The Toronto Star
Peter Howell; 10-28-2000
Just in time for
Halloween, Rocky Horror marks 25th birthday with DVD
MOVIE CRITIC After
all these years of giving himself over to absolute pleasure,
it's still the rice that really gets to Rocky Horror creator
It gets him right
on the head.
``Right on my bald
head,'' he says in a phone interview from his London home. People
keep throwing it at me, and it hurts like bloody hell, I can
tell you that.''
Madness takes its
toll, as O'Brien's Rocky Horror alter-ego Riff Raff tunefully
Not that O'Brien
is complaining. This year marks the 25th anniversary of The
Rocky Horror Picture Show, the camp sci-fi movie musical that
was interactive before people knew what the word meant.
Many Rocky Horror
fans have seen the movie hundreds of times, but they still turn
out in droves - especially for Halloween screenings. They bring
with them an ever-expanding bag of props - including rice, toast
and playing cards - which they hurl into the air and at each
other when prompted by various visual and audio cues.
Rocky Horror, first
a play, then a movie, has made writer/composer/co- star O'Brien
a very happy man. It has also made such phrases as ``Give yourself
over to absolute pleasure'' and ``Don't dream it, be it,' '
part of the language of pop culture and sex.
O'Brien knows that
without flying rice, there would be no Rocky Horror madness,
which includes a new stage revival now playing on Broadway to
And the madness is
just as strong in Toronto, where the movie has played regularly
for the past quarter century. The Bloor Cinema hosts regular
weekend screenings featuring The Denton Episcopalians, a local
cabaret troupe that leads the audience participation. (There
are special Halloween screenings tonight at 9:30 and 11 and
Tuesday night at 9:30.)
The movie has also
just been released on DVD in a silver anniversary package. It
includes outtakes, audience cues and suggestions and a very
droll and humourous running commentary by O'Brien and Patricia
Quinn, who played Magenta in both the stage and screen versions
of Rocky Horror. (Among the trivia treats they reveal is that
Quinn's giant glistening red lips are seen during the opening
theme song, but it's O'Brien's falsetto heard crooning.)
On the face of it,
Rocky Horror is not the stuff of classic movies or stage plays.
It's really a silly fable, set to rock songs with whimsical
titles like ``Time Warp'' and ``Hot Patootie.'' The plot, what
there is of it, features a transvestite alien scientist in fishnet
stockings, played with bitchy grandeur by Shakespearean actor
Tim Curry, who goes by the ridiculous name of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
So then why all the
``I think it's because
it takes us back on this adolescent journey, '' O'Brien muses.
``I think when you're in adolescent turmoil, which most adolescents
are in because their hormones are bubbling, this rite of passage
takes place and you start to rebel against your parents and
authority. All that kind of s--t starts to kick in, and Rocky
does somehow or other manifest all that. And it's also a fairy
tale, which gives it its longevity, I think.''
Certainly, no one
could have predicted the staying power of Rocky Horror when
the film was first released in August, 1975, even though O'Brien's
original stage play had been an underground smash in London,
New York and Los Angeles.
The film's distributor,
20th Century Fox, was completely baffled by it at first. That's
why it ended up having its world premiere in Ottawa at the National
Arts Centre, of all places, because an early Rocky Horror fan
named Wayne Clarkson needed a movie to fill a slot in the FILMEXPO
festival he was programming.
``It was August,
1975, and I had called the Fox film office in Toronto, to see
if there were any interesting films available,'' recalls Clarkson,
who is today the executive director of the Canadian Film Centre
``And a gentleman
there told me a film called The Rocky Horror Picture Show had
just arrived in, and no one knew what to do with it. I said,
`Omigod, is it based on the stage play?' ''
It was indeed, the
same play Clarkson had seen two years earlier while studying
film in London. He brought the film sight unseen to his festival,
vaguely concerned that it might be too risque for upright Ottawa.
But he needn't have been concerned.
