There was a local theater growing up that played The Rocky Horror Picture Show every weekend at midnight.The theater showed adult movies the rest of the week, but they made a lot of money on the fans who came back every week for RHPS.
In 1981, the distributor pulled the movie because it was no longer making a profit nationally, causing the irate local fans to chain themselves to seats in protest.
It's already a great story, but the version I heard as a kid was even better: that the theater had stopped showing the movie because the fans were doing too much damage. Too much damage to an adult theater.
RHPS is a movie that generates stories like that. Some of the best are told in J Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum's legendary book Midnight Movies. http://www.amazon.com/Midnight-Movie… RHPS wasn't the first movie associated with the Witching Hour, but it may be the most famous. It's a movie that brings out people's wild side, just as it did Brad and Janet.
RHPS had its origins in The Rocky Horror Show, a camp rock musical tribute to old science fiction movies. Now that it's part of our larger culture, it's easy to forget that nostalgia - especially 50s nostalgia - was at one point thought of asa "craze." But in the 70s, looking back at the pop culture of the past was considered a strange fad. The main force behind it was Richard O'Brien (Riff Raff both onstage and onscreen), a theater brat who appeared in the original West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar. There O'Brien met director Jim Sharman and the two came up with a new musical based on O'Brien's obsessions: B movies, androgyny, 50s rock and roll, and musclemen. The timing could not have been better, as glam was taking over the UK pop charts in the form of one David Bowie.
The musical was an instant hit, and while a Broadway production flopped, there was enough interest for 20th Century Fox to make a movie. Much of the stage cast (including American expatriate Meat Loaf) reprised their roles, but the two square leads were recast with ingenue Susan Sarandon and Broadway's original Danny Zuko, Barry Bostwick.
The plot, in a nutshell: newly engaged Brad (Bostwick) and Janet (Sarandon) get lost on the way home from a wedding and find themselves in the castle of Dr.Frank N Furter (Tim Curry) an omnisexual alien intent on building his own creature, Rocky (Peter Hinwood). Frank goes about seducing both Brad and Janet, all while dodging rival scientist Everett Scott (or should I say... VON Scott, played by Jonathan Adams) and his treasonous servants Riff Raff and Magenta (Patricia Quinn)
The movie was a bomb on initial release, but a few theaters in major centers kept it on as a special Midnight show. Amazingly, the theater owners noticed, the same fans came back week after week, often in costume, and sometimes talking back to the screen.
Nobody knows where all the rituals involved in watching RHPS came from, but a good run down of the history can be found here. http://www.rockyhorror.com/history/howapb… Legend has it that it was Louis Farese, a schoolteacher who watched the movie every weekend at the Waverley Theater in NYC, who started it all by yelling "buy an umbrella you cheap b*tch!" during the rainstorm scene. Props and detailed scripts for the back-talking (although true fans would say you should know it by heart) came later.
The word that comes up most often when fans talk about RHPS is "liberating," and for middle-class suburban kids growing up in the 70s and the 80s, it was indeed liberating. Just like Halloween itself, the RHPS is an opportunity to play with identity, sexual or otherwise. A guy or gal could dress up as one of the characters and play with their gender/sexuality, even if only for a night. And of course, only the bravest of either gender played Frank...
Indeed, the movie works because of Tim Curry. Everybody (except maybe the no-necked narrator) in the cast is attracted to Curry as Frank at one point, and it's no wonder why. While Bowie and others had introduced androgyny to pop culture, Curry took it in a different direction. Before RHPS, male androgyny usually involved wispy, thin types. Curry was beefy, with a soulful baritone that belted out his songs with all the force of a young Little Richard (Curry auditioned for the play with "Tutti Frutti.")
(of course, the movie hasn't always fostered acceptance; Hoberman and Rosenbaum note instances where the commentary became less playful and more homophobic)
My own experience with RHPS on the big screen is limited. The first time I saw it I was overwhelmed... How did people know when to say everything? Few people did costumes, but all of us - gay, straight, bi or unsure - ogled Tim Curry because WE HAD EYES, dear child.
Years later, I saw essentially the same thing being done with some dude and his robots in silhouette on TV. I have no idea if MST3K have ever acknowledged the debt they owe to RHPS, but it's pretty obvious if you think about it. In general, the idea of "talking back" to the screen, whether by liveblogging or just shouting in the theater got a boost from RHPS.
Which is why it's so weird to watch RHPS on home video. When it finally debuted in 1990, many thought it was the end of an era. Would it work on TV? Would shouting at your TV seem silly? Or would you end up watching the movie and just think it wasn't very good?
Well, it's definitely not Citizen Kane, but it's still fun. The songs are killer - "Time Warp," of course, but really anything sung by Curry, and Meat Loaf's only number, "Whatever Happened To Saturday Night?" in which Mr. Loaf's pseudo-operatic rockabilly style for once makes perfect sense. The ending is strangely sad, with the odd feeling that O'Brien's androgynous utopia is too good for this world. But then "Time Warp" kicks in again and you want to not just dream it, but be it.
Note: as for the Glee version... Kurt was good as Riff Raff. But other than that, this article sums up how I feel about it. http://www.bilerico.com/2010/10/rocky_…
PS PLEASE share any RHPS stories if you have them!