Putting the ‘Cult’ in ‘Pop Culture’

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Putting the ‘Cult’ in ‘Pop Culture’

By Claire Donohue

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This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Considering I was born 22 years after the original film premiere, I can’t quite call myself an original fan, but I am incredibly thankful that “Rocky’s” tradition of fishnets, heels, and time warping has survived long enough for me to get a taste. For those unfamiliar, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a musical comedy horror film directed by Jim Sherman. It follows one strange evening of a newly engaged couple: Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Wise (Susan Sarandon), a “sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania” named Dr. Frank N’ Furter (Tim Curry) and his scientific creation, Rocky (Peter Hinwood). Their journey is filled with musical numbers, murder, and far away planets.


Graphic by: Leo DiPierro

The science fiction film acts as an enduring tribute to horror B movies of the late 1940s and gained its popularity on the midnight movie scene. Audience members began attending the screenings in 1976, dressing up as the beloved characters, and talking back to the screen. Since gaining its cult following, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has become the longest running theatrical release in all of film history.

I saw “Rocky Horror” in theaters for the first time at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school (an age my parents finally deemed acceptable). Even after watching the film an unreasonable amount of times in my bedroom, I was still ill-prepared for the real live thing. Ticket in hand and sequined hat atop my head, I stumbled (balancing in five inch heels is not a skill of mine) into the Clay Theater on Fillmore St. just before midnight. Taking a middle of the house seat, I skimmed a sheet of instructions detailing when exactly to hurl the props I had purchased: dry toast, rubber gloves, rice, and a deck of cards (all subtle references to lines in the film).

Minutes later, the lights went down and the stage lit up. The next hour and 41 minutes were filled with corsets, lipstick, and absurdly loud profanities. Screenings are accompanied by a cast of brilliantly dressed up stage actors mouthing the lines in front of a screen playing the movie. Although the script of the film is already bizarre and filled with sexual encounters, the live cast does what they can to heighten the preposterous nature with exaggerated expressions and movements. The audience does their part by dancing, singing, and throwing props, as well as shouting obscene responses to almost every line.

The fantastic world of Transylvania quickly drew me in. I was dazzled and shocked, and I desperately wanted to memorize each and every audience response. I’ve never been much into musicals, nevertheless I spent much of the next four months dancing around my bedroom to the Rocky Horror soundtrack and working on my amateur Columbia costume.

I’ve grown to appreciate the absurdity upon returning to the theater repeatedly: there’s such a sheer contrast between the sick and sparkling world of the old Frankenstein mansion and the repetitiveness of our own lives. My favorite song in the movie is sung by Dr. Frank N’ Furter in his sharp stilettos, fishnets, garter belt, laced corset, and flawlessly applied blood red lipstick. “Don’t Dream it, Be it” encourages just what the title suggests. The whole culture of “Rocky Horror” thrives on individuality and extravagance regardless of outdated social norms, a platform built for you to dress up and act out. Two years ago I would have had a lot of trouble picturing myself dramatically mouthing every line of “Science Fiction Double Feature” in a room of complete strangers.

As cheesy as it sounds, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is more than just a movie. It’s not about knowing the most lines or having the best costume. It’s about being there, and being you, and having the best time you can. “Rocky’” taught me that, at least for one night, enjoying myself deserves to come above all else. It’s part of a counterculture built on optional but encouraged participation and considerably explicit humour.

“Rocky Horror” has been around for 40 years and we can only hope for 40 more. There’s nothing I look forward to more than Saturday nights spent time warping and toast throwing. Regardless of your preconceived ideas, I recommend giving it a chance. In the words of Dr. Frank N Furter, “Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh,” and find your way to the closest “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Just be sure to invest in a sturdy pair of fishnets first.