unsuspecting "normal" kids from Texas who find themselves in a weird castle full of weirdos before becoming weird weirdos themselves. That's why the movie follows them from beginning to end, and always takes their point of view.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is with the Time Warp. When they see it for the first time, they don't dance along…and chances are you didn't either the first time you saw it. But through the magic of video, you can replay it, like you're in a time warp. That lets you put your outer Brad or Janet aside, and let your inner Frank-N-Furter come out and bust a move.
Everything you need to know about the genre of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is in the opening number, "Science Fiction/Double Feature."
CHORUS: See androids fighting Brad and Janet. […] At the late night, double feature, picture show.
It references classic sci-fi B-movies like Flash Gordon, (1936) Forbidden Planet (1956), and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Maybe The Rocky Sci-Fi Picture Show would be a better title.
The film itself makes explicit references to these cult classics at the end. Magenta appears with hair done by the same stylist who did the Bride of Frankenstein's bouffant. Frank and his cronies turn out to be aliens from another planet. And Frank gets his wish to be Fay Wray, although not in the way he intended.
FRANK: Whatever happened to Fay Wray? That delicate, satin-draped frame? As it clung to her thigh, how I started to cry, 'cause I wanted to be dressed just the same.
Fay Wray played the woman who was carried by King Kong in the 1933 RKO Pictures production. When Frank is killed by Riff Raff, Rocky carries him to the top of the RKO radio tower. Lasers bounce off Rocky's body, like bullets off King Kong himself. But the tower topples, and like the great ape, Rocky meets his death.
All of these references are done in both loving homage and exaggerated parody. The movie is intended to be just as campy and melodramatic as the old pictures it references, perhaps even more so. To illustrate, we have transcribed the following exchange for you in exacting detail. (It's long.)
BRAD: Dr. Scott.
DR. SCOTT: Janet!
JANET: Dr. Scott!
DR. SCOTT: Janet!
JANET: Dr. Scott!
DR. SCOTT: Janet!
JANET: Dr. Scott!
The main characters are shocked to find themselves in the same room together, and their reaction shots, typically a lazy way to show surprise in film, are played over and over (and over) again for comedic effect.
As with Frank-N-Furter, there's a heart buried underneath all the campy parody, but you might not notice it the first time you watch it. You have to dig a bit to find it, and we don't mean the way they dig into Eddie at the end.
OK, maybe "horror" is an appropriate title. The movie isn't afraid to cross into any genre it wants to.
The short answer is that the play was called The Rocky Horror Show. Because this is a movie, i.e. moving pictures, it was re-titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show to distinguish it from the stage version. And it rolls nicely off the tongue.
But why was the play called The Rocky Horror Show? Well, the character of Rocky is credited as "Rocky Horror." Plus, his name evokes the pastiche of the show, which mixes various homages to classic horror and sci-fi flicks with glam rock.
Rock(y) + horror = Rocky Horror. (And you thought you'd never use math outside of school.)
In many bad B-movies of yesteryear, the writers had no idea how to end the film, so the trope Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies was born. Or it died. Or it did both simultaneously.
Because Rocky Horror is an homage to many of those tacky classics, it has a similar ending. Riff Raff reveals that he, Magenta, and Frank are aliens, and he proceeds to shoot everyone with a laser beam.
What a downer. Plus, the narrator concludes with this depressing analysis:
NARRATOR: And crawling on the planet's face, some insects, called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space, and meaning.
Things got depressing really fast. Maybe this is why Magenta and Frank mention "The Time Warp" in their final dialog. They may be both space-travelling and time-travelling, but they also want to get that song stuck in your head so you don't think too long about how grim and hopeless the ending actually is.
Believe it or not, a musical with a song titled "Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me" is rated R for raciness. And this is still one saucy, sexed-up flick: characters have relationships with people of same genders, other genders, and other species. Characters run around in skimpy underwear. And Columbia shows her little Nells in a racy burlesque routine at the film's finale.
There's violence too, if that's more your thing. Frank hacks Eddie to death with a pickaxe offscreen, returning covered in blood. (It's a good look for him. Red is his color.) He also carves Eddie up, again offscreen, for a dinnertime feast.
And Frank whips Riff Raff, although we're not sure if that falls in the realm of violence or sexuality. Knowing Frank, it's both.