A newly engaged couple have a breakdown in an isolated area and must pay a call to the bizarre residence of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
I don't remember the first time I went to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It must have been sometime in the late 80s, because that's when there was a rep cinema in my hometown that showed it every now and then.
There was a legend that they'd stopped showing it at the main rep cinema, the New Yorker, because one Halloween the crowd had shot so much water at the screen that it literally melted. I don't know - I wasn't there. But I got in on the fun as soon as I could, and never stopped until the regular screenings ceased.
So what is it, someone who's never been might well wonder, that drives a person to not only watch a film dozens if not hundreds of times, and not just in the safety of their own home? What drives them to not just attend, but to dress up outrageously and tote along a whole bag of props to actually participate in the screening?
How many movies, in fact, before the "Singalong Mamma Mia" were all about audience participation?
Rocky Horror is not a film to watch in the solitude of your own home. It won't make much sense, for one thing. Rocky Horror isn't what you think, in all likelihood, and it's difficult to explain the phenomena if you're only heard about it second hand or, worse, tried to watch it without some guidance from a pro.
That's what I was lucky enough to do - had some good friends sit me down in a dark basement and lead me through the whole flick with the "script."
Because, like a Catholic mass, RHPS is essentially a call and response affair. There are various legends about how it began; one involves an early attendee shouting "Get an umbrella, bitch!" at Susan Sarandon as she navigates through the rain to Tim Curry's transsexual party mansion.
However it started, the entire movie is now peppered with repartee, from audience members responding to actors' lines or turning visuals into dirty jokes, to throwing props at each other.
There's no shame in being an RHPS "virgin." The hardcore attendees are in the double digits, like I was. I probably saw the film 30 or 40 times over the years I was going regularly, and even then, I was constantly surprised by other "bits" I hadn't heard before. Virgins are welcomed, although only if they're respectful of the game. It's like any state of altered consciousness; if you're willing to surrender to the madness, you can have a blast. Resist, and you'll waste the opportunity.
I started off my RHPS life as "Magenta," the character played by Patricia Quinn in the film, and over-madeup maid with a bad attitude. I'd crimp and tease my hair to Fuller brush heights and pop on a black dress, fishnets, and an apron.
We had a Janet, Susan Saradon's dizzy virgin who ends up quickly in her bra and slip, and often a Rocky or Dr. FrankNFurter. One friend did a brilliant Columbia, played by dancer Little Nell in the film, festooned in sequins and in love with the ill-fated Eddie (played by Meatloaf) who gets hacked to death with an ice pick.
The story? It's not really important... but the gist is that guileless newlyweds Brad and Janet break down on their way to visit their old professor Dr. Scott (at whose name we pitch vast numbers of toilet paper rolls across the auditorium). They end up instead at the mansion of the flamboyant transsexual Dr. FrankNFurter (Curry) who's having one of his "affairs." The innocent couple end up seduced and half-naked, before Dr. Frank's servants turn on him, he's revealed to be an alien from the plant Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania... and the whole mansion blasts off into space leaving Brad, Janet, and the latecoming Dr. Scott corset-clad and abandoned in a big smoking hole.
Like I said, it's not really important.
But it was the best night out, bar none. I toted my newspaper, squirt gun, deck of cards, pieces of toast, toilet paper, bell... got dressed at home and shocked the hell out of the other riders on the bus... ended up laughing and drenched and joyously laryngetic -- it wasn't really a successful night unless there was rice in my panties when I finally undressed at night.
Some showings had costume contents. I usually did okay, although once, memorably, I was beaten out by a guy dressed as Rocky, which meant wearing only a teeny gold bikini. No one can compete with that!
That night, I was dressed as FrankNFurter (corset and fishnets with garters, with a chunky Marge Simpson necklace and green operating dress) and my friends tried to shift the vote by ripping the dress off me as I stood at the front of the auditorium. What can you do? I brazened it out in nothing but my skivvies, and the nearly-nude guy still won.
Did I mention it's a musical? Everyone probably knows the Time Warp from high school dances, but there's a lot of other terrific danceable, singable (mockable) music from "TouchATouchATouch Me" to "There's A Light" to Eddie's Teddy," all accompanied by their props and additional dialogue.
One night we nearly got pitched from the auditorium when Janet (probably unwisely...) improvised a flamethrower with a lighter and a can of hair spray.
Another time, we got hauled into the cinema manager's office, expecting to be banned. Instead, he handed us a stack of free passes. Apparently, our enthusiasm was good for business.
A night at the Rocky Horror Picture Show is, in other words, not like any other filmgoing experience. The movie came out in 1975 and has been in constant limited release since 1977, making it the longest running film of all time. It plays in most large cities at least every year at Halloween, and continues to attract new viewers/participants. My most recent time was a couple of years back at the Bloor in Toronto. I wasn't quite up to my old form, and I made the mistake of sitting too far back in a crowd that wasn't nearly as experienced as my old group from the golden days of my own RHPS times.
They didn't know a lot of the best lines; they had latched on to some that purists disdain (like shouting "Bullshit!" constantly whenever the venerable Charles Gray is opining, instead of opting for the more clever lines possible).
But it was almost like old times. The RHPS flame continues to burn after more than three decades. In film terms, that's Methuselah-stamina. And that's not a drag at all.