The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Director: Jim Sharman
Screenplay: Jim Sharman & Richard O’Brien (based on the stage musical by Richard O’Brien)
Stars: Tim Curry (Dr. Frank-N-Furter), Susan Sarandon (Janet Weiss), Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors), Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), Little Nell (Columbia), Jonathan Adams (Dr. Everett Scott), Peter Hinwood (Rocky Horror), Meat Loaf (Eddie), Charles Gray (The Criminologist)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1975
Country: U.S. / U.K.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray
The Rocky Horror Picture ShowThere had never been—and, since its release, never has been—a movie like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In terms of both the successfully over-the-top mixture of horror, camp, rock’n’roll, science fiction, sexual transgression, and purposefully bad B-movie dialogue within the film itself and the even more over-the-top behavior it has inspired in audiences during midnight screenings for decades, it is absolutely unique in the annals of cinema.

In fact, The Rocky Horror Picture Show still regularly plays at dozens of theaters across the United States four decades after its initial premiere, a mind-boggling fact in an age when big-budget movies usually last (at most) a couple of months at first-run theaters before heading to video. The uniqueness of Rocky Horror—in essence, lightning in a bottle—is emphasized by the fact that its creative team, writer/composer Richard O’Brien and director Jim Sharman, could not replicate its success with a follow-up, the 1981 film Shock Treatment, which tanked at the box office and never developed much of a cult following.

The response generated by Rocky Horror is not something that can be consciously obtained, a lesson learned with the Shock Treatment failure. Rather, it is something that simply happens. Rocky Horror is, in fact, perhaps the best example of how legendary director John Huston described successful filmmaking to critic James Agee in a 1950 Life magazine article: “In pictures, if you do it right, the thing happens, right there on the screen.” For Rocky Horror, the thing happened right there on the screen alright, but it also happened out in the audience and continues to happen to this day. No one could have predicted the response it would generate, but no one can now deny it. The magnitude of its bizarre journey is neatly encapsulated by the fact that its initial theatrical release was a disaster and its studio (20th Century Fox) was embarrassed to be associated with it, but since then it has not only become the ultimate cult object, but has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was born out of a 1973 London stage musical composed and written by Richard O’Brien, a struggling actor who had performed in rock musicals such as Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. For O’Brien, Rocky Horror was an homage to midnight movies and drive-in double features, and it is something of an irony that it became, for all intents and purposes, the ultimate midnight movie. It turned into that which it was celebrating.

The storyline concerns Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon), a straight-laced, recently engaged couple whose car breaks down on a backwoods road late at night during a thunderstorm (isn’t that always the case?). Looking for a phone, Brad and Janet come across a castle that is presided over by Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a scientist and self-proclaimed “sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania” who is about to bring to life his first creation, the blond, muscle-bound Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood). Frank is assisted by the hunchback Riff Raff (Richard O’Brien) and Riff Raff’s sister, Magenta (Patricia Quinn), and the castle is filled with a host of bizarre guests who are there to celebrate Frank’s scientific achievement.

The story gets continually weirder in ways that have to be seen to be believed. The plot, really, is just incidental to the outrageous tone of the movie. It is a ’50s rock musical at heart, pumped up with a camp sensibility and a delicious sense of taboo-breaking hilarity. The songs are at once both generic and unforgettable, with purposefully dorky ditties like “Dammit Janet” juxtaposed with feet-stomping rock numbers like “The Time Warp” and “Hot Patootie,” the latter of which is performed by a young Meatloaf dressed up like a cross between a biker outlaw and Elvis Presley with a partial lobotomy.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show charges forward from scene to scene, rarely letting up. The first half of the movie is a dizzying, intoxicating experience, made all the more so if you are lucky enough to see it in a theater with a crowd who knows all the lyrics, dance moves, and proper audience responses to yell back at the screen, although it does start to lose steam and wear out its welcome by the end. Nevertheless, the centrality of audience involvement to the Rocky Horror experience means that it has, for all intents and purposes, ceased to be a movie and has instead become the center of a ritualistic celebration of popular culture in all its twisted formations. Even when viewed on home video, it is hard not to imagine the audience involvement going on around you. Unlike most movies, the movie in and of itself is no longer enough. To be complete, The Rocky Horror Picture Show requires a two-way exchange between the film and the audience, making it a genuinely communal experience.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show 40th Anniversary Celebration Blu-Ray + Digital HD
The “40th Anniversary Celebration” Blu-ray comes in two editions: a single-disc Blu-ray or the Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which includes limited edition packaging, exclusive collectible pink surgical gloves, fishnet stockings and a soundtrack.
Aspect Ratio1.66:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • English Dolby Digital 2.0 monaural
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Polish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, Danish, Finnish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Greek
  • Audio commentary by stars Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn
  • Rocky-oke: Sing It!
  • Don’t Dream It, Be It: The Search for the 35th Anniversary Shadowcast, Part I documentary
  • An-tic-i-pation: The Search for the 35th Anniversary Shadowcast, Part II documentary
  • “Mick Rock (A Photographer)” featurette
  • “Mick Rock’s Picture Show” gallery
  • Deleted musical scenes and outtakes
  • Alternate credit and misprint ending
  • Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show documentary
  • Beacon Theater, New York City (10th Anniversary)
  • “Time Warp” music video
  • The Midnight Experience: “The Late Night, Double Feature Picture-in-Picture Show,” vintage callback track, prop box, and trivia track
  • Pressbook and poster gallery
  • Theatrical trailers
  • Distributor20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
    SRP$19.99 (single disc edition) / $34.99 (Ultimate Collector’s Edition)
    Release DateSeptember 22, 2015

