Photos by JaCarey Hamer / MT Spare
By Marissa Gaston / Contributing writer
As the annual midnight screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” draw to a close, fans of America’s favorite science-fiction, horror, musical comedy put away their corsets, fishnets and noisemakers until next October.
However, 41 years and one remake later, fans are still captured by that same peculiar magic that made a cult classic out of an initial flop when it premiered in 1975.
When the Waverly Theater in Los Angeles played the movie at midnight the next year, a small number of attendees began yelling and throwing “props” at the screen. It’s a tradition that’s been observed many an October night ever since.
Only this year, fans also came with critiques of the 2016 remake that premiered on Fox just 10 days ago.
Like the original, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” follows the misadventures of Brad and Janet, a young, newly engaged couple who stop at a mysterious castle to use the phone after they are caught in a storm on their way home. They find themselves surrounded by a kooky cast of characters—including a hunchback butler named Riff Raff, a “domestic” named Magenta and a mad transvestite scientist named Dr. Frank N. Furter—who encourage the couple to give in to their most insatiable desires.
It starred Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N. Furter, former child stars Victoria Justice and Ryan McCartan as the virginal Janet and Brad and Tim Curry, the original Dr. Frank N. Furter, as the narrator.
Director Kenny Ortega—whose direction and choreography for hits like “Hocus Pocus,” the “High School Musical” franchise, the iconic lake scene in “Dirty Dancing” and even Michael Jackson’s final tour are perhaps more famous than he himself is—was insistent on doing a live version that didn’t try to compete or remake the original, but would reimagine it for the 21st century.
While he hit the nail on the head with a much-needed more diverse cast, including an actual trans actor portraying a transvestite character and supporting characters who use the proper pronouns when addressing her, the remake drew in the least amount of viewers of all the made-for-TV musicals since NBC’s “The Sound of Music” in 2013.
Many critics and fans agree that Ortega failed in his mission: it was a simply unnecessary remake. They contend that “Rocky Horror” should have been left alone, especially when the most magical part of it is the wild, late-night participatory experience—something you can’t get in your living room.
Still, 4.9 million people tuned in. Why?
Because fans and newcomers alike just can’t resist seeing what kind of curious pleasures those creaky castle doors hide.
And that’s why theaters all over the country, including the KUC theater on campus, stayed open late the past couple weekends for fans, dressed in costume and armed with props, who were looking to “give (themselves) over to absolute pleasure.”
The Center for the Arts on West College Street hosts four midnight shows during the last two weekends of October that feature their own live shadow cast and welcomes props.
Meanwhile, the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville offers even more showings, including one on Halloween night that also allows props.
MTSU hosts the show one weekend out of every October, featuring the Nashville-based cast, Little Morals!, and has been since as early as the 1980s.
This year, attendees clustered outside the KUC, waiting for the doors to open. Prop bags filled with party hats, glow sticks, playing cards, bells, noisemakers and a roll of tissue paper were available for sale.
Before the show, all of the “virgins” or first-time attendees were lined up and paraded through the aisles for a traditional “sacrifice” that involves popping red balloons.
Virgins usually make up at least half of the audience, usually freshmen or friends of fans wanting to see what all of the hoopla is about.
Aside from a few surprised or confused audience members, the crowd always demonstrates exactly why it’s called a “cult” following. Throughout the movie they insert themselves into the dialogue, throw props into the air and even stand up to dance.
With “just a jump to the left and then a step to the right,” “Rocky Horror” piques an exciting curiosity, much like Brad and Janet’s, that keeps the crowds coming back year after year, transporting us to “transsexual Transylvania” again and again.