Sometimes a cult classic is called such because only a few people have seen it, but all love it. And sometimes it seems that nearly everybody has seen it, but most people move onward while only a few love it. The Rocky Horror Picture Show seems to fall into the latter camp. Sure, everybody will act surprised if you haven’t seen it, and hardly anybody today seems to have a truly negative view of it… but it’s not like I see it turn up in a lot of peoples’ DVD collections either. Of course, a lot of that may be due to how it’s traditionally viewed, in a midnight showing at a theatre with the crowd participating by shouting in-jokes at the screen. To an extent, Rocky Horror may be a cult classic where the cult is more centered on itself than on the film.
I’ve never been to one of those midnight showings. I wanted to see the movie for itself.
Is it possible for a person to be simultaneously impressed and unimpressed? Because that is where I find myself with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. On the one hand, there’s certainly a lot that is praiseworthy about the film. It’s novel, if nothing else. And for a director who has essentially done nothing else of note, Jim Sharman has done an admirable job of giving everything a dramatic and convincing look — no mean feat given the bizarre nature of the characters. The story, written by Richard O’Brien (who also features as a henchman in the film), has a solid enough backbone. A young couple, Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) are forced by a flat tire to drop in unannounced at a strange castle in the middle of the woods. There they are witness to Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s (Tim Curry) attempts to create life, and are subsequently trapped as their bizarre, mad, and somewhat murderous host contrives to find reasons to ignore their desire to phone for help and leave. (A small part of the plot is obviously a reference to Frankenstein, but I doubt Mary Shelley ever pictured anybody quite like Tim Curry’s character.)
It’s an adaptation of a rock-and-roll musical play, and the film is full of songs — in fact, I think there are more minutes devoted to song than there are to plain dialogue. The songs are all reasonably entertaining and it’s somewhat impressive how the film has nary a moment of musical silence. And the actors do reasonably well playing their bizarre characters; all the dialogue is delivered naturally except for a few parts — mostly from Bostwick — that I think are deliberately exaggerated given the supposedly square personality of his character.
But that’s where the film veers into unimpressive territory for me. As I watched the film, I started to find myself bored by it. Yes, it’s weird, but that’s all that it is. It’s not particularly funny, it’s not particularly exciting. I don’t have a reason to care about any of these characters. Brad and Janet are deliberately flat characters; Frank-N-Furter is perhaps more colorful, but is little more than a caricature himself. The songs are nice, but seem to largely mask that there’s not much going on in the scenes themselves.
It’s a film worth experiencing, just to see what all the fuss is about. But I have to say I don’t feel compelled to see it again.