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Horror Incorporated: 'Rocky Rocks on'

Creator O'Brien Riding High With Film's Theater, Stage Runs, Debut On DVD


For lack of better words, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" creator and co-star Richard (Riff Raff) O'Brien really is stuck in a
"time warp." I mean, how couldn't you be when your film has been around for 25 years -- and has never left the big screen?
Life is indeed a dance.

I'm not making this up: "Rocky Horror" is the longest continually running theatrical film ever. Of course, it's been a weekend midnight ritual in the U.S. for years, and in other parts of the world, the "Show" just goes on and on and on ...

"In New Zealand and Australia, they show it on a weekly basis, and there's a cinema in Munich which has been
showing the movie continually on a daily basis for over 20 years," O'Brien told me in a recent interview. The
burning question, of course, is "Why?"

"I don't think many people understand why it has its longevity -- even a good psychologist or sociologist would have a hard time trying to determine what nerve this movie and stage show touches," O'Brien said.

"I think the nerve of exhibitionism is there. I think narcissism and exhibition are fairly close to the surface in all of us, yet we don't hone up to it for various reasons. There are a lot of fantasy areas of ourselves that we don't socially indulge in because it ouldn't do us any favors."

'Rocky' Beginnings

For those of you who have been living under a rock (or is it Rocky?) for all these years, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is, ithout question, the ultimate audience participation film. Adapted from O'Brien's own stage play (for which he also wrote the music and lyrics) that debuted in 1973 at London's Royal Court Experimental Theater, the "show" follows the exploits of a ewly engaged couple, Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick), who stumble upon the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) after they get lost in a rainstorm.

Frank-N-Furter, by the way, happens to be a transvestite who is hosting an annual convention of visitors from the planet transsexual. O'Brien, of course, plays the castle's Butler, Riff Raff, who is joined by such memorable characters as Magenta (Patricia Quinn), Columbia (Nell Campbell) and Frank-N-Furter's creation himself, Rocky (Peter Hinwood). O'Brien and director Jim Sharman also serve up a slice of the singer Meat Loaf, too, who as Eddie does the "Hot Patootie."

What makes the experience even more wild (to call "Rocky Horror" just a movie would be a gross understatement) is that it exists in several parallel universes. In addition to the big screen, it recently made its debut with extras galore on a double-disc DVD. Better yet, the experience continues to take the stage all over the world, and it will even enjoy its renaissance on
Broadway in November.

While O'Brien had confidence in the stage version, he oddly didn't share the same sentiment when filming was completed on the movie version.

"We were very disappointed with the movie when it first came out -- it seemed so slow, it just didn't seem to have the energy of the stage show," said O'Brien, who composed the production's musical numbers. "It became a different experience, almost a surreal, dreamlike experience. There's kind of a strange quality to the movie."

Oddly enough, that "strange" quality and the "slow" pacing ended up being a serendipitous bit of movie magic. That's because it allowed the "room," so to speak, for audiences to participate in the experience -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

"The fans have asked me over the years whether we put the gaps between the lines for them to pick up the cues and shout lines in between," O'Brien said. "The answer is 'No,' actually -- we were pretty lucky there.

"I don't believe in manipulating the audience that much," O'Brien said, referring to the energy that the audience provides the players in the stage version. "It's one thing laying out tragedy and humor and asking people to laugh through the interpretation of the words and reacting to what they see on stage, but that's a different journey than trying a nudge and wink at the audience (with a film)."

When the participation did develop, O'Brien says that it didn't come in the form of mockery. In other words, audiences have always been laughing with "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," not at it. It is, after all, a piece that salutes the twisted world
of horror and sci-fi B movies, complemented by a song score of rock 'n' roll music.

"There is a difference between intentionally funny and unintentionally funny," O'Brien said. "I've read a review of the DVD, and the chap said, 'It's so bad it's good.' Well, he's kind of missing the point, because those were the kinds of films we were parodying. It's a bit of a harsh judgment to lie upon us, yet at the same time it's the most wonderful accolade and compliment we could possibly get.

"When we were doing it on the stage, it was very easy to see that we were parodying the 'B movie' with the wooden and clichéd dialogue and the stereotypical characters. But then Jim Sharman and I had the conversation wondering whether people would get the point once we transferred it back to the very medium that it came from. The whole thing about those other
films is that they were unintentionally funny -- the more wooden the dialogue and the acting, the funnier they became."

Bringing The 'Experience' Home

Of course, while "Rocky Horror" has made its indelible marks on both the stage and screen, one has to wonder what sort of impact it will make on DVD. For one, the DVD is an experience unto itself, considering the myriad of bonus features that
include outtakes, interviews and commentary by O'Brien and Quinn.

But perhaps the greatest feature of all is the "Theatrical Experience" version of the film, where you can view "Rocky Horror" as if you were in the theater. It includes an introduction by "Rocky Horror" fan club president Sal Piro, then audiences can go on to see audience reactions and performers going in front of the screen during certain parts of the film.

Of course, that's not to say that you can't get a gaggle of friends together and share the experience in your living room, complete with toast, squirt guns, toilet paper and a battery of other accessories. Then again, you do run the risk of trashing your house.

"Or certainly your lingerie drawer," O'Brien said with a laugh.

Speaking of lingerie, you can't, of course, do an interview with O'Brien without mentioning Tim Curry, who is a scream in this ultimate gender-bender role. And while it's clearly parody, it's still hard to imagine seeing our actors of today taking the same risk that Curry did by taking the role. Or was it a risk?

"It was no risk at all," O'Brien said. "It was job we did when we were young and we did it to the best of our abilities. I was very lucky as a writer to have consummate performers coming on board. With all honesty, 'Rocky' was very useful to Tim's career -- there's no doubt about that.

"I brought him from England to Los Angeles and gave him a name and a profile, but at the same time, he returned that favor in spades. He was so good in the role, but not doing it wouldn't have stopped him from becoming a success, nor would it have stopped Susan from becoming a success. She's just great."

It's clear from talking with O'Brien that he loves to talk about the whole "Rocky Horror" experience, even though
he's likely heard the same questions from interviewers and fans over and over again. "It's really nice to be a part of something that's made both theatrical and cinematic history," O'Brien told me proudly.

"To be the author of it and having contributed to such a large part of it is a good feeling. It continues to astonish me -- it always did -- from day one ... the gift of life is phenomenal -- it's lovely. Every day is a gift."

"Heck, he's even enjoyed the "Rocky Horror" experience as an observer, although telling people that he was Richard O'Brien, the creator and co-star, held no water whatsoever.

I actually said 'Thank you' to the people who were around and performing, and they kind of looked at me suspiciously and said, 'Yeah, thank you very much -- now f*** off,'" O'Brien said, roaring with laughter.

Here's to another 25 years, Richard.

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The Richard O'Brien Crusade est. 1996