Be It Now

 

Actor Tim Curry (left, next to character Riff Raff) still steals the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

For no other reason than to have a goofy good time in a town that’s usually pretty well behaved, the Artisan of Flat Rock plans its second showing of everyone’s favorite audience-participation flick, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s the “instruction” edition of the movie, with subtitles cueing the audience when to throw confetti, twirl noisemakers, wear party hats, scream, laugh, run in circles, etc.

For those who broke their Medusa Transducers, here’s some background. It’s the 1970s, London, the glam capital of the world (think David Bowie). Richard O’Brien, an unemployed actor from New Zealand, is so bored he spends the long winter writing a rock musical — book, lyrics, music, everything. 

His spoof plays up his twin passions, B-Horror movies and ludicrous sci-fi flicks. O’Brien shows his writing to his pal, Aussie-born director Jim Sharman, who hauls in his creative production buddies as well as a raucous gang of hungry young actors. They change the name of the play from They Came from Denton High to The Rocky Horror Show to honor the eponymous monster: Rocky is brought to life when lightning bolts fuse his various body parts together, and an unlikely smash hit ensues.

Two years later, in ’75, the play acquired a fast-talking studio mogul and morphed into a movie, helmed by the play’s director, Jim Sharman. Most of the play’s original treasures — cast, costumes, sets — were also kept, and three Americans were added to the cast. It also acquired a longer title: The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Luscious red female lips (belonging to actress Patricia Quinn, who comes in later) fill the entire screen, mouthing the lyrics to the song “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” overdubbed by a male voice (belonging to the play’s creator Richard O’Brien, who also appears in future scenes). Rabid fans can recite all the movies named in this introductory tune. The combined experience of a male voice coming out of female lips immediately sets the movie’s theme: androgyny is the way of the future, so why not live it now?

A highbrow criminologist (Charles Gray) appears sporadically to narrate the tale of super-square American sweethearts Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon in her first big film role) and her nerdy fiancé, Brad Morgan (Broadway star Barry Bostwick). After a flat tire strands them in the middle of nowhere — actually rural Ohio — they rush through a rainstorm to borrow a phone and end up at a spooky castle. In real life, it’s The Oakley Court, a run-down Victorian Gothic mansion built in 1859 and made famous in Hammer horror films. The shivering couple is ushered inside by the humpbacked handyman, Riff Raff (O’Brien), and his libidinous sister, the maid Magenta (Patricia Quinn, “The Lips”).

The annual Transylvania Convention has gathered in the castle’s ballroom, filling it with festive lunatics who are dressed to the nines and ecstatically performing a silly dance they call the “Time Warp.” Prominent among the guests is Columbia (Nell Campbell), a groupie dressed in a gold-sequined top hat and swallowtail jacket.

Suddenly, in traipses a big, beefy bloke with blood-purple Mick Jagger lips and Commedia dell’arte eye makeup. He flings off his cloak to reveal his signature get-up — a string of pearls, a black bustier, and ripped fishnet stockings atop crimson stilettos. It’s the phenomenal Tim Curry, playing “a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania,” aka the mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

Upstairs in the laboratory, everyone is hyperventilating to see Frank’s newest creation, Rocky (Peter Hinwood), a blond hunk in gold lamé shorts. From the deep freezer, in crashes maniac outlaw biker and saxophonist Eddie (American rocker Meatloaf). The ugly slash on his forehead indicates Eddie might have donated part of his brain to Rocky, so most of the crowd forgives him for not being overly genteel. But when Eddie tries to flirt with Rocky, Frank impales him with a pickax. “It’s not easy having a good time,” Frank whines. “Even smiling makes my face ache.”

Horrified, everyone decides that sex is better than more slaughter. De-flowering and voyeurism are the new norm. Inconveniently, another visitor arrives, rival scientist Dr. Everett V. Scott (Jonathan Adams), whose wheelchair seems to have a mind of its own. Frank accuses Dr. Scott of researching UFOs for the government (horrors!). So, of course, some extraterrestrials have to show up — and they’re even crankier. Frank, his pearls still gleaming, though his earthly body is leaking, manages to leave his final message: “Don’t dream it, be it!” 

Sounds wonderful, right? Alas, the critics hated it, and poor Rocky Horror was headed to the nitrate junk heap. 

Then a hero arrives, in the form of 20th Century Fox executive Tim Deegan. He saw that Pink Flamingos (1972) and the resurrected Reefer Madness (1936) were making money in midnight shows nationwide. Why not let Rocky Horror, with its outrageous camp appeal, find a similar audience?

Deegan got fired twice before he was able to convince distributors to hear him out. But then Rocky Horror opened in New York, at midnight, and audiences themselves decided its future — they wore costumes, talked back to the movie, sang, danced, made a ruckus. Four decades after its premiere, it’s the longest running theatrical release in history.

Artisan of Flat Rock is a nightclub with plenty of liquor, club seating, and great sound. Hosting drag queen and muscle-man shows, Goth nights, national music and comedy acts, the club has really become the area’s home for alternate entertainment. “We want you to get out of your shell a bit,” laughs owner Mike Elis. “Come, have a crazy good time.”

At 9pm, no less.

The Artisan of Flat Rock (5 Highland Park Road) shows The Rocky Horror Picture Show (with Instructions) Saturday, Aug. 18, at 9pm. $12/members, $17/nonmembers. For more information, call (828) 676-6718 or see flatrockartisan.com.

Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Association) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Association). E-mail her at marci@aquamystique.com. 

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