‘Rocky Horror’ retrospective: Hot patootie, rest his soul
Natalie Allton | Friday, January 28, 2022
Actor and rock artist Meat Loaf passed away Jan. 20 from complications due to COVID-19. His death came as a surprise to many; he was reportedly in good health before testing positive for COVID. Meat Loaf was known for his “Bat Out of Hell” album trilogy and role in “Fight Club” — but I know him best for his role as Eddie in the 1975 cult classic film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
I have an admittedly strange history with “Rocky Horror.” It’s a film that works hard to earn its R rating — a parody and homage to sci-fi and horror B movies of the mid-20th century, filled with sex, violence and nihilism. If you think that sounds like an inappropriate film to raise children on, you’d be objectively correct. Yet, my parents did. I knew the words to “Science Fiction/Double Fiction” before I knew how to read. I did the Time Warp before I learned the Cupid Shuffle. “Sweet Transvestite” remains my karaoke go-to.
The beginning of “Rocky Horror” is relatively tame. The main characters — Brad and Janet — get engaged and find themselves lost with a flat tire on a rainy night. They take refuge in the nearby castle belonging to Dr. Frank-N-Furter. He’s a mad scientist about to unveil his greatest creation: a tan, blond, muscular hunk, the eponymous Rocky. Meat Loaf then rides in to perform “Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul.” This is when my parents turned the movie off and ushered my sister and me to bed.
In high school, I finally discovered the rest of the plot and understood why my parents were so quick to turn “Rocky” off. The rest of the film features seduction, some light cannibalism and a surprisingly touching cabaret show. The second half was a shock, to say the least, but I have come to love “Rocky” as it is.
I adore “Rocky,” but I’ll be the first to admit it’s a bad film. The plot is nonsensical, the characters and their motivations are seemingly random and most of the performances are overacted. If you’re looking for good art, keep searching.
Yet, Rocky fans make an effort to watch it at least once a year. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is arguably the most influential cult film of all time. Initially unsuccessful and panned by critics, it has gained an incredible following through midnight showings and “shadow casts” acting out the scenes as they’re happening on screen. It’s especially famous as a staple for college theater troupes. (I lament every day that Notre Dame doesn’t have an active annual production.) The question is: why?
“Rocky Horror” hinges on the fact that it’s bad. If it was a good movie, no one would have cared.
It’s camp. It’s purposefully bad taste as a way to reject and rebel against traditional ideals of aesthetics and beauty, reveling in irony, excess and theatrics. The film wears gender like a costume and treats bisexuality as the norm. It’s no wonder why the show has had a massive impact on the queer community. The costuming has since reached legendary status. The fishnets, makeup, and colorful hair directly inspired the punk rock fashion trends of the 1980s. The soundtrack is perfect for Halloween parties (or, if you’re like me, for writing papers). Early performances from Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry make the film stand out. It’s bad, but it’s also perfect. It comes as it is.
“Rocky Horror” isn’t for everyone. But if you’re willing to delight in the odd, to be part of a large and fervent community, to watch Tim Curry absolutely serve in pearls and fishnets — then it might be for you.
Title: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Tim Curry
Director: Jim Sharman
Favorite songs: “Over at the Frankenstein Place,” “Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul,” “Rose Tint My World”
Shamrocks: 5 out of 5