August 14: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

rhpsThe king of cult films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public today in 1975.

Rocky Horror tells the tale of Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon), two squares from the little town of Denton who find themselves trapped on a rainy night in the castle of transvestite mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry). Things only get weirder from there.  A loving tribute to B-movie sci-fi films, rock ‘n’ roll music and sexual fluidity, Rocky Horror is easily one of the strangest films ever released by a mainstream studio. Incidentally, this was Curry’s first film, and his arrival at the beginning of the song “Sweet Transvestite” might be the greatest debut by an actor in film history.

Rocky Horror began life as a stage play The Rocky Horror Show by Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien, which played to rave reviews in London’s West End in 1973. A year later, a production was staged at Los Angeles’ Roxy Theater, with Curry as the lone returning cast member. The L. A. show quickly became one of the town’s hottest tickets, with celebrities dropping by back stage every night to tell the cast how much they loved the show. The play was such a hit that 20th Century Fox quickly purchased the film rights.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened in theaters in the United Kingdom on August 14, 1975, before opening at select American theaters. Unfortunately, while the play had been a hit, the movie was not. After a few weeks, Fox decided to quietly pull the picture from the few theaters running it and canceled plans to open it wider.

Although the rest of the nation didn’t care for Rocky Horror, the film had sold out every screening at the United Artists Theater in Los Angeles’ Westwood neighborhood (not coincidentally near the campus of UCLA) with many repeat customers. Some viewers even sung along to the film’s songs. This inspired a few Fox executives to rethink how to rerelease the film. First, the film was sent to college campuses on a double bill with Brian De Palma’s excellent 1974 rock and roll horror spoof The Phantom Of The Paradise. Meanwhile, the success of regional midnight movie screenings featuring cult fare like Pink Flamingos, Harold and Maude, Reefer Madness and Alice’s Restaurant, inspired Fox executive Tim Deegan to suggest the studio rerelease the film as a midnight movie.

The first midnight screening of Rocky Horror was held fittingly on April Fool’s Day at the stroke of 12 at New York’s famed Waverly Theater. A few months into the screenings at the Waverly,  Rocky Horror fandom’s biggest traditions were born: Fans had already started arriving to the show in full costume and soon enough a “shadow cast” (a troupe of actors dressed as the film’s characters and miming the film’s actions in front of the screen) was quickly established by Waverly regular Sal Piro.

Then, in October 1976, the tradition of audience callbacks (lines, jokes, insults and pop culture references yelled at the characters on screen) began during a scene where Janet placed a newspaper over her head to protect herself from the rain. It was at that moment that self-described quiet schoolteacher Louis Farese Jr. spontaneously yelled out “Buy an umbrella you cheap bitch!” to the delight of the theater. Others soon followed with their own riffs, which soon evolved into the use of props (i. e. water pistols and umbrellas popping up in the theater during the rainstorm, playing cards being thrown following the lyric “Cards for sorrow/Cards for pain.” in the song “I’m Going Home” and rice getting tossed during a wedding scene).

From New York and Los Angeles, the cult of Rocky Horror soon spread across the nation, making the film a surprise smash. Interestingly, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is still technically in its initial theatrical release. This nearly 40 year run is the longest in cinema history. Even stranger, though Rocky Horror was a flop in its initial release, it has slowly become the second highest grossing film of 1975 because theaters have kept screening it every weekend.

So, tonight do the Time Warp with all your favorite Transylvanians and drink a Frank N. Furter worthy concoction, Absolute Pleasure. This sinfully delicious drink was created by Eddie Strickland (And as any Rocky fan knows, when Eddie said he didn’t like his teddy, you knew he was a no good kid.) for the Drunken Moogle, the essential site for nerdy drinkers.

Absolute Pleasure

  • 1 1/2 ounces Cherry Brandy
  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1/4 ounce Irish Cream Liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • A few drops of Absinthe
  • 2 Maraschino Cherries

Coat the glass with Absinthe. Muddle two cherries in a shaker and add ice and liquids. Shake into the Absinthe coated glass. Garnish with two cherries.

Tomorrow: So foul and fair a day I have not seen.

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