I think The Rocky Horror Picture Show may be beyond traditional film criticism at this point. This movie is such a part of the culture that it is protected and preserved by the National Film Registry. I’d never seen it before and to be sure, I wasn’t seeing it under the ideal conditions. I watched it on a 28-inch screen in my pajamas in bed. The way I understand it, Rocky Horror is a communal affair, to be shared with people who know it by heart and preferably after midnight. I was expecting a below average picture.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is not a below average picture. It’s slightly above average, actually, told with boundless, infectious energy and buoyed by a remarkable performance by Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-n-furter. This is a weird movie, proudly weird, campy to the hilt and quite a bit of fun. I’m not sure it should have lasted as a cultural touchstone for 35 years, especially with the collections of songs which are mainly weak, but that might speak to how few movies like this have been since then.
The story, such as it is, follows Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and a very good Susan Sarandon) a couple of engaged squares who breakdown near a spooky mansion and stumble upon a menagerie of bizarre cross-dressers and soft-shoe artists, presided over by Frank-n-furter and his collage of servants. Brad and Janet are kept overnight to witness the good doctor create a dimwitted sex slave for himself, the intrusion into the lab by a rival scientist, and the visitation of aliens from the planet Transsexual before they escape, a little more world-weary and a lot more sexually experienced. The movie isn’t told all that competently by director Jim Sharman but the performances by the charismatic Curry and the sexy Surandon (I didn’t mean that to be alliterative but musicals do that to me) make the whole enterprise infectious.
The best visual sequence is a clever and well-choreographed dual visit from Frank-n-furter to his guests’ separate bedrooms. Charles Gray is also quite good as the narrator, or as he’s listed in the credits “The Criminologist – An Expert.” I also enjoyed the movie’s fetishistic approach to old movies, at one point Curry warbles his longing to be Fay Wray and later he is being carried like Wray up the RKO Radio tower, no less, which is part of the set in the castle’s floor show. This is the studio that released Citizen Kane (1941) , and there, in front of its logo was Barry Bostwick, Susan Surandon and Tim Curry dancing in fishnets and lingerie. Well, RKO also released Cat People (1942), a favorite at this house, no doubt. There is a moment when Meat Loaf gets brutally murdered with a pick ax for no obvious reason. I liked that as well.