Back in 1975, a very low budget movie based on a London musical debuted in a few theaters. The Rocky Horror Picture Show promptly bombed. It was promptly ignored by critics and probably would have died a quick death. If it were any other movie, it would have simply been remembered as one of Susan Sarandon’s early mistakes. You’d think of it as the sort of bad choice that stars make as they’re on their way up.
But a funny thing happened.
According to someone who was there, it was a few months after release that savvy Fox execs convinced one theatre in New York to start running the failed film as a “midnight show.” Midnight shows were ways that movie theaters made money at the time… a cheap film shown at a time that no one else wanted to come out. Usually these were cult classics like monster movies from the 1950s. But, The Rocky Horror Picture Show fit the bill perfectly.
The film started to take on a life of its own, as audience members began talking back to the screen, adlibbing lines, and bringing props. What started in one New York theater spread to large cities across the country.
By the 1980s, it was rare to find a suburb that wasn’t within about 15 miles of a midnight showing of Rocky Horror. The movie had a strange appeal to the outcasts of the day. Without the internet to connect such fringe groups, people actually had to go somewhere to meet people like themselves. And go they did.
And then somehow it became mainstream.
What started as a flop and then became a subculture exploded onto the mainstream consciousness in the 2000s. It got to the point where Fox recreated the musical for TV, where a publication like The Atlantic did a serious piece on it, and for a moment it seemed like the little musical about a transvestite alien and two kids from Denton actually made more sense than the world we live in.
Everyone talked about it. Hey, I’m talking about it today. And I plan on watching it tonight… At the Sweet home it’s Halloween tradition. For those who aren’t in any way familiar with it, here’s just one song, something to hum during straightlaced meetings to see if anyone catches on:
If you somehow have managed to make it through your life without having seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I implore you: don’t just watch it at home by yourself. Here’s the sad truth: it isn’t a terribly good movie. The songs are peppy and they will make you tap your feet. But the dialogue is deadly slow, it’s not always clear what’s going on, and there are a few scenes which will gross you out. (Not Meat Loaf again!) But if you have a few friends who have seen and love the film, have them over and experience it in a group. The power of this film is not in its cheesy visuals or overabundance of lingerie. Its power is in its ability to bring people together for something truly bizarre that just makes you feel like part of a group.
It seems to me that in this world could use a little more of that. Happy Halloween, and let’s do the time warp again.