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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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Arts + CultureRocky Horror Picture Fail

Rocky Horror Picture Fail

The Fox remake is just all wrong. No lips!

SCREEN GRABS The Rocky Horror Picture Show was an important part of my young life. I first saw it in a theater in Greenwich Village in 1979, at midnight, sitting in the back row, fooling around with someone I had just met. The floor was sticky; the air was sweet smoky. The audience was throwing rice and toast and toilet paper, and everyone knew every line. Drag queens jumped up and danced on the stage, before, after, and during the movie.

It was all so deliciously dirty. I was hooked.

This is how the movie is supposed to start

I watched it again and again while I went to college. I bought the soundtrack and late, late at night, after all the parties ended, we would sit in my friend Paulo’s room and listen to the whole thing, start to finish; with the lights off, you could imagine the rest.

When Paulo and I left the East Coast for San Francisco, we caught a midnight show along the way in Salt Lake City, where all the jokes were about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And I thought: If they can fill the house in Salt Lake City with kids watching this, there must be hope for the world.

See, in 1975, when the movie was made, there were no drag queens in Hollywood. There were no “sweet transvestites from transsexual Transylvania” in popular culture. This was more than edgy; it was radical stuff, gender-blurring, punk-ass, sex-positive slutty cinema in all its musical glory. Plus: Meat Loaf!

So now I’m old and I have teenage kids, and I try to share the great moments of my life with them, and when Fox decided to air a remake – with Laverne Cox, and Adam Lambert, and Victoria Justice (who my daughter Vivian loved from this stupid show) … sorry, the Cubs were playing the Dodgers in Game Five, but the Redmond-Field Household was going to watch Rocky Horror.

I told Viv she had to sit down early on the couch with me. The first part of the movie is the best; we’re supposed to wait for it to roll and shout “LIPS!”

And then it was 8pm. And no lips.

The brilliant, iconic opening – featuring the mouth of Patricia Quinn and the voice of Richard O’Brien, the two minutes that defined Rocky Horror? Gone. Instead, we had some dumb Marilyn Monroe look-alike who jumped out of World War II singing the theme song, badly, lip-synching, badly. Rocky Horror’s original opening scene defined lip-synching; there’s been nothing like it since, ever. And now: Boring.

It didn’t get much better.

Laverne Cox is amazing. She did the best she could. Adam Lambert was the real star, channeling Meat Loaf and showing how you can make the old into the new. Victoria Justice was fine as the innocent, Virginal Janet, but unlike Susan Sarandon, who played the role in the original, she never quite made the necessary transition to Slutty Janet.

Laverne Cox is amazing, but the show isn't
Laverne Cox is amazing, but the show isn’t

Riff Raff (Reeve Carney) and Magenta (Christina Milan) start off just fine, but the scene at the end when they appear in the audience with ridiculous sci-fi outfits on is just pathetic.

Oh, and Rocky? Not anywhere near as studly as the original – and he’s not even wearing the tight gold underpants. No package.

The wonder of the original Rocky Horror was the feeling that anything might happen at any moment; this version was made for Fox, and totally controlled.

It’s one of those strange things in culture: Rocky Horror gets its energy from its time, from the idea that you could actually pull that off in 1975, that audiences all over –even in Salt Lake City – would love it and let it change their lives. Today, you need more than a decent musical performance to do that – and the new version takes absolutely no risks. I would have loved a little wardrobe malfunction.

Oh, and there’s the really, really stupid fail of trying to do a “movie within a movie” and show scenes of what the audience might have been like in the early days, which was wrong (I was there, we were nowhere near that well-behaved) – and the whole idea undermines the wonder of the film. How are you supposed to participate when the participation is already scripted?

I know I am old, and I try not to be a curmudgeon who hates everything new, but Rocky Horror was A Moment, and meant something, and this new version is just a TV movie that nobody will notice when it’s gone.

Too bad. My kids are missing something.

If you want the real experience, Ray of Light Theatre’s powerhouse stage version is coming to Victoria Theater Oct. 26 to Nov. 5. And it features one of our most theatrical drag queens, D’Arcy Drollinger, in the role of Dr. Frank N Furter.


Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. Maybe Adam’s vocal POWER did not come across here but Meatloaf said in an interview that he was jealous of Adam because he was one of 3 people in the world who had something called “overdrive”. Take a listen to Who Wants to Live Forever at Isle of Wight if you don’t think Adam has any power. The dude is the front man for Queen for god sakes. Sings the Queen catalog in the original key (Freddie lowered it live) for almost 2 hours sometimes as many as 4 nights in a row. He’s gotten rave reviews world-wide. Brian May said he has the most extraordinary voice he’s ever heard (yep, that means more extraordinary than Freddie).

  2. Arguably that was the whole point of Eddie as a character. He wasn’t pretty. He wasn’t androgynous. He was an old-fashioned hunk of manly lovin’. He symbolically represents everything Frank and the Transylvanians were not. Making him just another pretty boy rocker without the sheer vocal POWER of the Loaf takes something away from the character.

  3. Thank goodness he will never be Meatloaf. I prefer the drop-dead gorgeous, slim sex symbol with the non-nasal voice.

  4. Once ADAM/Eddie was ‘eliminated’ from the film .. so was my interest in it!! He came crashing through that window on a motorcycle & as soon as he appeared on the screen everything livened up a notch or two!! ADAM did a marvelous portrayal of Eddie & he never tried to imitate Meatloaf!! He doesn’t have to .. he is a great entertainer in his own right so why try to act like Meatloaf? ADAM brought a bright, new fresh feel to the role & I LOVED it!! I wouldn’t have even bothered watching if ADAM hadn’t been in it!! JMO .. LAMBERT Outlaw

  5. I’m sorry, but Adam Lambert is not Meatloaf. Adam Lambert will never be Meatloaf. No one can be Meatloaf except Meatloaf…and he’s barely Meatloaf himself anymore.

    The transgressive element to the original movie was clearly lacking. The whole point of the movie was the complete weirdness of it. This movie is not weird.

  6. I thought the production quality was great, with great singing. Some of the things I liked better than the original (I’m 57), Adam Lambert being my favorite as usual….the reason I watched. But his part was so brief. Nothing will ever be like the original….it has had 41 years to grow and survive….people don’t like change. I was fine with this remake and I will buy the soundtrack since Adam is on it. They did just fine trying to remake an absolute classic.

  7. I totally disagree with it being awful- I loved it. Watching Laverne Cox play a role she has probably dreamt of her whole life reminded me of being a young theatre geek wishing I could BE Susan Surrandon and memorizing columbias tap dance. She was living the Rocky Horror dream and loving every second of it! When you go see Rocky Horror you participate because you want to be a part of it and to me, this film celebrates the way you felt the first time you saw it. It wasn’t about making a new cult classic, it was about reminding you how much this movie meant to you.

    They found a way to make it there own without attempting to out do the original. Rather than portraying the role as Victoria Justice playing Janet Weiss it was Victoria Justice playing Susan Surrandon playing Janet Weiss which was a very smart choice and the sets and costume were a perfect homage to the movie I love so much growing up.

  8. Adam Lambert was worth the watch of the first 45 minutes. Need fox to start RHPS merchandising because I want my own wall size Eddie poster.

  9. The thing is, Lou Adler owns the rights (made the first film as well as bringing the play to America) & he deliberately sold it to Fox. This is his reimagining for the 21st century.

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