You’ve had nearly 50 years to watch the movie I’m about to spoil, so I’m not sorry.
One of the earliest memories I have from my childhood is serenading my mother while sitting in the basket of her shopping cart at the grocery store as she picked out produce. The song chosen by my deceptively coquettish 3-year-old mind comes from the legendary and singularly greatest musical of all time: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” All thoughts of bruised fruit fled my mother’s mind as she began to register the timid voice of her soft-spoken child. Wildly swinging her gaze from left to right to ensure her fellow shoppers had yet to pick up on my lyrical stylings about a sweet transvestite from Transylvania, my mother decided to cut her coupon clipping trip short before the lyrics she was unable to muffle got exceedingly raunchier.
To say that my parents lost sight of conventional standards long before I made their lives immensely better with my birth is an understatement in multiple regards. Nonetheless, let me conclude this scene by informing you that it is not only 100% true, but it also became a weekly occurrence. I can’t tell you what it was about the frozen food aisle that consistently set off the intrinsic need to belt out my juvenile rendition of “Time Warp,” but it did.
Maybe the need to test the limits of my mother’s sanity was less about location and more about content. There’s just something about “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” that’s strangely enthralling. Even for people whose toddler pastimes didn’t include singing wildly inappropriate songs in public places, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a cult classic.
The film is based around newlyweds Brad and Janet as they set out on their honeymoon. The pair’s romantic plans are quickly exchanged for a walk through a torrential downpour as they abandon their broken-down car and join a nearby mansion’s festivities. Little does the couple know that the homeowner they’ve sought to save them is actually a mad scientist from another planet — not the tiny, bald, green variety of extraterrestrial but more like the corset, pearls and fishnet-wearing kind.
So, deciding to embrace the craziness, the couple resigns to taking shelter in the morally-debasing mansion as Dr. Frank N. Furter, scientist and hero to all that feel they don’t meet the status quo, unveils his newest creation, Rocky. The six-foot, muscle-bound, gold-briefed test tube baby incites chaos when Janet gets a little handsy, but who can blame her?
Lost? Don’t worry, it gets more confusing, but that’s just the movie’s charm because nothing from here on out in the realm of Rocky Horror makes sense. This bafflement was widely felt during the horror-comedy’s initial release back in 1975; most moviegoers were left not knowing what to think. At the time, there wasn’t much of a fan base for films about alien transvestites that double as mad scientists — that is, until theaters turned the cinematic oddity into a midnight screening movie.
With the late hour luring in an audience that befitted the film’s eccentricity, the popularity of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” soared. This newly acquired fame spawned a trend of participation-based film screenings, with audience members dressing up as their favorite characters to reenact scenes from the film. Over time, this evolved into a fan-favorite tradition, which cemented the movie’s place as a Halloween staple.
But the rain-drenched couple that entered a mansion in search of shelter resonated with fans so strongly that celebrating the movie on one holiday just wasn’t enough. That’s right, Dr. Frank N. Furter is now synonymous with Saint Nick. Theaters from the U.S. to the U.K. hold annual Christmas time screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to really encourage that home for the holidays feel. With everything from Frank N. Furter-themed ugly Christmas sweaters to lip-shaped ornaments, the film has been fully embraced in its twofer holiday celebrations.
The films have come a long way from their shamed midnight screenings. Richard O’Brien, the author of the original screenplay who also portrays Riff Raff in the film, was stunned by the film’s persistent success: “It’ll be 50 years old in three years’ time. It was only meant to run three weeks!”
Not only is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” still running, but it continues to thrive. With two holiday celebrations under its belt, one would think fans wouldn’t need more opportunities to see the film in theaters, but that’s where you’re wrong. Assumption-making with this legion of fans will get you nowhere; there are theaters across the nation that play this now-iconic film at least once a week. One Oregon theater went so far as to play it during the peak of the pandemic. Granted, it was to an empty theater, but you get the point. Not only is the film legendary, but it has become a pop-culture staple.
With its second holiday showing drawing closer, I urge anyone who hasn’t experienced the madness that is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to do so this year. But keep anyone under the age of 10 away while you do so, because no matter how adorable it is to hear a 3-year-old sing the phrase “sweet transvestite,” it’s most likely still socially frowned upon.