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THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien
Director:  Jim Sharman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.66:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  October 3, 2000

Film **** (with a crowd, ** by yourself)

Has it really been 25 years since The Rocky Horror Picture Show first graced movie screens across the world?  Looking at this special anniversary edition DVD from Fox confirms the truth.  Yet somehow, it doesn’t seem so long…maybe because it’s a film that’s always playing somewhere. 

How it evolved into such a unique cinematic experience and cultural phenomenon is something I don’t think I’ll ever understand.  It’s not a great film.  It suffers badly from an abundance of ham and cheese performances, an over-the-top sense of style with hardly an ounce of substance to back it up, and certainly might have been doomed to be just another closet cult classic, spoken of in the movie house undergrounds but never capturing a mainstream audience.  Yet somehow, going to see Rocky Horror evolved over the years into something much more than watching a movie.  It became a full out audience participation event that kept the picture drawing numbers at midnight showings throughout the years.  It may never go away.

If you’ve never been to one of these ‘events’, I recommend it highly.  I can remember my first time.  What a blast it was, sitting in the midst of a packed house of people who all knew the film by heart, and what’s more, had their own part in the production!  A spirited cast of young men and women, costumed perfectly, sang and acted out the film in front of the screen.  When the characters on screen spoke, the audience spoke back.  The people in the theatre turned a mediocre film into a funny, charged and unforgettable movie going experience.  And I’ve been back a few times myself, because the only thing more fun than being in the middle of the audience participation is taking part in it yourself.

Thanks to this fantastic DVD, you can actually host your own Rocky Horror event in the comfort of your own living room, even if you’ve never experienced it theatrically!  With a click of your remote, you can listen to an actual audience participation session on the soundtrack.  At your command, the screen will also prompt you when to throw your rice or your toast or break out those squirt guns.  Or, at certain times, you can even choose to witness the audience’s cast acting out their live show in front of the screen.  It’s all here!  A word of warning, though…if you’re new to this, the audience participation does get a little risqué. 

If you want to watch the movie straight out, you can do that too, of course.  From the opening with the famed singing red lips, you’ll be aware that you’re watching something a little off-kilter.  When our intrepid hero Brad (---hole!) and his fiancée Janet (slut!) (Bostwick and Sarandon) end up stranded in a rainstorm, they visit a spooky old castle for help.  It turns out to be the beginning of the strangest night of their lives, as these two clean cut kids are soon up to their eyeballs in the kinky and the horrific, courtesy of their flamboyant host, Dr. Frank N. Furter (Curry, whose performance is the film’s true highlight).  Oddball characters, transvestites, murder, cannibalism, the creation of life and aliens from outer space all come into play before the story is over.  And music, too.  LOTS of great music.

All in all, it’s a pretty bland, goofy, ride that wallows in its own eccentricities for a hundred minutes.  But that’s only if you watch the picture straight out.  If you watch it with a crowd that plays along, it becomes something different altogether, and is much better for it.  You’ll have a great time as you ridicule the narrator with no neck, or sing more specialized lyrics to go along with the tunes, or celebrating the wedding scene by throwing rice, or smile for the group photo, and so on.  That’s what makes Rocky Horror such a unique footnote to the history of cinema, and keeps it a title worth remembering for all time.

As an added bonus, with this disc you can experience either the American or the British version of the film (thanks to Fox’s use of seamless branching technology).  The British version contains the cut musical number “Superheroes” which was never part of the American release.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Don’t just watch it, live it…the spotlight is on you.

Video ***1/2

Fox once again delivers a top drawer anamorphic transfer here, and fans who have watched aged, scratchy prints at midnight showings are in for a treat with this excellent DVD.  This film has never looked so good!  Images are sharp, crisp and superbly rendered throughout, be they well lit or dark, and colors are natural looking and beautiful with no evidence of bleeding.  Compression is a non issue as well.  There are occasional spots where minor grain is noticeable, but nothing distracting.  Despite the age of the film, there are only a few telltale marks and spots.  Overall, it looks much better than a lot of 70’s films currently available on disc.

Audio ***1/2

Kudos to the new 5.1 mix!  You can listen in original mono if you prefer, but for me, I found that the film’s music came roaring to life with the new enhanced audio.  The songs are loud and dynamic, with music spilling in from all channels and the subwoofer giving them an extra kick.  If you plan on having your own Rocky Horror party, this track is the way to go.  Dialogue is also clear and well rendered throughout, as are the occasional bits of sound effects and other cues.  How can we go back to the theatres after seeing and hearing this disc?

Features ****

But I haven’t even TOUCHED on the best part.  The good folks at Fox have really outdone themselves with this extras package.  For starters, the two disc set comes in a slip cover box similar to their release of Fight Club, but with even more art design and a cool cut-out sleeve for the booklet.  Disc one boasts clever menu screens, with the lips talking to you the whole time and a pair of dancing stocking-clad legs that help carry out your selections.  In addition to the movie, you can listen to a commentary track by stars Patricia Quinn and Richard O’Brien (who also wrote the songs and original stage play)—and what fan wouldn’t want to hear their stories?  Also, as previously mentioned, you can listen to an audience participation track, and if you want to see some of it as well, another feature will bring up a pair of lips during the playback from time to time.  Simply select it when it appears, and you’ll get to see a whole other side to the Rocky Horror experience.  Or, you can choose the prompter, and the screen will tell you and your friends what to do and when in order to play along!  Finally, there are some DVD ROM games and trivia for your computer.

Disc Two boasts a terrific documentary featuring interviews with many of the original cast and crew and a look at the phenomenon through the years.  There’s even a look at a big anniversary event, and watching an older but still spirited Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon enthusiastically re-enacting their “Dammit Janet” number before a thrilled crowd is a treat!  There are also a number of interview excerpts from VH1’s Behind the Music special, as well as their “Pop-Up Video” for Meat Loaf’s “Hot Patootie”.  There are a couple of original trailers, too (one proclaims this movie as “a different set of jaws”), plus the DVD ROM supplements again.  This package is a fan’s dream come true!

Summary:

You can do the Time Warp again and again in your own living room, thanks to this excellent DVD presentation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I only wish I could be there when each and every fan pops this disc into their player for the first time!  This film, of course, won’t appeal to everyone (it never has), but if you know what I mean when I say, “Eddie, get your ass off the table!”, then you definitely need to add this one to your collection.