I hardly needed to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show again to write this review. That said, I watched it anyway — if for no other reason than that I had an excuse to do so. And seeing the film anew reminded me that there’s really a lot more to it than its status as the ne plus ultra of midnight cult movies, though that’s surely how it will always be remembered.
Along with Ken Russell’s 1975 double-whammy of Tommy and Lisztomania, Jim Sharman’s Rocky Horror marks the true end of the subversive 1960s. (Let’s be honest: The ’60s don’t even become the ’60s until about 1964, and they don’t really end until 1975, with the encroachment of disco music.) But Rocky Horror is actually a very good film in its own right; made on a small budget, it’s a triumph of clever filmmaking by Sharman, who should have gone on to bigger things (and might have, had he not arrived at the end of an era).
Yes, there are little technical glitches, but rarely has there been a more cleverly and creatively shot and edited film. Nearly every angle, every cut, every zoom shot, every optical transition is used to effectively maximize its respective scene. Just watch the musical numbers — “The Time Warp” and “Sweet Transvestite” are models of brilliant direction, perfectly capturing the rhythm of both the songs and the characters. (And, as a bonus, the direction masks the less-than-brilliant David Toguri choreography.)
A sweet-tempered send-up of B-horror and sci-fi films, Rocky Horror is a relentless array of gay iconography (a little Michelangelo here, David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane lightning bolt there, transvestitism everywhere) and nearly every taboo known to man. Cheeky in its utterly amoral stance, it all goes down smoothly because of Sharman’s direction, Richard O’Brien’s catchy songs, and the perfect cast. And that’s not to mention the film’s underlying “don’t dream it, be it” theme, which became the rallying cry for a generation of fans, and is what really put Rocky Horror on the map as an underground favorite.
Remember the cult status, yes, but sometime try watching Rocky Horror just as a movie. It pays real dividends.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke