In your typical Frankenstein story, the monster is much more interesting than the doctor. But, seeing as how this Dr. Frank-N-Furter wears corsets and heels, Rocky Horror isn't your typical Frankenstein story. Frank is the most fascinating character in the movie, and boy, does Frank know how to make an entrance.
Or should we say, girl, does Frank know how to make an entrance?
Whatever gender you pick (not that you have to even pick—Rocky Horror' s no square) his dramatic entrance—descending on the elevator and busting into a song called "Sweet Transvestite"—has to be seen to be believed.
FRANK: Don't get strung out by the way I look. Don't judge a book by its cover. I'm not much of a man by the light of day, but by night I'm one hell of a lover. I'm just a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.
Get it, Frank.
The beauty of Frank's character isn't just in the lip liner (which is fantastic, btw) it's in his frankness about his sexuality. (Frankness: pun!) He's living life the way he wants to live it, and that means not paying attention to any boundaries put on him by society.
Despite his boundless lifestyle, it's not all fun and hedonistic games for Frank. Having a sexual appetite that's like an all-you-can-eat buffet means he's difficult to satisfy, which is why he sets about trying to make the perfect man, a la Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein.
FRANK: He'll do press-ups, and chin-ups, do the snatch, clean and jerk. He thinks dynamic tension must be hard work. Such strenuous living I just don't understand, when in just seven days, oh baby, I can make you a man.
Frank is alluding to playing God here. In the Bible, God made Earth in seven days, and Frank makes something that's just as rock-hard and sturdy as Earth itself: Rocky.
And just as God created Earth for man to hold dominion over, Frank believes he's in charge of Rocky and should be able to control him. But, tellingly, he gets super-sad and jealous when Rocky sleeps with Janet. It seems like Frank's free-lovin' rules only apply to him and no one else.
Frank has a heart and soul beneath all that makeup, but he doesn't reveal it until the end of the movie. After catching Janet with Rocky, Frank throws a mini-fit and turns everyone into statues. It's hypocritical of him, considering he seduced Brad and Janet separately after creating Rocky. Regardless if his emotions are rational or valid (emotions rarely are), Frank is upset, and he expresses it.
FRANK: It's not easy having a good time. Even smiling makes my face ache and my children turn on me.
Magenta isn't impressed, accusing Frank of being "sentimental." Frank continues to fall apart, forcing everyone to sing "Rose Tints My World," a song in which Frank attempts to rationalize all of his hurtful actions to make himself feel better.
He has always wanted to live a life outside the norm, so he also sings "Don't Dream It – Be It."
FRANK: Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh. Erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever. Can't you just see it? Don't dream it - be it.
The sad part is that Frank's being what he wants to be, but it still isn't making him happy. He's hurting others, and he's beginning to feel bad about it. When Riff Raff says they're going home, Frank sings "I'm Going Home" and he imagines an audience applauding him and cheering him on. He feels loved and accepted, but only in his imagination.
By this point, Frank's façade is cracking. His makeup is running (do they not make waterproof eyeliner in outer space?). His stockings have holes in them. He's falling apart. Seeing Frank at his lowest isn't enough retribution for Riff Raff, who feels Frank has mistreated him for long enough. Riff Raff zaps Frank with a laser in cold blood. Frank's bad karma ends up being the death of him.
To add to the bitter irony, Frank, in death, doesn't get to witness how Rocky reacts to his death. Rocky's upset, and carries Frank's body away as if Rocky were King Kong and Frank were Fay Wray. Frank, who always wanted to be Fay Wray, would see this as a beautiful example of mourning. (Especially the part where Rocky dies. That makes it even more Gothic and romantically tragic.)
But leave it to Frank to have a theatrical, camptastic death scene. He doesn't just know how to make an entrance…he knows how to make an exit.
At the beginning of Rocky Horror, Janet's like Madonna. No, not because she's wearing a pointy bra (though she's also wearing a pointy bra) but because she's like a virgin.
