The last time I was in a movie theatre, I wore a dark red negligee, bright red lipstick, and a second-hand sequined blazer that, judging from its shoulder pads, probably once belonged to a Las Vegas business woman in 1987. This was my fourth time attending a Rocky Horror shadow cast show—where a group of actors performs the film as it is simultaneously projected on a screen behind them. I brought along a few friends who were new to the film—or who we Rocky veterans call “virgins”.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 horror-comedy musical that was a box-office flop at the time of its release, but has since gained a large cult following. Rocky Horror, while shocking to mainstream audiences of its time, is beloved for its open embrace of queerness, gender bending, and unrestrained sexuality. Whether you’ve never heard of the musical, or are only vaguely familiar with the name, the following insider knowledge about Rocky Horror will soon have you putting on a pair of black heels and red lipstick and heading to the cinema.
The plot follows newly engaged couple Brad and Janet, whose car breaks down in the middle of a rain storm. In search for help, they unknowingly knock on the door of a castle belonging to a mad scientist named Dr. Frank N. Furter. The bold and charismatic Frank N Furter, dressed in fishnets and a corset, happens to be throwing a convention to unveil his latest experiment. Brad and Janet quickly become acquainted with a number of convention attendees and household staff, all of whom seem to share Frank’s dubious intentions for the couple. This bizarre opening is just the beginning of what some viewers consider a nonsensical plot filled with ridiculous characters, which may surprise many people who want to draw meaning from the film.
In order to understand the film’s quirks, it’s important to know that Rocky Horror both parodies and pays tribute to the science fiction genre and horror B-films made in the 1930s to the 1970s. The production’s creator Richard O’Brien reveals some of these references in the opening song “Science Fiction/Double Feature” as a disembodied voice sings, “And Flash Gordon was there / In silver underwear / Claude Rains was The Invisible Man.” To better understand the inspiration for Rocky Horror’s plot line, characters, and cultural references, check out classic horror films like Nosferatu or It Came From Outer Space.
The film’s soundtrack is glam-rock inspired and always invites the viewer to dance or sing along. The songs vary from “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” a soft duet with funky guitar riffs, to “Sweet Transvestite,” a sassy, sexual, brass-filled ballad. The music is filled with gentle piano melodies and ensemble harmonies. The lyrics vary from being absurdly funny like—“Now the only thing I’ve come to trust / Is an orgasmic rush of lust”—to profound sentiments like—“Don’t Dream it—Be it.” Like any great album, the soundtrack takes time to grow on its listener, so I suggest playing it before watching the film in order to become better acquainted with the musical numbers. A couple of my favourites are “Hot Patootie” and “Rose Tint My World.”
What might be the best way to first experience Rocky Horror is by going to a live shadow cast show. As a small cast acts out the story in front of the film projection, Rocky Horror becomes a parody of a parody. At the shows I’ve been to, the shadow cast even exaggerates and over-sexualizes some of the more racy scenes. The audience, dressed in costumes mimicking the characters, is even more lively than the actors. They shout perfectly-timed jokes, squirt water guns, and toss rolls of toilet paper upon hearing, “Great Scott!” It’s the best place to get your freak on among an audience of people that are there to have a good time, laugh, and enjoy the show.
If you still don’t have any plans for Halloween, I suggest finding a party hat and bringing a few slices of toast—another of the many audience participation props—to Montreal’s annual shadow cast screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is playing Oct. 28, 29, and 31 at Cinema Imperial. Tickets can be bought in advance for $17.95 or at the door for $19.95. More details can be found at rockyhorrormontreal.