Forty years ago a little movie came out that has stood the test of time. This movie has the distinction of having the longest theatrical release in film history. It is cultural phenomenon and a Halloween staple. Of course I'm talking about The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
A little backstory...
The movie is based on Richard O'Brian's 1973 play The Rocky Horror Show. O'Brian took his inspiration from Horror B-movies, science fiction, and fifties rock and roll. He wrote the play while he was out of work as an actor as a means to stay busy. It was because of these ties he made as an actor that he was able to bring his play to production.
During the play's run at King's Road Theatre an American record producer/songwriter named Lou Adler saw the play. Adler was so impressed by the play that he secured the American rights to the show. He then started a production of the play in Los Angeles with the the original play's Tim Curry reprising his role as Frank N Furter.
It was during this run of the play that Meat Loaf joined the cast to play Eddie. Meat Loaf was cast as he was the only singer to audition who could sing "Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul" as Richard O'Brian had originally intended. Up until this point the song was done at a slower tempo, even in the original London run. In an interview Meat Loaf stated that during the first rehearsal Tim Curry busted through the doors of the theater on his cue for "Sweet Transvestite" in full costume. He was so shook up by the sight of Curry in drag that the immediately ran out of the theater. As he exited the theater he ran across the road, receiving a jay walking ticket in the process, and had to be convinced to come back to the rehearsal.
When the show opened Aldler invited executives from 20th Century Fox to come see it. The executives like the play and Adler was able to secure a film deal. In October of 1974 filming began at Bray Studios and Oakley Court. Oakley Court was famous for being the place of production for many of the Hammer Horror films.
Much of the original cast was used in the production of the movie thanks to Richard O'Brian's involvement. However, Fox insisted that Brad and Janet be played by American actors. These roles went to Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon, respectively. Another point of contention was the original opening sequence. It was originally proposed to contain clips of of the various films in the lyrics, as well as the first sequences being shot in black and white. Unfortunately Fox deemed this to expensive and the idea was scrapped.
Filming wrapped up after a six week shoot. After which Fox decided to open the play in New York to hopefully build up hype for the movie. Sadly critics felt that the play had no place on Broadway. After only forty-five showings the show closed.
On September 24th, 1975 The Rocky Horror Picture Show made it's theatrical debut in America. The film bombed in most cities. It also did not fair well with critics. However, theater owners began to notice that a small dedicated audience was returning for repeated viewings of the movie. This caused Fox to rethink the marketing strategy that they had for the film.
The start of a phenomenon
The first step was to try the Rocky Horror as a midnight movie. It was also decided that word of mouth was the best form of promotion. The last thing that Fox did was re-edit the ending for the American audience. Fox felt that the original ending was to depressing so "Super Heroes" and "Science Fiction Reprise" was cut so the film would end on a high note.
The plan worked. Within weeks theaters were adding Rocky Horror to their midnight showings. Then something surprising happened. Theater owners started reporting that audiences were participating with the movie. At first it was in small ways. People might bring noise makers during Rocky's creation scene, or place a newspaper over their head during "There's a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place)".
Over time audiences started to develop comebacks , though no one is sure when this actually started. Later people started to dress up as characters and act out the show as it played. It was later noticed that the wackier and crazier the audience, the bigger the draw was to the show. By the end of 1977 the show had became a phenomenon. People said that it was an experience like no other.
By 1979 Rocky Horror was receiving a good deal of media attention. Magazines like Newsweek and the Rolling Stone were featuring articles on the movie and it's subculture. Because of all of this interest a revival of the play was started in America. This was the first time most of the fans of the movie were able to see Rocky Horror in it's original form.
Today both the film and the play are still going strong. It has been featured in numerous TV shows as well as movies. In April it was announced by Fox that they would be airing a modern-day re-imagining of the film in the last quarter of the year. It was even selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in 2005 by the Library of Congress.
One of the biggest impacts the film has had is with the LGBT community. It gave them a place where they could go and not be judged. A place where they could go rejoice in each other's company without the fear of being discriminated against. It also helped to bring about the social acceptance of LGBT community. The lines of what was taboo began to blur. This is perhaps Rocky Horror's greatest legacy.
So this Halloween come up to the lab and see what's on the slab. You know you're shivering with antici.....pation to do the Time Warp again while watching the cult phenomenon that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show.