The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Directed by Jim Sharman

Produced by Michael White

Starring Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Tim Curry, Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Charles Gray, Jonathan Adams, Meatloaf Aday, Peter Hinwood

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Some one here had to cover this one eventually, didn't they? So I figured why not me, sad old seventies junkie that I am? Yes, I am a tremendous fan of this film, but not so rabid a fan that I would don fishnets and attend a midnight screening…well…um, no I just wouldn't…not even for money! But I do hold an affectionate place for Australian Jim Sharman's cinematic recreation of Richard Hartley & Richard O'Brien's one-of-a-kind stage musical. This is one of the very few films in an ever growing library that gets a regular spin in my DVD player, such is its captivating entertainment value. And that's largely down to the peripheral Hammer connection, as undoubtedly had Hammer produced a musical this is probably EXACTLY what it would have turned out like! But let's not forget the fabulous cast, the wonderful musical numbers and the lunatic sense of fun generated by this affection homage to those great B-movies of yesteryear. It's no wonder that "Rocky Horror" has become a cult all of its own!

The story's about as straight-forwardly simple as you would expect. On the eve of Nixon's resignation, couple Brad Majors (Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Sarandon) attend the marriage of Ralph and Betty Hapschatt, only to find themselves becoming lost on their way home from the reception. Happening across a "hunting lodge for rich weirdoes", Brad & Janet are wrested from the burgeoning thunderstorm by butler Riff Raff (O'Brien) and his equally spooky sister Magenta (Quinn). Once inside the creepy mansion they are catapulted into the bizarre world of transvestite mad scientist Frank N Furter (Curry), his entourage of groupies "The Transylvanians", and his efforts to create the perfect man in Rocky Horror (Hinwood). Toss in Frank's former lover Columbia (Campbell), lobotomised biker Eddie (Aday), and a level of decadence their sweet naiveté can barely comprehend and things may never be the same for them ever again!

Does anybody expect me to give anything less than a glowing review to a sexy sci-fi horror musical filmed at both Oakley Court AND Bray Studios? And it's not just because "Rocky" and I share a birthday (the stage version previewed at the Royal Court Theatre on June 16, 1973). No, it's because (even though "Rocky" has its detractors, but then what film doesn't?) it's a film for me that hasn't dated (too) much, has a number of catchy musical numbers, a scenery-chewing performance by Tim Curry, and plays itself off as both a homage AND parody of creaky horror cliches. It's also a LOT of fun, and was YEARS ahead of the Hollywood mainstream in its presentation of unbiased sexuality. Richard O'Brien and Jim Sharman's screenplay is a smart adaptation of O'Brien's original stage play, sacrificing elements that could only have worked in a theatre setting while making the most of its new celluloid home. The film additionally makes the most of its modest ($US 1 million) budget, that ran dry before shooting completed, managing to cram every available cent up there on-screen.

The cast are letter perfect across the board, with Tim Curry being the obvious stand-out and show-stopping scene-stealer as Frank-N-Furter. Of course, who could ever forget the late Charles Gray (Mocata & Blofeld himself!) in the role that won him a whole new legion of fans, that of The Criminologist & Narrator. But it's those songs that make "Rocky Horror" what it is and praise be to O'Brien & Richard Hartley for writing tunes that have managed to transcend three decades so gracefully. Peter Suschitzky's cinematography, while never showy or flamboyant, captures Brian Thomson's unforgettable production design and Sue Blane's economic costume design in all of its vibrant, trashy glory. And Australian director Sharman, having only helmed "Shirley Thompson Versus The Aliens" (1972) prior, seems to have had the time of his life with the production, cast, and crew, going on to create THE all-time hit cult movie musical. In retrospect, it's hardly surprising that the film bombed as badly as it did on first release, as it was ahead of its time by about a decade. Sadly, Sharman failed to work the same magic when the film's sequel, "Shock Treatment", debuted in 1981, even though that film is virtually everything that the original was. Time will tell if the eventual DVD release of the sequel spawns a similar mini-cult phenomenon of its own, as it's a biting satire of the TV generation that demands reappraisal.

Although listed on the gatefold packaging as being letterboxed at an aspect ratio of European standard 1.66, the feature itself on Fox's Region 4 disc is actually a lot closer to 1.77. The film itself is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen displays and accordingly looks nothing short of perfect. I won't bore you with details, but realistically "Rocky Horror" now looks gorgeous, colourful little creation that it is. Audio is represented by a new Dolby 5.1 mix that appears to be an extension of the previous stereo mix engineered in the eighties, thus some of the sound design isn't true to the original monaural theatrical version, but if you haven't heard it that way I doubt you'll even notice! The differences are so minor as to be negligible regardless. Actually, it wasn't this good at the movies!

