It’s not a movie you decide to watch while browsing IMdB or Rotten Tomatoes, but something you learn about through friends or when you’re trying to decipher an obscure reference made in one of your favorite television shows. It’s not a link you click on to appreciate the well-crafted plot or ingenious set design, but a production you see played out before you by dedicated fans, lip-syncing in their corsets and fishnets while the audience talks over the actors. You bring your friends, you dress up, you throw rice. You all scream obscenities in unison. Sometimes you tie balloons to your pelvis and pop them against other (consenting) moviegoers. Needless to say, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is not a film so much as it is an experience.
The name is synonymous with “cult film,” but among the people I’ve talked to since arriving at the College of William and Mary, there’s a surprising number of people who haven’t yet seen it.
I first encountered this movie back when I still watched “Glee.” The show aired an episode in 2010 where the main characters put on “Rocky Horror” as their school musical, which, of course, sparked controversy. It’s not unheard of for a high school to perform “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but considering the racy costumes, explicit audience callbacks and the sheer amount of sexual content that can’t be cut out or danced around (it’s part of the plot, dammit!), I’d definitely peg it as more of a college production.
And just what is the plot of “Rocky Horror”? After my first viewing of this movie, I would have found it a bit hard to explain. But since I’ve watched it three times this past week (mainly as character research for the William and Mary Rocky Horror Picture Show Shadowcast), I’ve definitely got more of a grasp on the story than I once did. Here’s my take:
Brad Majors and Janet Weiss are hoping to announce their engagement to a professor from their college days, the one who taught the science course where they first met. But when their car breaks down during a thunderstorm, the two find themselves unable to continue their journey. They take refuge in a castle belonging to Dr. Frank N. Furter, an eccentric scientist who happens to be in the middle of celebrating his newest creation: the ideal human man. This only gets us about 10 or 15 minutes into the movie’s runtime, but it covers the basic premise. I’ll do my best not to veer into spoiler-y territory in this review, even though this movie’s been around since 1975. But let’s just say that they don’t call this movie a “Science Fiction Double Feature” for nothing…
“I’m not going to lie. “Rocky Horror” is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen.”
The name is synonymous with “cult film,” but among the people I’ve talked to since arriving at the College of William and Mary, there’s a surprising number of people who haven’t yet seen it. Before coming to school (before this week, actually), I’d only seen the movie once, but the culture surrounding it is something that has always fascinated me. This week, after joining the College’s own Rocky Horror Shadowcast, I got an inside look at just that.
I’m not going to lie. “Rocky Horror” is one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen. But the music is excellent, with a setlist that swings from catchy dance tunes to emotional solos, and many of them are constantly stuck in my head. And the plot (which begins to fall apart about halfway through the movie) is much improved by the well-timed audience “callbacks,” which can include shouting questions for the characters to answer, singing along with the songs, or even replacing entire lines of dialogue with jokes. And there are a lot of jokes (more than you think). Usually, subtitles are necessary to understand what the actual characters are saying above the shouts of the moviegoers. Often obscene and hilarious, these callbacks are an integral part of the “Rocky Horror” experience, and they’re slightly different wherever you go. Back in the ‘80s when my parents went to see the show, they’d all throw bread at the screen after the characters made a toast. Here, we have a few callbacks that are specific to the College (“Thanks, Sodexo!”). The experience is further enhanced by a shadowcast, a group of actors (or fans, or both) who act out the story onstage as the movie plays behind them.
And what a story it is. “Rocky Horror,” at its heart, is about a conventional couple undergoing a rather unconventional sexual awakening (at the expense of more than a few lives) via Frank. Despite all the murder, it has a very sex-positive message, along with wildly gender non-conforming costume design that really shows off the broad horizon of gender expression. As a queer person concerned with representation in the media, I love that this movie’s LGBTQ+ characters aren’t subjected to any of the clichéd narratives we often see in film and TV. “Rocky Horror” just allows them to be (monsters, aliens, cross-dressers, mad pansexual scientists). The movie has not only LGBTQ+ themes, but also science, murder, cannibalism, tunes you’ll never get out of your head, gay sex, straight sex, killer aliens, sick dance moves – and even famous classic rocker Meat Loaf.