For anyone who’s seen "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," it’s obvious from the beginning scene that it’s unlike any other musical film. Featuring catchy tunes, plot twists and fishnets and science fiction abound, "Rocky Horror" has been a cult classic since its release in theaters in 1975. Written by Richard O’Brien and directed by Jim Sharman, Rocky Horror celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
Originally a play first produced in 1973, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is about a plain, mainstream couple that becomes stranded at the mansion of a crazy, transvestite scientist who proceeds to reveal his Frankenstein-like yet aesthetically perfect creature. While the film in itself is entertaining, many theaters show shadow cast versions, in which the characters on screen have live actor counterparts who add, but don’t mirror, those on the screen. The cast connects the audience to the film, making calls at the screen at specific parts and adding hilarious lines.
Due to its 40th anniversary, AMC Southpoint 17 has been screening the film on Friday and Saturday nights. One notable place that presents a live cast in the Triangle area is The Rialto in Raleigh. Built in 1942, the single-screened Rialto has played "Rocky Horror" since 1989. The show starts at midnight every first, third and fifth Friday night. It becomes especially popular during Halloween season, and the Halloween show usually sells out.
“Usually over 100 people come for each showing of 'Rocky Horror,'” said Rialto co-owner and manager John Munson. “Around one-third of those are people who come every week, one-third come about every month, and one-third are coming to try it out for the first time.”
Although "Rocky Horror" does bring people back to see it again and again, it’s an entertaining experience for “virgins," or people who haven’t seen the film in person before, to experience it for the first time. The crowds get really into it, and it’s fun places like The Rialto that have kept Rocky Horror running for so long.
“It’s an interactive film-going experience you’re not going to experience anywhere else,” Munson said.
With traditions such as dressing like characters from the film or writing on the foreheads of the “virgins”, it’s not surprising "Rocky Horror" is very different from going to a normal movie. Viewers throw toilet paper and rice at the screen and can leap out of their seats to do the “Time Warp."
“During the dinner party scene, Dr. Frank N. Furter says ‘a toast!’ and you throw toast at the screen,” said "Rocky Horror" fan Savannah Lynn, a sophomore.
With antics like those, it’s hard not to get drawn into the film and the atmosphere. But even with all the excitement and camaraderie, it’s important to look at why the film was as impactful as it was.
“It’s like stepping into another world where there are no rules about gender and sexual expression,” Lynn said.
Written by a non-binary queer individual, "Rocky Horror" was revolutionary in its time due to its depictions of sexuality, as well as its presentation of a queer lead character.
“It presents sexuality in a way most things don’t do—in a fluid way. That can be comforting for people who feel like they’re somewhere different on the sexuality spectrum, but don’t necessarily want to label themselves as gay,” Lynn said.
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The film and the community around it have formed a sense of inclusion, highlighting people’s individualities and showing that it’s normal to be abnormal. This is especially true for the queer community, due to the history of the writer, the portrayals of sexuality by the characters and the fun, welcoming environment created by the cast as well as other fans.
“The screenings and community have always been a place where people not accepted by mainstream society can find a home,” Lynn said.
Whether it’s to feel a sense of community or to have a movie experience unlike any other, "Rocky Horror" is worth seeing live at least once. The film itself is engaging and unconventional, but the shadow cast connects it to the audience in a way few other films are able to do.
Rocky Horror plays at The Rialto every first, third and fifth Friday nights at midnight for $6, cash only.