A nostalgic time warp… again
Hands up time – I’ve never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show in it’s many guises. I know it came from a stage show from London’s West End which made the jump to international pop culture, but Richard O’Brien wrote and created it? Him, the bald headed snarky guy who used to present The Crystal Maze? Well, in time for the 40 year anniversary of the film version’s release on the big screen, Rocky Horror invades home media again to the undoubted delight of it’s hardcore cult following fanbase. Although the vibrant and stylish experience of the actual film is unsullied still to this day, the DVD release lurches out as less of a celebration and more of a work place public cringe-filled congratulation.
Having broken down on a old, rainy night in the middle of nowhere, newly engaged couple Brad (Barry Bostwick, Scandal) & Janet (Susan Sarandon, Tammy) finds themselves at a castle in search of a phone, only to find an eccentric party in full swing, led by it’s transvestite host Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry, Burke & Hare). Through numerous musical song & dance numbers, the couple are led through the crazy, horrific castle Frank has crafted, as he celebrates creating the perfect physical specimen of a man in Rocky (Peter Hinwood in his only notable role). As Brad & Janet spend the night, the truth behind Frank, his servants & underlings and their experiments are revealed.
Undeniably a love letter to the Hammer Horror era of British Cinema with an exploration of science fiction and horror movie elements, Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s choice to do it in the form of a musical leaves a terrific impression to this day still. I’m struggling to think of something in modern cinema that even comes close to the off-beat and alternate lifestyle that this film embraces. I mean, whilst cross-dressing and trans-genderism have become their own minorities, we still don’t see them display on a big platform in current events or pop culture media. To see them displayed on an equal footing on the level of traditional man/woman relationships with nary a head shake towards it is an achievement 40 years on still.
A film all about the costume and scene-dressing excess to create a lasting impression, the over the top nature to the look and feel of how Rocky Horror comes across instils an element of the unknown and a unique aura that few films have attempted to create since. Even the costumes for Frank’s underlings Magenta (Patricia Quinn, Rob Zombie’s The Lords Of Salem) and Riff Raff (O’Brien), whilst traditional in horror movie sense, offer more than the usual French maid and false hump man servant. When Rocky Horror decides to dial it up an extra notch, it explodes into fantastic technicolor as seen in Columbia’s (Nell Campbell, Great Expectations) besparkled lady stage peformer costume and the members of Frank’s party guests. The highlighting of colour carries on with the whacky and bright bedrooms and labs we explore. Even for a DVD release, I was surprised at how lush the transfer comes off even 40 years on, in a film that looks to stand the test of time.
I do like the warped pacing & constant changes in tone of the film with quite a fun musical number about dancing about on a Saturday night often being followed by the brutal murder of said singer. Seeing Curry all wide-eyed brandishing an axe in full make up and lingerie is a horrific image, even more so after being displayed as a comedic figure. Staying true to the genre it homages, the carnage that unfolds does lead to some truly horrendous sights, especially at meal times. For all the reputation Rocky Horror has as a comedy horror, it does emote the feelings of the genre well enough too surprisingly. With a downbeat ending for such a fun (for the most part) film, you would think it comes off as jarring, and yet you come to accept the carnage and randomness at the end as the film constantly reminds you to say ‘Sod it’ and free yourself from all inhibitions in life to enjoy it the most you can whilst you’re here because we’re all worm food in the end. Clutching at straws? Maybe, but I feel a black comedy influenced mind like O’Brien’s would not have slipped this in unintentionally.
Being honest, I’m not fussed on the majority of the songs. I realise that will get me the ire of certain circles of Rocky Horror fandom but the second half dragged on abit. Frontloaded, the opening half is a rocking & a rolling with brilliant music and catchy lyrics. Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul led by half brained biker Eddie (rock singer Meatloaf) wins the more rocky tune award and is my personal favourite as it reminds me of swing music and partying away on a Saturday night. The comedic lyrics of the cross-dressing and free loving tracks Sweet Transvestite & I Can Make You A Man are sure fire winners. Science Fiction/Double Feature still works as a commentary of going to the theatre for big screen viewing. Oh yes and the Time Warp is still catchy 40 years on. From there though, the rest of the music fails to make any real connection as the events of the plot come to the forefront (rather the story being advanced in the songs) and the tone constantly bounces back and forth. The songs and music are still really creative but I’d be lying if I thought they were all winners. Sounds good even on DVD though.
Despite this being the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, I feel the team who put this DVD together could have done a much better job rather than the half hearted-ness we get with the ‘stick a new sticker on the old disc’. The extras included are okay but having seen what ocean the 40th anniversary Blu-ray (which itself is just a re-release of the 35th birthday) swims in, you will feel short changed at the lesser amount here. We’re missing certain cut songs, alternative scenes and documentary shorts from across the years. We do get an audio commentary with O’Brien & Quinn about the making of – difficulties rather – the movie. There is a clear choice to target the rabid fanbase with audience participation tracks, like one which instructs you to do random tasks as the film plays and a pseudo-commentary track with the audience shouting back at the film with lines and put downs to the characters. Not bad, but you do feel like you’re missing out on something grander for such a big birthday in the 40 years Rocky Horror has been out.
The Bottom Line:
The Rocky Horror Picture Show to this day is still an experience to sample for any film-goer new and old alike to see what you can achieve with an alternative display to the traditions of the horror genre. Whilst the music personally is a mixed bag, it’s undoubtedly worth sampling. Being honest, I would say it’s worth pushing the boat out for the fancier Blu-Ray version with it’s claret soaked extras, compared to the paltry DVD showing. Either way, I doubt we will ever get away with another film on the level of camp lunacy filled with transvestism cross-dressing and genre busting that Rocky Horror does. The film is a must buy, but this DVD isn’t.
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