On Aug. 14, 1975, a film adaptation of a little-known British musical opened to tepid audiences and lukewarm reviews. The film featured no big name stars (yet), a low budget and a ridiculous plot. A movie about a “sweet transvestite” from the planet of Transsexual, Transylvania? Nobody would pay to see that freakshow!
I have many fond memories of going to the Avalon and the Tivoli theaters in St. Louis to midnight showings of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” where audience participation was not only allowed, but encouraged. Part of the fun was an unruly audience making it impossible to hear any of the dialogue.
“You’re lucky, he’s lucky, I’m lucky…we’re all lucky!!!”
My very first encounter with the show was at the Avalon Cinema. I went with a friend of mine, neither of us knowing what to expect. As we sat in the theater and people began to mill in, my friend went to the restroom. He returned a short time later with a mortified look on his face.
“There was a guy in there with full makeup and fishnet stockings,” he said. “He had a whip in his hand, and just sat on the sink and stared at me as every once in a while he cracked that whip.”
I still think of that and laugh whenever I hear someone’s story of their first experience seeing the film in theaters.
“That’s a rather tender subject…another slice, anyone?”
For years, Rocky Horror was something that the “underground” held sacred, dear, and somewhat secret…and we liked it that way.
In 1990, the film was released on VHS for the first time. In the first blow to its cult status, anyone could rent or buy the movie and watch it….without the benefits of a theater setting or a screaming audience. I sat watching the tape that first time with friends, thinking “this kinda sucks.”
In 1993, cable began broadcasting the movie, and more of us shook our heads sadly as a cleaned-up, sanitized version of the film began popping up at all hours of the night (and day!!! 11 in the morning!! Rocky Horror!! Really???).
Earlier this year, the show Glee (shudder) announced they were going to have a “Rocky Horror episode,” and another nail in Dr. Frank N. Furter’s coffin was hammered in. When a toothpaste commercial like “Glee” pays homage, there is no “underground cult status” left, as far as I’m concerned.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the film, it is being released on Blu-Ray Oct. 19. While I am sure many “Glee” fans will run out and buy it, I personally will be cheering on the middle-aged group of doctors, mothers, and car mechanics who sneak away from their kids (and some grandkids) for a night and have a “Rocky Horror/Pink Flamingos/Reefer Madness” party where they can do the Time Warp as it was always meant to be danced…by weirdos in drag.
An even better idea: The Tivoli still has midnight showings for the loyal fans; you can check out the coolest theater in the Midwest while watching one of the coolest cult movies ever. Show dates are Oct. 22, 23, 29, and 30, and Nov. 5 and 6. Time? Midnight, of course!
For a great in-depth history of the musical and movie, check out the book “Rocky Horror: From Concept to Cult” by David Evans and my friend Scott Michaels. It’s out of print, but you can find copies on Ebay and Amazon.
“And crawling…on the planet’s face…some insects…called the human race…lost in time….and lost in space….and meaning.”