Actually, she isn't like a virgin, she is a virgin, waiting to be touched for the very first time. She's your typical good girl, who is scared of the strange castle and the odd people inside it…just like good girls are expected to be.
She's initially shy and demure, but she soon declares herself a "muscle fan" when looking at Rocky's ripped bod. And, after being seduced by Frank, Janet turns into a bona fide sex goddess. She just needed to shrug off the pressure to be a chaste girl…and shrug off some of her modest clothing as well.
JANET: I'll put up no resistance. I want to stay the distance. I've got an itch to scratch. I need assistance. Toucha toucha toucha touch me. I want to be dirty. Thrill me, chill me, fulfill me. Creature of the night.
In talkbacks at live shows, Janet is often referred to as "slut." (But this is usually said lovingly—Rocky Horror fans are nothing if not sexually liberated.) (Source)
She's a character who parodies the ridiculousness of the virgin/whore dichotomy, a concept that goes back to before Shakespeare's time. What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Janet is a "slut."
Janet's sexuality is made over the top to parody the ridiculous fear of female sexuality. But she isn't just a one-dimensional being whose entire character is just an excursion from Point A (Virgin) to Point B (Sexy Mama).
Speaking of "Sexy Mama," Janet's also a nurturing force. After being chased by dogs, Rocky turns to Janet for comfort…and Janet dresses Rocky's wounds and cares for him like the mother he never had.
Maybe that's why Frank is really jealous: not that Rocky and Janet have sex, but that Rocky is comforted by Janet and not by him.
In the end, Janet leaves the castle a sexually awakened woman. She is gussied up in Frank's sexy clothing, but after the castle blasts off, she is left writhing in the dirt with Brad and Dr. Scott. It's quite an experience to go through all this in less than twenty-four hours.
We're left not knowing whether or not Brad and Janet will still be wed. Considering Janet's no longer "saving herself" for Brad (and that Brad seemed super into knocking boots with Frank-N-Furter) we doubt it. Brad might be saying "Dammit, Janet" for a different reason and calling off the engagement.
But by this point, Janet might not be satisfied by Brad anyway. Take a bow, Brad.
Brad is your typical Texas good ol' boy, which means on the surface, he appears to be charming and romantic. He thinks he's a hero, and his character name in the credits even calls him one. But underneath his good ol' boy exterior, he's…boring and kind of a jerk.
Brad is so boring, in fact, it's hard to come up with anything to say about him.
Janet has an interesting character arc, going from virgin to, um, not in less than sixty minutes. Brad, on the other hand, isn't bound by societal conventions to remain virginal before marriage. It is never implied that he's "saving himself" for Janet the way she is for him. But Brad still gets to explore his wild side, engaging in some steamy sex with Frank.
FRANK: Oh come on, Brad, admit it, you liked it, didn't you? There's no crime in giving yourself over to pleasure, Brad. Oh Brad, you've wasted so much time already. Janet needn't know, I won't tell.
In other words, Brad kisses a boy and he likes it.
Both Brad and Janet hypocritically get upset at the other when they find out they had an affair with Frank. In talkbacks at live shows, Janet gets the moniker "slut" while Brad is often called "asshole" or, if you're British, "arsehole." (Source)
Why is that? Well, men are often unable to be sluts, instead being praised for their sexual promiscuity rather than demeaned for it. But why's Brad called asshole? He's a jerk because he pressures Janet into a situation she is uncomfortable with, and then is offended when she becomes at ease with the fringe sexuality on display in the castle.
Plus, he fails to protect Janet when things get dangerous—come on, dude: if you're going to be all into to restrictive gender norms, you best hold up your end of the restrictive gender norm bargain.
Instead, he says:
BRAD: You're a hot dog, but you better not try to hurt her, Frank Furter.
Woo-eee. That's terrifying.
It's big talk, but not only does Brad make a bad pun, he's immediately turned into a statue by Frank. Brad is all talk, no action. And no, not that kind of action.