    As far as I can tell, this is the same image and soundtrack from the 35th anniversary Blu-ray. At that time, 20th Century Fox went back to the original 35mm camera negative and created a new 4K/2K master that was digitally restored to near perfection and given a beautiful 1080p/AVC-encode on a BD-50 disc. The transfer maintains the film’s original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, rather than cropping off some of the top and bottom to create a 1.78:1 image. The imagery maintains the inherent softness and slight veneer of grain inherent to a relatively low-budget film from the mid-1970s, which makes for a much more satisfying viewing experience (praise the lack of DNR and artificial sharpening). Colors are appropriately garish and vibrant, and the image boasts an impressive level of detail throughout. The lossless DTS-HD 7.1 surround soundtrack will also impress long-time fans as it opens up the songs even more than the previous 5.1-channel mix on the DVD. Newly created from the original 24-track music master, the new mix is notable primarily for spacing out the instruments during the songs (note how you can hear the sax in “Hot Patootie” clearly emanating from the surround channels), which gives the thumping guitar chords and rock-a-billy beats an even wider dimension. The sound is clear and distinct, with no hissing or distortion. Sound effects like thunder are also given grander dimensions with a good sense of imaging and directionality. However, for those purists who like to hear only the original soundtrack as it was initially conceived, the disc also includes the original monaural soundtrack that is quite good despite its inherent limitations.
    It has been five years since 20th Century Fox released a special 35th Anniversary Blu-ray of The Rock Horror Picture Show and 15 years since the 25th anniversary two-disc DVD set, most of whose supplements were replicated from the 1995 laser disc box set. Almost all of the material from those earlier releases are included on the “40th Anniversary Celebration” Blu-ray, although those looking for new supplements will be disappointed. The main draw for this release appears to be the inclusion of a digital copy and, if you pony up for the “Ultimate Collector’s Edition,” the limited edition packaging, exclusive collectible pink surgical gloves, fishnet stockings, and a soundtrack.

    Here is a run-down of the supplements: There is an enjoyably laid-back, anecdote-heavy audio commentary with writer/composer Richard O’Brien (who also played Riff Raff) and actress Patricia Quinn (Magenta), and the generally excellent 35-minute documentary Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show. It also keeps the two theatrical trailers, the pressbook and poster galleries, the alternate takes and outtakes, as well as an alternate version of the end credits, a misprint version of the end credits, and two deleted musical sequences, “Once in a While” and “Superheroes,” the latter of which is reincorporated into the film if you choose to watch the longer British version. It also keeps the same option where you can watch the film with the first 20 minutes in black and white, which is how O’Brien originally conceived it. The hour-long documentary The Search for the 35th Anniversary Shadowcast is divided into two segments, “Don’t Dream It, Be It” and “An-tic-i-pation,” the doc chronicles the process of casting and then filming the ultimate Rocky Horror shadowcast (the audition sessions and shots of lines around the block play like some kind of twisted camp version of American Idol). The shadowcast, which was selected from hundreds of auditions in the U.S. and Europe, was filmed re-enacting the film a la the cult theatrical experience, which you have the option of watching either full-screen or via picture-in-picture as part of the disc’s “The Midnight Experience,” which also includes your choice of a vintage callback track culled from the 1983 Rocky Horror Picture Show Audience Par-tic-i-pation album, a prop box that allows you to use your remote control to throw appropriate things at the screen, and a trivia track. Budding singers can also get into the film via the “Rocky-oke: Sing It!” karaoke track. Other supplements include a brief three-minute interview with photographer Mick Rock, who, despite not being the official unit photographer, snapped most of the film’s iconic publicity stills, many of which are included in an associated gallery. The disc also includes two older bits culled from the 15th anniversary VHS release: a five-minute featurette about the film’s 10th anniversary at the Beacon Theater in New York City and a music video for “The Time Warp.”

    As with the 35th Anniversary Blu-ray, a lot of stuff from the 25th Anniversary DVD is missing, including extended interviews with O’Brien, Quinn, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, and Meatloaf that were culled from VH-1’s Behind the Music episode about the film, footage from a live screening of the film, cast and crew biographies, the DVD-ROM Jukebox that lets you select your favorite song, and a couple of interactive games, including the trivia game You Don’t Know Jack and Build Your Own Rocky.

    Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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