Sunday, June 12, 2011

Haters Gonna Hate

Film: The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on middlin’-sized living room television.

I suppose that until tonight, I was the only person of my generation to have never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Up to this point in my life, I’ve managed to avoid this film through design and by carefully avoiding it whenever possible. I knew the basics going in and I knew that in the theater, people scream, holler, spray water on each other, throw rice, and otherwise mess up the theater. I had no interest. I don’t like crowds and I don’t want to have strangers throw things at me. The best piece of writing I’ve ever seen on the film is in Kevin Murphy’s book, “A Year at the Movies,” which I will certainly reference again by the end of this.

Tonight, when scrolling through the NetFlix queue, my wife scrolled across this one. She’s been on me to watch it with her since about the time we got NetFlix a year ago. It was time to bite the bullet and put this one behind me.

So now I’ve seen the damn thing, and I realize now that I was right to avoid it my entire life. I understand the reason the film is a must-see, but I don’t have to be happy about it.

Let’s be blunt here—this is less a movie than it is an excuse to string a bunch of unrelated songs together, get Tim Curry to wear stockings and garters, and celebrate things like transvestitism and rampant sexuality of all types in ways that would shock the establishment in 1975. I don’t have a real issue with shocking the establishment, honestly. I’d just rather it didn’t have to happen with songs I don’t like, excessive camp, and things that annoy me.

There is a sort of a plot involving a newly engaged couple named Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), who get a flat tire in the proximity of a large castle. Here they are met by a hunchback named Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien), a couple of servants named Magenta (Patricia Quinn) and Columbia (Nell Campbell), and a transvestite scientist named Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry). Frank is trying to create a man for sex purposes, and succeeds in building Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood). There’s also a rival scientist (Jonathan Adams) and a delivery boy missing part of his brain (Meat Loaf), cannibalism, aliens, and a lot of implied sex in various configurations. That, and a lot of songs. Really, that’s enough of trying to make sense of the plot. There’s also a narrator of sorts (Charles Gray).

I genuinely attempt to give every movie I watch a fair shake. This time, I’m not sure that was possible. If you’re a Rocky Horror Picture Show fan, I’m sorry. I really hated this movie. A lot. I can’t recommend it from a schlock perspective, from a musical perspective, from a film perspective, or any other.

I go back to Kevin Murphy’s essay in which he comments that the general reaction of the crowd watching this film is entirely wrong. Brad gets called an asshole every time he says his name, but he’s the only person on the screen who isn’t an asshole. People participating in the live show must conform to the script, which seems to be at odds with the original intent of the show and the stage show that spawned it. Ultimately, the story is pretty stupid and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And it’s a damn shame that Tim Curry hasn’t seemed to get past this film. Susan Sarandon has, as has Barry Bostwick. But evidently the dress and the garter belts have kept Curry in a series of crappy roles for most of his career. Such a shame, since the guy is really a lot more talented than a lot of his roles.

I realize, though, that my opinion on this film is not necessarily the popular one. Frankie fans tend to be rabid. My lovely wife is one such Frankie fan. It’s only fair to give her the opportunity to say why she loves this film, since evidently I don’t get it. I promise not to edit her. I’m giving her a free chance to defend this film.

“I think it’s stupidly entertaining. It has no other value except for that. I think the songs are catchy; I like singing along to them. And every time I watch it, I am not disappointed that I have seen it again.” So there’s that.

Go ahead and beat me up for it, folks. I stand by the fact that while it may be camp and “so bad it’s good,” at its heart The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a bad movie.

Why to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A piece of filmic, schlock, and camp history.
Why not to watch: Because it really isn’t very good.


  1. My eyes remain unsullied by this film. Now that you've been forever tainted, I'll gladly carry the banner for Those Who Have Never Seen TRHPS.

  2. You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

  3. We actually just went to a midnight screening of TRHPS a few weeks back. I had never seen it...

    I can't entirely vouch for the quality of the film, since I wasn't entirely sober. But I will say that if you don't like the film, and you don't like crowds, you will HATE a midnight screening. I personally didn't hate it but I will never do it again.

  4. That's sort of the impression I've had. I've a feeling I'd react to that sort of show as I would to anything that makes me feel claustrophobic--that's the closest I can come to the feeling.

  5. It's just a bit of fun. Seen it twice at the midnight movie (my best friend recommended it when I came home for leave after Basic Training in 77). The fanaticism had started and it wasn't very comfortable for me either. Don't believe it deserves a spot in the 1001 canon. Somewhere, there is a deserving movie that is not recognize because of it's inclusion. Maybe "Pass The Ammo" which has my drop dead favorite Tim Curry role as Reverend Ray Porter the Televangelist who is definitely NOT holier than thou.

  6. Definitely one of the most overrated films in existence, in my opinion. Everyone tells me, "You have to see it with a crowd for the TRUE experience." But I'm with you...I hate crowds, so watching a movie I hate with a crowd full of people I hate is probably not going to increase my enjoyment one iota.

    Glad I'm not the only hater on the blogosphere.


  7. @Jonny--

    You and me both. I think perhaps this film has a core of rabid fans and a much larger silent majority of people who can either take it or leave it or who think it's really stupid.


    Tim Curry is a guy I really want to like, but so many of his movies are rubbish. My favorite of his roles is the butler in Clue.

  8. Looks like i'm the odd man out here. It's my second favorite musical - after Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

    While I do agree that it's pure camp, I really do like the soundtrack - having purchased it on vinyl many years ago.

    I've only seen it in theaters a couple of times back in 1979-80 and have fond memories of it. Definitely best seen in the theater - although i could do without the tossing of stuff.

  9. I'm right there with you, Steve. I've never seen the thing in full, and the only reason I might like to is for the cheap thrill of seeing a young Sarandon in her underwear. I've successfully avoided it for this long....

    ...however, as irony would have it, I received an email from a co-worker just yesterday. He thought my wife and I could go to a midnight show with him and his sig other in the coming weeks, and it's gonna happen. I don't feel too bad about it, though, seeing as it's in the service of friendship more than any desire to see the flick. Hell, it ought to be a fun people-watching experience, if nothing else...

  10. I will admit that there's a part of me that feels like I'm missing out. Then again, I feel the same way when fans of a sports team celebrate a victory. While I might feel left out or like I'm missing out on the fun, I'm also kind of glad that I don't get it.

    Enjoy your show!

  11. The first time I saw it was at a rare daytime showing during the 80's in Atlata. I think some were there, since it was a daytime show, to see it without the usual audience participation and others were there to join in the show as usual. When the Rocky Horror players starting chiming in, other members of the audience starting yelling at them to shut up. That was a fun day, though no blood was shed.

    I confess to being a fan, though I had to stop wearing the Frank-n-furter heels at shows-bunions, you know.

  12. Steve - that's a good analogy (when fans of a sports team celebrate a victory). I think that there's a social need fulfilled by these sorts of communal activities. While I also personally don't condone the communal sports victory (never mind the mob mentality generated from a loss - which Vancouver hockey fans demonstrated all too well), it does seem to fulfill some odd need in human nature - which is why I suspect that other nonsensical activities, such as religious practices and beauty pageants continue to flourish.

  13. Don't get me off on a religion rant here--it's tempting.

    You may well be right. I seem to be missing that gene, that need for groupthink.