Okay, we're guilty of piling on Brad here. Just as Janet isn't really the "slut" that talkbacks would lead you to believe, Brad isn't an "a**hole" either. He does what society expects him to do: propose to his sweetheart. If he and Janet hadn't met Frank, they would have had 2.5 kids and a picket fence. He (probably) would have stayed faithful to her.
But all of those things are old-school ideals, and in Frank's castle, Brad learns that he doesn't want to live an old-school, traditional kind of life. He wants to keep moving forward…and he wants to move forward while wearing some freaking phenomenal stilettos.
Some boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. Not Rocky. He's made of movie monsters, muscles, and shiny gold Speedos.
Rocky's a mash-up of classic Hollywood movie monsters. He isn't just Frankenstein's monster. He is also the mummy, first appearing wrapped in bandages. And his fatalist attitude is reminiscent of Lon Chaney's doomed Hunchback of Notre Dame or Phantom of the Opera.
Emphasis on the doomed—Rocky knows he's doomed from the start, singing as soon as he's brought to life.
ROCKY: The sword of Damocles is hanging over my head, and I've got the feeling someone's gonna be cutting the thread. Oh, woe is me, my life is a misery. Oh, can't you see, that I'm at the start of a pretty big downer.
In this sequence he's super eloquent, which is shocking because for the rest of the movie he hardly speaks a word.
Aside from his debut song, Rocky is created to be Frank's silent sex object. He's all muscle, no brain, standing mutely and flexing his washboard abs most of the time. Okay, he has half a brain. Literally. Frank reveals he split a brain between Eddie and Rocky, but it seems that Rocky got the dumber half.
Rocky's simple. He responds to Frank's sexual advances. He responds to Janet's sexual advances. He would respond to a brick's sexual advances if a brick were capable of flirting. Frank sees Rocky as insensitive for sleeping with Janet. But he isn't insensitive…he was just made that way by Frank himself.
In fact, he's capable of emotion, and he wails with grief when Frank, his creator and lover, is killed. Now we need to add one more mash-up monster: King Kong. Rocky climbs to the top of the tower carrying Frank's body, but he falls to the bottom like the doomed ape. Monkey business has never been this tragic.
Riff Raff is like the Lurch of Frank's castle. (Does that make Frank Gomez or Morticia?)
Riff Raff welcomes Brad and Janet to the castle and appears to be a lowly manservant.
Like a servant who keeps the house moving like a well-oiled machine, Riff Raff mostly keeps the plot moving along. He's the one who reveals that Frank, Magenta, and himself are aliens, and he wants to return to their home planet.
RIFF RAFF: Frank-N-Furter, it's all over. Your mission is a failure. Your lifestyle's too extreme. I'm your new commander. You now are my prisoner. We return to Transylvania. Prepare the transit beam.
But Riff Raff reveals a bit of emotion when he kills Frank. He accuses Frank's lifestyle of being too wild, but we don't think that's the issue. Riff Raff has been harboring hurt feelings and resentment toward Frank for a long time. At the end, he finally snaps, and like the anti-Sally Field, he wails about no one liking him.
RIFF RAFF: They didn't like me! He never liked me!
It doesn't seem like he's upset that Frank is too wild and crazy. Riff Raff is upset that Frank never included him. He's just jealous. Don't be green with envy, Riff Raff. We like you. Please don't shoot us.
Magenta's Riff Raff's sister—a fellow maid and alien who is getting sick of living on Earth and being a part of the non-stop Frank show.
MAGENTA: Ahhhh! I grow weary of this world! When shall we return to Transylvania?
Other than singing a few lines, spying on Janet, and being the lips singing "Science Fiction/Double Feature," Magenta doesn't do much. She does appear to have an incestuous relationship with Riff Raff, because these two dance with each other like a brother and sister shouldn't.
But they have different values on the planet Transsexual. What's one more taboo to them?
Columbia's a human woman who has become a groupie for Frank and his band of aliens. (It's unsure if she knew they were aliens.) She was also a lover of both Eddie and Frank, although it's unclear whom she loved first. It seems that Columbia was Eddie's girlfriend while Eddie was still alive, but that, too, isn't certain.
