Rocky HorrorNovember 2, 2018
Story by Leann Burke
Photos by Brittney Lohmiller
Men and women donned fishnet stockings and sequins before lining up outside Jasper’s Astra Theatre the evening of Oct. 27, eagerly anticipating the theater’s sold-out, “almost Halloween” showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a cult classic film from the 1970s.
Although “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” — “Rocky Horror” for short — has horror in the title, it’s not a gory film. According to the film’s official fan site, the film is “a rock-musical send-up of old science-fiction and horror films” that combines explorations of sexuality, rock music, Frankenstein-style science fiction and aliens. It’s based on the 1973 musical stage production “The Rocky Horror Show.”
In the decades since its debut, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” has garnered a cult following full of fans who dress up like the characters and interact with the movie, calling their own lines back at the screen, throwing props around the theater at set points in the movie and jumping up to dance the signature Time Warp. The cult even developed its own language, of sorts, dubbing anyone who has never seen “Rocky Horror” in a theater that allows audience participation a “virgin.”
Like the film’s cult following, its story is unique as well. Taking place over the course of a single night, it follows newly engaged couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon). Eager to announce their engagement, the couple sets out on a nighttime drive to a former professor’s home, but they get a flat tire along the way and find themselves seeking aid at the home of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry), a transvestite scientist ready to unveil his latest creation, a Frankenstein-esque monster named Rocky. What follows the unveiling is a lust-filled night of singing, dancing and scientific chaos, culminating in the death of Frank N. Furter and the return of his servants to their planet of Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania.
“It’s cool,” said Sara Jones of Washington, 42. “It touched on taboo stuff before it was cool. And you can’t go wrong with Tim Curry. I wish I had his legs.”
Jones attended the show dressed as Columbia, a groupie played by Little Nell. She still remembers the first time her husband, Joe, showed her the film in the 1990s. Now, “Rocky Horror” is a family thing for the Joneses and their kids.
The Joneses aren’t the only decades-long fans of the show. The unique film earned a small but dedicated following when it first hit theaters in 1975.
The following year, the film became the midnight showing at the Waverly Theater in New York City, where some dedicated fans attended every showing, creating the first costumes, call-back lines and props that sparked the audience participation that makes “Rocky Horror” unique.
In the decades since, fans have created an ever-evolving culture of interaction with the movie, often dressing as their favorite sequin-and-lingerie-clad characters, and yelling their own lines at the screen.
David Terrell of Mitchell, 65, saw the film for the first time in the 1970s, and considers himself one of the original fans. He attended The Astra’s showing dressed as Frank N. Furter, wearing the classic cape and a bustier he bedazzled himself. For several others in his group, The Astra marked the first time they’d seen the film in a theater.
Throwing objects into the air at certain points in the movie is another key part of audience participation in “Rocky Horror.”
Filmgoers at The Astra’s showing sent things like playing cards, rolls of toilet paper and paper plates flying through the air. Launching the messier traditional props — rice, prunes and hot dogs, for example — wasn’t allowed. As for the point of the props, they’re mostly about puns. The toilet paper, for example, flies through the air when Dr. Scott (Jonathan Adams) enters and Brad exclaims “Great, Scott.” It’s for Scott brand toilet paper. Get it?
Despite the film’s popularity, it’s a challenge to get a showing, said Leslie Hamby, who manages acquiring movie rights for Next Act Inc., the organization that runs The Astra. To keep the film on the fringes where it thrives, 20th Century Fox, which owns the rights to the movie, has restrictions on when the movie can be shown and the distance allowed between theaters that show it.
Hamby said the rules can be confusing, but the gist is that for “Rocky Horror,” theaters within three hours of each other can’t show the film at or near the same time. That means showing “Rocky Horror” takes pre-planning, especially since The Next Act wants to make “Rocky Horror” an annual event at The Astra.
The studio’s restrictions also mean that showings of “Rocky Horror” draw audiences from long distances. The Oct. 27 showing, for example, drew people from Evansville, Louisville and even the Indianapolis area. The Astra’s showing also drew a good mix of longtime fans and people just getting into the cult who came for their first live experience with the film.
“I love the movie,” said Lexi Patmore of Celestine, 18. “It’s different.”
Patmore attended the showing with her friends Katherine Breeden of Haysville, 18, and Ramsay Tuell of West Baden, 21, and a “Rocky Horror” virgin.
Marissa Rogers of Jasper, 23, another virgin, attended the show with her mother, eager to see the audience participation. As soon as the movie ended, she was ready to see it again and already planning to dress up as one of the characters.
For longtime fans like Terrell, it’s cool to see younger people at the shows.
“It’s nice to see the younger generation getting into it like we did,” he said.
Some of “Rocky Horror’s” main characters may depart for a separate galaxy at the end of the film, but their story, it seems, has solidified its place on Earth, sparking a community that continues to grow and evolve every time Dr. Frank N. Furter hits the screen.
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