Extras? Shite…where to begin? I expect the same daunting task when Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" 2 disc-set arrives on my doorstep around Christmas (but you won't be seeing me reviewing THAT one here at SGM!), so let's start at the top and work our way down, shall we? Okay, Disc one: First prominent feature is an Audio commentary by Richard O'Brien & Patricia Quinn that is both terribly engaging and a wonderful treat for the fans. The pair share a great many witty stories, a lot of history, delightful anecdotes, and just a smattering of scandalous gossip. Almost as much fun as listening to the film itself in 5.1! Secondly we have the Multi-view Theatre Experience, which (not so) seamlessly branches between the film and a live cinema performance. A fun feature at first, but essentially crap as I'd rather watch the film without the interruptions. Thirdly there's the Participation Prompter, a subtitle feature that recreates the audience participation thing & can be used in conjunction with the insert booklet. Not recommended unless you desire a really messy lounge-room at the end of the show, but probably a great idea for some dopey fun with a few drunken mates. And of course, last but not least is a sneaky hidden feature…an Alternative Version of the film that replicates Sharman's original intended vision (black & white image until the Transylvanians appear mid-"Time Warp"). This would be a great inclusion if I could the damn thing to play properly, as it manages to stall my player at the start of Chapter 2 every time I attempt to watch it this way! (As the hundreds of other discs in my library play fine, this is obviously a disc fault…)

Right, time for Disc two! From the top, we start with the famed deleted song "Once In While" (sung by a post-coitus Brad with Frank asleep in the background). Image quality is excellent, but the 2 channel stereo sound has a couple of glitches. Outtakes comprises a collection of alternate takes from four sequences, but ultimately becomes a slightly tedious addition. Then it's into the featurettes and video materials, which kick off with "Rocky on VH1" (sub-headed "Behind the Music: Where Are They Now?") consisting of new interviews with O'Brien, Quinn, Sarandon, Bostwick & Meatloaf. The special moment herein comes in the form of new footage of O'Brien touring the refurbished Oakley Court and providing impromptu renditions of some of the film's more memorable songs. Filmed when Rich was a sprightly 58, it shows the guy's still got it. The other VH1 feature is the "Hot Patootie Pop-up Video", which is just the song with silly pop-up boxes delivering a multitude of Meatloaf facts (harmless fun). Also included are the Alternate Ending (US version minus "Superheroes") and Misprint Ending (with the same out-of-sync audio I first experienced back in the early eighties). Then there's the 37m "Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show" documentary that explores the phenomenon from stage to screen and beyond (with much redundant recycled information available elsewhere on the set), as well as two Theatrical trailers, two Karaoke videos (Sweet Transvestite & Toucha Toucha), and a Photo Gallery. The whole kit and caboodle comes packaged in a gate-fold sleeve with a full colour insert booklet and slip-case (Which makes me wonder…why do people bemoan Dragon for presenting "Phenomena" this way, yet not take a crack at Fox for doing the same with "Rocky Horror" and "Fight Club"? Alllllrighty then…)

Anyhoo, love it or hate it, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is here to stay. Its own distributor, 20th Century Fox, couldn't kill it, and thirty years on it seems it still shows no signs of abating in its appeal. With each new generation, a brand new legion of fans are born to perpetuate the cult ad infinitum. Hey, I've championed it for nearly twenty years, and will probably do so for the next twenty years. Sure, it's not a film to suit everybody's tastes, but for some of us it's just as much a testament to a generation as "Easy Rider" was in 1969. If there's one indelible message it left us, it was the telling words of the final act: Don't Dream It, Be It. For me, that's one of the most positive, if not simplistic, messages ANY genre or genre related film has imparted me over the years. See it, see it again, discover it for the first time, or rediscover it. And remember, there's always a light burning "over at the Frankenstein place"…:)

International specifications: PAL format disc; Language options in English Dolby 5.1 only; Subtitle options in Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish & English for the Hearing Impaired

*Available R1 through Fox Home Entertainment with original monaural track & option to play US version (without "Superheroes"), UK version (with "Superheroes") or Conceptual version (identical to hidden version on R4 disc)

Review by Mike Thomason

Released by Fox Home Entertainment
Classified M (15+) - Region 4 (PAL)
Running time - 100m
Ratio - Widescreen 1.77 (Anamorphic)
Audio - Dolby digital 5.1
Extras :
Disc One: Audio commentary by Richard O'Brien & Patricia Quinn, The Theatrical Experience (branching feature), Participation Prompter (subtitle feature), Audience Participation Track (audio feature), Hidden "Alternate" version of feature film Disc Two: "Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show" documentary, Alternate ending, Misprint ending, Deleted Scene (Once In A While), Outtakes, VH1 "Behind The Music - Where Are They Now?" interview featurettes, "Hot Patootie" VH1 Pop-up video, "Toucha Toucha" & "Sweet Transvestite" Karaoke videos, Teaser & Theatrical trailers, Photo gallery, Collector's booklet

© 2001, Icon In Black Media