``The usually gray,
staid Ottawa crowd loved it, and we sold out all 900 seats in
the theatre. It turned out to be the world premiere, because
we ran it on a Friday night and its London premiere wasn' t
until the Saturday.
``At that time it
was quite an unusual film and I only jumped on it because I
knew the play. And just look at what a phenomenon in has become.''
Not at first, though,
because The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a flop upon its release.
It was originally sold as the alternative to the blockbuster
Jaws, with a clever - perhaps too clever - use of the iconicred-painted
Rocky Horror lips twisted to resemble a shark' s teeth. Underneath
was the ad line, ``A Different Set Of Jaws.''
Different is right,
especially in its not-so-subtle message that it's okay to be
gay. The refrain ``Don't dream it, be it,'' has been the theme
song for many a sexual awakening.
``I remember when
I saw it in high school, when I was still in the closet,'' says
John Kennedy, 32, the editor of the gay bi-weekly fab.
``It was the safest
thing you could do that was borderline gay. You didn't feel
gay watching it, because both sides (straights and gays) were
enjoying it in the theatre together. Sexuality kind of goes
out the window.''
Rocky Horror has
so long been a part of gay culture, it's surprising that last
night's Bloor Cinema screening, which was hosted by fab, was
billed as the ``first-ever showing for the gay community and
That's not as momentous
as it sounds, Kennedy says. The combination of the film's silver
anniversary and Halloween made a great occasion for a party.
Tickets quickly sold
out, and this week's fab included a how-to primer for Rocky
Horror virgins (yes, Magenta, there are still a few).
Approved props to
take to screenings include rice for the wedding scene (but not
confetti, which makes an unholy mess); squirt guns and newspapers
for the rain scene with nerd duo Brad and Janet; pieces of toast
(not Pop Tarts or melba toast, please) for the toasting scene;
flashlights for the singalong ``There's A Light''; playing cards
for Frank-N-Furter's ``cards of fate'' drama queen speech; and
such all- purpose household items as rubber gloves, toilet paper,
noisemakers and bells.
Colin Auld will be
on stage at tonight's two screenings, as he has hundreds of
times before. He's not just the cast director of The Denton
Episcopalians (named for the church in Rocky Horror - but you
knew that, right?) he also plays the part of ``faithful handyman''
``I chose Riff Raff
because he's the most clothed,'' quips Auld, a political science
student at the University of Toronto. ``I first saw Rocky Horror
at the age of 9, and I've not stopped going since - and I`m
Auld says he's seen
the movie between 600-700 times and he still can' t figure out
``The secret to Rocky
Horror's success is a total mystery. Nobody can understand it,
because it's based on the people who come to it. We have a theory
that you don't find Rocky Horror, it finds you. You' re picked
out because it comes to you in some way.''
The audience participation
aspect used to attract mostly ``loners, weirdos and people who
were drawn to a strange social circle,'' Auld says. But since
the movie's video release in 1990, when Rocky Horror came into
homes for the first time, a lot of more mainstream types have
joined the party, changing the nature of it.
``We find our audiences
now are younger and a little more judgmental, which was never
a part of Rocky Horror before,'' Auld says.
``They're a little
more critical and a little more offended at things - and we
do have a few rude callback lines. We yell lines that are offensive
to everyone, and if you're just complaining about one, we can't
help you with that. Rocky Horror is for the very thick-skinned
The Denton Episcopalians
pride themselves on being the most committed and ``out there''
Rocky Horror cast in Canada, but they know there are limits.
In the past couple of months, they've started each screening
with the disclaimer (``You will be offended by this show'')
but that only seems to attract more people, Auld says.
``Rocky Horror is
for the people who really enjoy it and don't get caught up in
the politics of it,'' he says.
``It's a great excuse
to dress up, to yell obscenities if you want to, or just to
have a laugh.''
Let's do the Time Warp again. , The Toronto Star, 10-28-2000.