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The Cricket: Why 'Rocky Horror' still matters

Published October 30, 2012 9:02 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Think for a minute: How many movies made in the mid-1970s still play at your local movie theater? And how many of those still draw a sold-out crowd?

Really, there's only one: "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

Before you say, "What? That old thing?," consider this: "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is still screened on weekends at dozens of theaters around the country, drawing loyal fans who have turned the 1975 rock musical into an interactive experience.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" returns for its annual Halloween-weekend run at the Tower Theatre — and you can be sure it will pack 'em in for all six shows.

Here are 11 reasons "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is still worth checking out:

It's actually a good movie • "Cult classic" is usually synonymous with "bad, but beloved" — but a viewing of "Rocky Horror" on DVD reveals a witty spoof of classic monster-movie clichés, merged with a kicking rock score and a take-no-prisoners performance by Tim Curry as the flamboyant scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter. It's a movie that compels you to get up and dance, even when there's no one else around.

It evokes a golden age of rock musicals • "Rocky Horror" was spun from the same era that gave us Ken Russell's "Tommy," Norman Jewison's "Jesus Christ Superstar," Sidney Lumet's "The Wiz" and Alan Parker's "Pink Floyd The Wall." And it's easily the most fun of the bunch.

It's an anniversary • This year's Salt Lake City shows mark the 25th anniversary of "Rocky Horror" at the Tower. It's also the 25th anniversary of Susan Steffee's run as emcee of the Tower's festivities, making her (according to the Salt Lake Film Society) the longest-serving "Rocky Horror" host in the United States.

It's participatory • Part of "Rocky Horror's" legend is how it morphed into an interactive experience. The story goes that at a midnight-movie screening years ago, the image of Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon) warding off the rain with a newspaper prompted one audience member to yell, "Buy an umbrella, you cheap bitch!" — thus launching a tradition of shouting back at the screen.

It's a mirror on local culture • In every city where "Rocky Horror" plays, the regulars have devised their own regional jokes and traditions. And among the ones I've seen (and I'll admit some bias because I used to be a Salt Lake City cast member), the Tower show is one of the most original — in part because Steffee is a real rock star onstage, and in part because the material sets a perfect anti-establishment tone in a city where there's a lot of establishment to be anti.

It cleans up after itself • The Tower long ago barred outside props from "Rocky Horror," though cast members (known as the Latter-Day Transvestites) sell a prop bag for a nominal fee, which goes to pay for costumes and other gear. The reason for this, Steffee said this week when I joined her for a discussion of the movie on KCPW's "CityViews," is that the cast members were also assigned to clean up the theater afterward. And since the movie wasn't over until around 2 a.m., they wanted to make the job as easy as possible.

It's a rite of passage • Aside from seeing your first R-rated movie, seeing "Rocky Horror" for the first time — and punching your "virgin" card — is one of the last rites of adulthood left that doesn't involve tattooing or other body modifications. By comparison, it's relatively painless.

It's a pop-culture touchstone • "Rocky Horror" has been continually referenced in other movies and TV shows. Some of the most notable references are in "Fame" (1980), when a straitlaced acting student finally cut loose by jumping onstage during "The Time Warp"; and this year's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," where the high-school outcasts band together to perform "Rocky Horror" every weekend in their Pittsburgh theater (where the movie's writer-director, Stephen Chbosky, watched the movie in his teen years).

It's a coming-out party • For people of a certain age, "Rocky Horror" was the first movie in which they saw two men kissing, two women kissing, or any depictions of gay sexuality. It remains an iconic symbol for LGBT people everywhere.

It still has the capacity to offend • When "Glee" took on "Rocky Horror" in 2010, the show actually changed the lyrics of Frank N. Furter's signature song, "Sweet Transvestite," to remove the word "transsexual." Apparently, that word was too much for the network that airs almost anything Seth MacFarlane thinks is funny.

It's just fun • Where else do you get to scream, shout, throw things and dance in the dark without getting arrested? As Frank himself sings in the movie's climactic number, "Don't dream it, be it."

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/seanpmeans. Email him at movies@sltrib.com. —

'Rocky Horror' at Tower

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" returns, marking the 25th anniversary at the Tower — and of emcee Susan Steffee's run hosting the show.

Where • The Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City.

When • 8 p.m. and midnight, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26-27, and Wednesday, Oct. 31. (Pre-show, featuring the Latter-Day Transvestites, starts a half-hour before the screening.)

Tickets • $10, at the Tower box office.

Info • No outside props allowed, though a small prop kit will be sold for a nominal fee.