Columbia sets herself apart from the rest of the group by her high-pitched singing voice, her crazy-good burlesque skills, and the fact that she chooses to be there. Riff Raff and Magenta appear to be obligated to be Frank's servants. Brad and Janet show up by accident. But Columbia initially chooses to join Frank, probably because she is entranced by his open sexual attitudes.
But Frank's a little too open for Columbia, and she decides to rebel. She tells him off in one of the movie's longest monologues.
COLUMBIA: My God! I can't stand any more of this! First you spurn me for Eddie, and then you throw him off like an old overcoat for Rocky! You chew people up and then you spit them out again. I loved you. Do you hear me? I loved you! And what did it get me? Yeah, I'll tell you: a big nothing. You're like a sponge. You take, take, take, and drain others of their love and emotion. Yeah, well, I've had enough.
She tells it like it is, but it's too little too late. Columbia's killed by Riff Raff later, making her the only human character to die in the movie. Maybe joining a house full of intergalactic transvestites isn't a good idea after all?
Because Brad already took the obvious joke, we needed a different headline for this section.
BRAD: Great Scott!
Plus, Dr. Scott isn't that great. He's a scientist studying aliens, but he's completely helpless and ineffective. If Dr. Scott showed up at the castle by himself, Frank would have totally had his way with him. And if Janet and Brad needed Dr. Scott to rescue them, they would have been totally out of luck.
Dr. Scott is also looking for his nephew Eddie, but he doesn't seem upset to discover that Eddie's dead. Perhaps this is because he has confirmed the existence of aliens, which is much more important to him than his hoodlum nephew actually was.
If we have to say one good thing about Dr. Scott, it's that his legs look great in fishnets. The doctor has it, and he should flaunt it.
Eddie is Frank's failed experiment, Columbia's ex, and a really good singer…not just for a dead guy, but for live guys too. In the brief moment we see Eddie, he seems sweet and genuine. (No wonder Frank kills him. Those two words aren't in Frank's vocabulary.)
FRANK: One from the vaults. Oh baby! Don't be upset. It was a mercy killing. He had a certain naive charm, but no muscle.
Even though Eddie is barely on screen for more than five minutes, critic Emily Asher-Perrin sees him as an allegory for the death of old-school rock 'n' roll and the rise of glam rock in the 1970's. (Source)
There is no room for Eddie's square sincerity in a genre that wants its performers to be larger than life, plastered with makeup, and dressed up in crazy clothes.
After being killed with a pickax, Eddie's still mined for a bit more drama. Frank literally serves Eddie for dinner, using him as a tool to get back at everyone. Dr. Scott is Eddie's uncle, and Columbia is his ex. They're extra horrified by Eddie's fate.
Before his body is revealed, though, the characters sing about him being a "no-good kid" and a "low down cheap little punk."
NARRATOR: He was a low down cheap little punk!
SCOTT: Taking everyone for a ride.
ALL: When Eddie said he didn't like his Teddy, you knew he was a no-good kid. But when he threatened your life with a switch-blade knife…
FRANK: What a guy!
JANET: Makes you cry.
DR. SCOTT: And I did.
Just as Janet falls into the virgin/whore dichotomy, Eddie's your stereotypical bad boy. He was a troublesome teenager, but he was also idolized by others for being a tough guy with the same qualities his parents dislike seeing in him. Chicks dig a bad guy…but this bad guy's one they'd actually have to dig up. Ew.
Because Rocky Horror was based on a musical play, it has a narrator. The narrator takes the form of a criminologist, telling us the weird story of "the Denton affair." He's normally very serious, but even he loosens up and does "The Time Warp" in his office all by himself.
When he's not doing the pelvic thrust (that really drives him ins-a-a-ane), his narration gives the movie the feeling of a cautionary tale. It parodies fear of sexual awakening by cautioning viewers not to get involved with weird, sexy aliens…lest the same fate befall you.