Rocky Horror Turns 35...Who Cares?

Last Sunday wasn't just an unpleasant day for Houston Texans fans, it also marked a largely unheralded anniversary.

Fans of The Rocky Horror Picture Show mark a big milestone today - they've been doing the "Time Warp" for 35 years.

The cult classic celebrated the anniversary of its premiere in U.S. theaters - Sept. 26, 1975 - on Sunday.

The rock opera, a parody of science fiction and B movies, still plays to masses at midnight showings, where people dress up, dance and throw designated props (rice, confetti, toast) during specific scenes in the film.

I mean sure, it was fun that time I saw it when I was 15. And then again a year or so later when I was no longer a "virgin." Throwing the toast, yelling "Asshole!" and "Slut!" (words I was forbidden from saying in my own home at the time), staying up until 2 AM, it was all a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that my friend asked me if I wanted to go again a few weeks later.

To which I replied, "Why?"

Honestly, I didn't -- and still don't -- understand the appeal of going through all that more than a couple of times. To be fair, it's not just Rocky Horror; I don't like weddings, either. Seriously, how many whiskey sours do you have to fire down before lurching along through "The Chicken Dance" or "Cotton-Eyed Joe" for the 30th time?

And they play "Time Warp" at a lot of receptions these days. Just saying.

If I had to put my Reviewing Hat on, I'd mention how much the movie lags in the third act, point out the logical inconsistencies involved in cryo-freezing Eddie, and complain that Susan Sarandon doesn't spend enough time in her underwear. Not that it would matter. After all, we've seen this economic formula -- long-term financial success based on mediocre product -- succeed before. It's called the "Chicago Cubs model."

If you wanted to compare the experience to anything in a modern context, it'd be karaoke. Except the singers I know mix up their repertoire enough to keep things interesting. Would you go to your local karaoke joint and sing "Fancy" every time? Or would you throw in a "How Was I To Know" or a "Does He Love You?" every once in a while?

Or drag shows, I guess (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert comes to mind). But they have better costumes.

The whole thing is kind of like live action fan fiction, except fanfic writers usually add a few new wrinkles to the preexisting material. From what I've experienced of these events in recent years, everybody dresses in the same approximation of the characters' costumes from the movie (though usually with less clothing) and then pantomime pretty much exactly what's onscreen. Neat.

Obviously plenty of people feel differently. Thanks to three decades of midnight screenings, Rocky Horror has been in continuous release longer than any movie in history, grossing over $130 million. Formidable numbers, and testament to the popularity of the audience participation phenomenon.

Trouble is, I can see a near future where the smaller venues that host these screenings go away forever. The beleaguered Landmark River Oaks, which is home to the monthly Beautiful Creatures screenings, is just one example. Special screenings (Halloween at the Alamo Drafthouse, for example) probably won't go away, but regularly scheduled screenings might start dwindling.

What's more, younger audiences are no longer as intrigued by the Rocky Horror experience. It's a long time gone from the movie's cult heyday, when even in the rural fastness of Central Texas where I grew up you could count on almost weekly midnight screenings. But while the sight of Tim Curry in lingerie and the homosexual overtones might have been shocking in 1975, kids these days can see the nastiest of nasties on their iPhones for nothing more than the cost of an unlimited data plan. Meanwhile Lady GaGa and Adam Lambert take the stage in outfits that make Frank N. Furter look like Frank Grimes, and audience participation is now more or less encouraged for even the most lightweight of genre films.

I'm willing to bet we're not going to be back here in 35 years talking about RHPS' 70th anniversary, but if I'm wrong, I promise to issue a retraction in the Press' nanobot blog stream. While wearing lingerie.

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