Saturday, October 22, 2016

Science Fiction, Double Feature

Rocky Horror Picture Show
(1975) *****
Combining elements of B-horror movies and science fiction, Richard O’Brien’s creation of The Rocky Horror Show quickly gained momentum as a stage play in London, 1973, before being made into the cult classic film we know and love today, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Following a wedding ceremony of mutual friends, protagonists Brad and Janet get engaged and are eager to share the good news with their former science teacher and friend, Dr. Scott. However, their car gets a flat in the middle of nowhere and they must seek help at a nearby castle. They are not suspecting a party hosted by a gender-bending “sweet transvestite” who is about to unleash his creation upon the world!

RHPS was made on a modest budget of $1.4 million, and it shows. An “anti-matter laser beam” (pictured above) used by Riff Raff is obviously a repurposed pitchfork. Costumes resemble thrift store finds and odds ‘n’ ends from the dressing room, and Meat Loaf, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Curry were relative unknowns!

Personally this movie holds a lot of positive and entertaining memories for me. I recall watching it as a preteen and wanting to be as cute as Columbia, as edgy as Eddie, and as daring as Dr. Frank N Furter. I was the weird kid who listened to weird music and had a weird sense of humor in school but somehow got along well with most everyone. In college I would take anyone and everyone I knew for a midnight showing. Once, when I went on my birthday I got pelted so hard by a roll of toilet paper my glasses flew right off my face. Later that night we didn’t have enough room for everyone to fit in my car so a friend of mine offered to ride in the trunk.

For me, Rocky Horror Picture Show embraced freedom that came in the form of sexuality, song, and expression of self. “Don’t Dream It, Be It” was and still is an anthem for myself and many others to disregard the status quo of heteronormativity and get creative with our badass selves! To this day I still sing along and talk back to the screen even if I’m just watching at home with my two cats. They won’t judge me.

Before Re-Animator became a musical, Rocky Horror Picture Show was the truck stop at the intersection of Musical-Horror-Science Fiction. It wasn’t a very busy intersection for 1975 but it did pave the way for future eccentric tales to be told, and re-told as we saw last Thursday in Fox’s made for TV reboot of O’Brien’s creation.

Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again
(2016 TV movie) **

Remakes and reboots as we know them, serve no purpose unless they bring something new to the discussion. Was the soundtrack re-scored to fit a different genre? Are all the roles gender-swapped to raise awareness of double standards? Perhaps a modern retelling of a classic tale? Are there zombies and werewolves involved?


Well, then, what’s the point?!??
There's no point, you guys. Go home.
Kenny Ortega of High School Musical directing fame tackled the direction and production of this cult classic remake, failing bigly to compensate for any of its original charm, edginess, or abundant sexuality between the eccentric cast of characters. Ortega accomplished ruining this gem, firstly, by making it a made for TV movie, and secondly by turning every musical number into an over-the-top production with backup singers, dancers and a very busy set.

Does the movie take place at a castle or at a movie theatre? Turns out it is a little bit of both, as the film opens on Trixie, the “Usherette” going to work outside of a castle that is also a movie theater and guiding people to their seats. The appeal was supposed to be in the audience participation, which we see so little of it is almost irrelevant. Is it a stage show or a film the audience is watching? Set design suggests a hybrid of the two: Dr. Frank N Furter’s entrance occurs on a crane rolled in by a couple of stagehands; however, in earlier sequences we see Brad and Janet frolicking around a graveyard singing and dancing.

So, does this mean we are watching a film of an audience watching a film with scenes inside and outside, or are we watching a film of an audience watching a stage play that, for some unexplained reason, has outside shots?

Other redeemable qualities I found were exposure to a new generation of fans: preteens and young adults who somehow overlooked the movie and thought it might be fun to watch. My hope is that they will be saved someday when they view the original and see the greatness in its nuances and details, and know that not everything cool must come from multiple sparkly costume changes and layered vocals. I also liked seeing a multiculturally diverse cast. And although I griped about Dr. Frank N Furter’s entrance on a crane (rather than an elevator a la Tim Curry, 1975), it was a spectacle to behold. The final compliment I have for this film is towards the covers of “Dammit Janet” and “Planet Schmanet Janet.” They did the original film justice, and the rest of the songs were total garbage that should have been left on the Glee cutting room floor.
It's not easy having a good time: looks, glam and glitz can't save this remake.

My final point has got to be the [mis]casting: Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank N Furter, Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia, Adam Lambert as Eddie, and Reeve Carney as Riff Raff. I will start with Columbia and Eddie -- at no point in Let’s Do the Time Warp Again did they seem intimate or even more than buddies as Eddie forcibly belted out the verses to “Hot Patootie.” Now that I think of it, general sensuality and lustful glances are all amiss in this remake! WTF?? Anyway, I can deal with a better-looking Eddie than the original Meat Loaf, but this Eddie showed no awareness of Columbia or affection towards her. (In the original they could hardly keep their hands off each other and whipped out some cute dance moves.) Annaleigh Ashford as Columbia just flat out stinks as she delivers her lines with flatness in her voice and takes all talking and screaming cues half a beat late. If the desired effect was campiness, she surpassed it and went right into the realm of bad acting.

Carney and Cox’s performances of Riff Raff and Frank N Furter, respectively, have the same deficiencies that they were trying too hard to sound like their predecessors (Richard O’Brien and Tim Curry). Referring back to my introduction, what is the point of the remake if you are just going to regurgitate messy British pronunciations? Cox addressed our male protagonist as “Braid” and Carney painfully forced an “R” and the end of Magenta’s name to sound more like O’Brien. A performance where they weren’t trying to sound like previous actors would have been more authentic and sexy.

The plot remains the same, but the overall execution of the Rocky Horror remake has put nails in the coffin of ever re-envisioning this classic in film again. I think we can all agree the moral to this two-hour TV torturous special is just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. When the original genius behind the production you are creating will not give you his blessing, as Richard O'Brien did, it's a sign.


JPX said...

I think it's rarely a good idea to remake a "classic" (Wizard of Oz*, Willy Wonka, Grease, Sound of Music, etc). I make it no secret that I dislike musicals/Broadway but I respect them for what they are and I can imagine how painful this must have been to sit through! Terrific reviews!

*I realize that 'The Wizard of Oz' that we all know is, in fact, a remake, but you know what I mean, shut up!

DKC said...

"failing bigly" I love it!

I had no desire to watch this travesty of a remake, so thanks for taking one for the team, Crystal! The lure of this movie is watching it with an audience, that's what makes the experience, IMO.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I watched the POS remake too but I'll save my venom for my own review. Great review Crystal! I know how much the original means to you so I'm glad you finally tackled it for Horrorthon.