It sort of makes sense to have two reviews of the new Blu-ray of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as the movie celebrates excess. The other day David Harley gave you his thoughts on FOX’s gigantic (yet all on one disc!) 35th anniversary release of the cult favorite, now BC tackles the set from a very different background, just as Rocky mania hits new highs thanks to the Glee episode (and threatened remake). How does the film hold up? And does it “work” when watching at home? Well, BC has a surprise to reveal about that… read on to find out!
I have a confession to make. I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least a dozen times, listened to the soundtrack album for both the film and the original Roxy performance over and over, bought the PC game, and even owned the series of Bobbleheads. But I’ve never once seen the film in a theater, with participation or not. Christ, I’ve seen Shock Treatment in theaters, but not the original classic (I have to be one of a very very low number of people who can make that claim). So it’s sort of fitting that this new 35th Anniversary Blu-ray of the film is largely geared toward recreating the experience in the comfort of your home, since I’ve apparently mentally decided never go to the real thing.
Obviously, though, I enjoy the movie. It’s fast-paced, goofy fun and the songs are catchy as hell. I first got interested due to the presence of Meat Loaf (being a huge fan of his albums), but oddly Hot Patootie wouldn’t even place in my top 5 songs of the film. I’m a sucker for “Over At The Frankenstein Place”, “Eddie”, and “Rose Tint My World” (including the awesome “epilogue” by Riff-Raff – “Frank N Furter/It’s all over…”), but really I love all the songs in the movie (I wouldn’t miss “Sword of Damocles”, though that’s mostly due to the terrible dub making it stick out like a sore thumb). Most musicals have a few duds, but as far as I’m concerned, every number here is worthy of singing along.
And the movie itself is enjoyable too. It’s a loving mish-mash of 50s Sci-Fi, Frankenstein movies, and (technically) breakdown horror, with a game cast bringing to surprising life. Many of the cast (Tim Curry and Richard O’Brien particularly) have that “offbeat” quality that keeps them from playing more traditional heroes (or even villains), but they are perfectly at home here as Transylvanians. Susan Sarandon is wonderful as the shy prude who goes from being a virgin to a total slut (she nails at least two of the characters, not to mention all the pool shenanigans, all in one night), and Barry Bostwick is a droll delight – I wish he had taken on more genre roles. And my boy Meat Loaf (billed as Meatloaf here) is only in it long enough to sing one song and get killed, but it’s certainly a memorable sequence.
However, in the past 35 years, the movie itself has sort of taken a back-seat to the general EXPERIENCE of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Folks dress up as the characters, even the minor ones who only appear in a single shot or two. Props are thrown at the screen during appropriate times (i.e. rice during the wedding), and in addition to the songs, talking back to the screen is encouraged – when the narrator (Charles Gray) pauses after “To take you…”, the crowd shouts “WHERE?!” before he finishes his thought (“on a strange journey”), for example. Plus, the most die-hard fans form groups and “shadowcast” the film, which is basically acting out the entire thing in front of the screen, complete with props and lights and everything. In short, if you actually just like the movie and want to watch it in peace, you probably wouldn’t want to hit up a screening at your local indie house (part of the reason why I haven’t bothered – these folks annoyed me enough during Repo and Shock Treatment; I’m sure they’re even more intrusive during RHPS).
But FOX has people like me covered, allowing home viewers to get as close as they can to the theatrical experience but without the mess and expenses (I can’t imagine going out to buy bread and rice just to literally throw it away). Using the Blu-ray exclusive “Midnight Experience” feature, one can add a call-back track (things to shout at the screen), a prop box (little animated things that you can throw whenever you like, however the appropriate prop will blink when you’re supposed to throw it), and even a PIP-enabled full length professionally filmed shadowcast that will play with the film’s audio (if there’s a way to turn on an “audience” audio track, I didn’t find it). It’s a well designed feature that adds enjoyment to the viewing of the film, and you can blow the shadowcast up to full-screen if you want a better look at how much effort these folks put into their costumes and performances.
The biggest new extra feature is actually an American Idol-esque hour long piece about the search to find the cast for this special shadowcast. Tryouts are held in NY and LA, with shadowcast troupes from across the globe facing off against other fans dressed the same. It’s kind of funny to see like 19 different Riff-Raffs in one room, and interesting when you notice that no two are exactly alike. But unlike most competitions, they all seem to get along with their “rivals”, helping each other fix costumes and such. Running an hour, it’s a fun piece and one of the more unique bonus features I’ve seen in a while.
The packaging lists “Rocky-oke” as a new feature, but it seems one of the previous releases had to have had this option for the songs, no? Well either way it’s here, with or without the vocals (they seem to strip some of the instruments away with the vocals, however – it sounds terrible). There’s also a trivia track that plays in the top left of the screen (it’s actually part of the “Midnight Experience”, though the trivia is largely about the careers of the cast/crew and other assorted nuggets of info), and a look at Mick Rock’s much heralded set photos (a brief interview with Rock is also included).
The rest of the extras are held over from previous releases, though a few have been dropped as well, so don’t toss your old release at the screen just yet. Of most use to fans is the commentary with O’Brien and Patricia Quinn (Magenta), who don’t even bother to introduce themselves and simply have a nice conversation over the movie. Not that it’s not screen-specific, but what will often happen is, one of them will comment about something on screen and then they’ll go off on tangents from that. They rarely fall silent and bring a lot of trademark British dryness, so it’s definitely worth a listen (and it’s worth noting that the trivia track does not repeat commentary information, as many of them often do). Then the deleted musical numbers “Once In A While” and “Superheroes” are also included (the latter should have been included, though the former is quite bad – however I do enjoy the Roxy version), as well as some alternate takes of the credits. You can also have the option of watching the film with its intended Black & White opening, though the switch to color occurs at a different spot than where O’Brien claims it should occur on the commentary (he says it should happen during “Sweet Transvestite”, when Frank takes off his robe, but on the DVD it occurs when Brad and Janet first enter the main “convention” hall during “Time Warp”). Plus some outtakes, the “Time Warp” video and other assorted promotional material.
Unsurprisingly, it’s also the best the film has ever looked or sounded (those film prints must be getting beat up by now, no?). The image was taken from a 4k master of the original negative, and it looks amazing. They’ve even gone a bit easier on their DNR for once – it’s still lacking grain, but not to the extent that everyone looks like a Barbie doll (see: Predator). But since this is a musical, I’m guessing the sound is more important – I’m happy to report it sounds terrific. It’s given a new 7.1 mix that actually works quite well (it was a mono film originally), with the songs sounding perfectly crisp and the dialogue as clear as you’d expect. The surrounds don’t get much action beyond a few effects and songs, but again – it was a mono film to start with. It’s not an aggressive mix, but it’s one of the more natural sounding mix upgrades I’ve heard. The packaging is also nice, with the disc nested in the back of a book of photos (though the flap with all of the bonus feature information is awkwardly designed, but glued on firmly as if it wasn’t meant to be removed).
The lack of a few bonus features (and that they are presented in standard def) keeps this from being the be all and end all Rocky Horror Picture Show release, but it’s still the best one yet. The new bonus features are enjoyable, the transfer is nearly perfect, and even if a few supplements are missing, it will take you hours to go through the whole thing. And that it’s all on one disc just makes the power of Blu-ray all the more impressive. A must have set for fans new and old.