There once was a castle perverse.
Its owner was evil and worse,
He’d break into song
While his friends sang along
Without any time to rehearse.
All visitors finding his lair
Were likely to join the nightmare,
Who had morals to lose
Would leave, having had an affair.
Beware then the castle debased,
If you’d choose being chaste over chased,
Unless you’re the type
Who exults in the hype
Of intentional absence of taste.
MPA rating: R
I know this review is a little late for Halloween (and for only my fourth Blindspot), but I’ve been struggling to figure out how to review The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When a film is this iconic in its cult status, is it basically above criticism? To be clear, I did not enjoy this sex-crazed salute to campy horror, but I can see why others might. It’s the kind of over-the-top cheesefest that knows exactly what it wants to be and is so committed to it that it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not. It is what it is, and I guess it proves that a film can be both classic and atrocious at the same time.
The paper-thin story, narrated periodically by a genteel criminologist (Charles Gray), sees newly engaged couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) being stranded when their car breaks down on a dark and stormy night, leading them to the castle of the eccentric transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter (a scenery-chewing Tim Curry). The straight-laced couple are soon drawn into a free-for-all of seduction, murder, and musical numbers, complete with a creepy butler named Riff Raff (Richard O’Brian, who also wrote the film and the original stage show), a newly created muscle man named Rocky (Peter Hinwood), and a machine that turns people into statues.
Objectively, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a mess, as reflected by its poor reception by critics upon initial release. Characters come and go randomly, notably Meatloaf as a half-brained motorcyclist who shows up for one chaotic song and is abruptly killed for no reason. And a big stage number near the end is a fever dream of trashy costume glitz that makes zero sense, followed by a swimming pool championing wish fulfillment. In short, once Brad and Janet entered the castle, I just alternated between appreciating the music, feeling uncomfortable, and wondering what the heck I was watching, which I suspect was the intent of the filmmakers all along.
Speaking of the music, the movie does have some catchy songs to its credit (all written by O’Brien), energetic bops like “The Time Warp” and “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul” to match its tongue-in-cheek silliness. I generally love musicals, and, while I would consider this one of the exceptions, I will grant that the music is pretty much the only thing that makes it watchable, some chuckle-worthy jokes notwithstanding. Perhaps I’d buy into the film’s bizarre brand of fun more if I attended one of the midnight showings known for audience participation, and I’m tempted to. If only I had a better baseline opinion of it….
I’m well aware that The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn’t my kind of movie. I’m not a fan of watching two clean-cut kids be corrupted by an alien missionary of the sexual revolution and his motley array of perversions, even if it’s someone as charismatic as Tim Curry. I suppose that makes me a prude, but so be it; I prefer my musicals less hypersexualized. I do find it funny that my first exposure to both Curry and O’Brien was in kid-friendly cartoons where they played likable dads: Curry in The Wild Thornberrys and O’Brien in Phineas and Ferb, which were a far cry from their raucous younger days. I’m glad I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least once, if only to understand its iconic cult reputation, but it’s a cult I’d prefer to avoid.
Best line: (Dr. Frank-N-Furter) “It’s not easy having a good time.”
Rank: Dishonorable Mention
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