Before the hit film starring Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry created a massive cult following in America, Richard O’Brien, an out of work actor in London, England, kept his hands busy by writing a rock musical. It was only supposed to be a way to pass the time, but after O’Brien played some of the songs he had written for his theater friend Jim Sharman, the two began to work on the play, it took on a life of its own, and that life strapped on platform heels and stomped its way across London’s stages. Starting at Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs,”They Came From Denton High”, changed at the last minute to “The Rocky Horror Show”, went on to become the longest running stage production in history. On March 24th, 1974, the States were rocked by O’Brien and Sharman’s sexy, hysterical rock n roll party, as The Rocky Horror Show made its U.S. premiere at the Roxy on Sunset Blvd, and in 1975, the world was lucky enough to receive a feature film adaptation. The story, originally titled “Rocky Horroar”, that Richard O’Brien unleashed unto the world in 1973, may just seem like a simple spoof on the fun, delightfully strange nature of horror and sci-fi B-movies of the 1940s, but behind the charade of fishnets and nods to classic Universal monsters lies a greater motivation: the freedom of self-expression. In honor of the anniversary of America’s introduction to this fabulous play, let’s take a look back at the legacy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Without a doubt, this musical is easily one of the most odd, other-wordly, hysterical tales ever put on film. Nods to films like Frankenstein, It Came From Outer Space, Forbidden Planet, The Mummy, Night of the Demon, King Kong, and more are scattered throughout the feature like shimmering bits of confetti in a floor show. When Brad and Janet’s car gets a flat tire and they are forced to walk through the rain seeking assistance, they spot a beacon of hope off in the distance. A tiny glow emitted from a gloomy castle seems like the answer to their prayers, but soon, they will find that it’s only the start of a frightening introduction into a dark world that squares like them have never dared venture. They begin to sing “There’s A Light (Over At the Frankenstein Place)”, a sweet song that shows just how naive they really are, and provides a hilarious spoof on the situation that has happened so many times in horror movies, when a young couple looks for help on a dark night and winds up walking right into the arms of their assassins. Later, one of the not-quite-human creatures in the castle brings a man in his laboratory, Rocky, to life. Little does Rocky know, he’s only been awoken from his deep slumber to play the part of a sex toy in Frank-N-Furter’s life, but he soon catches on, and takes off running, much to Rocky’s dismay as he chases Rocky around the lab screaming and stumbling in his six inch heels. This hilarious moment obviously parallels 1931’s Frankenstein, and offers up an amusing notion that perhaps Dr. Frankenstein only made his monster for pleasurable personal uses. To make it even funnier, O’Brien throws in homages to Charles Atlas and muscle men of the 1950s, making it clear that Frank-N-Furter’s type of man is one that can lift a barbell with ease. Of course, this film is as much a love letter to horror and sci-fi B-movies of the 1930, ’40s, and ’50s as it is poking fun at them. When O’Brien originally wrote the script, he simply included his interests, and threw in his wickedly splendid sense of humor for taste. However, whether intentional or not, in the end what he cooked up was an unprecedented, brilliant blending of genres that was ahead of its time, both for film and for society’s approved ideas of sexuality.
As said before, Frank-N-Furter brings Rocky to life in his laboratory in front of Brad, Janet, and all of the transexual transvestites from Transylvania. However, what makes this scene both ironic and a strong commentary on homosexuality and the perception of sexual orientation during the 1970s is the design of the set. The lab is a bright pink, round vessel, filled with a plethora of penis handles and levers, where a transvestite metaphorically gives birth to a man in a rainbow-colored tank, from whence he emerges, shows off his muscles, and proceeds to enter the bedroom with his new sire. Also, if you look at the attire, aside from Brad and Janet’s lack of clothing, Frank-N-Furter dons a green surgical apron with a pink triangle on it. During World War II, German Nazis identified homosexuals in their concentration camps by forcing them to wear a pink triangle, pointed downward. Later, gay men reclaimed this badge and made it their own by pointing it upward, as a symbol of gay pride. In the film, Frank can be seen sporting the pink triangle on his apron, pointing up. Also, to add to this theory, later when Doctor Scott enters the castle, Frank-N-Furter reveals not only a hatred for the man, but a secret that Scott is actually a German. Why would Frank have such an issue with Germans? Perhaps it’s because they were the ones that oppressed his people in such a cruel fashion many years prior. However, at the end of the day, I’d still argue that this film isn’t necessarily one big pro-gay film, but just a picture that urges people to accept themselves for who they are, and give others the same courtesy. Rocky Horror plays with sexuality, tests the limits of your tolerance, and doesn’t care much for being politically correct. Yes, it’s a silly film, but in the way that it deals with such out of the mainstream sexuality with such light heartedness, it says that it’s okay to have sexual preferences that might not be heterosexual. You should be who you want to be, sleep with whoever you desire, and never feel ashamed, because the only person who could be at fault in such a scenario is the person that tries to shame you.
Rocky Horror shoves you out of your comfort zone and forces you to explore yourself, and your sexuality, through shocking, provocative behavior that plays with your emotions and toys with your sense of normality. Do you find that you’re attracted to Frank? It’s okay! Believe it or not, lots of people are, as O’Brien admits in an interview years later. If you are surprised by how open you are to the unusual nature of this film, that just means that the feature is doing its job, because this isn’t a movie that you sit back and quietly observe. This is a film that reaches out and touch-a-touch-a-touch-a-touches you, and makes you question the limits of your morality, and forces you to expand your vision of the world, leaving you with a more open perspective, and a more light-hearted, honest acceptance of others. The Rocky Horror Picture Show lives on all these years later, both on stage and on film, sometimes combining both with midnight screenings and yelling, interactive audiences, because it’s wild, and fun, and welcoming. Rocky reaches out to the loner in you and offers you a crowd of misfit toys to hang with, especially at the midnight screenings, which offer a sense of community. As the years go by, the cult following only grows stronger, because back in 1973, Richard O’Brien wrote a revolutionary little story that unabashedly declares “I am” — a message that still holds an important place in society, even all of these years later.