Despite the fact that I wrote a piece telling people that it doesn’t hurt to be excited for the new Rocky Horror, I obviously had some reservations. I wanted it to be the best that it could be and there was nothing I saw out of the gate that suggested it would be terrible. But I always understood the possibility was there. I just didn’t want to feel like I had already seen it before I actually did.
With this presentation, most people felt as though they had made up their minds long before the event actually aired. People had problems with the casting, they had problems with the design. In general, they just had problems. They made it loud and clear that The Rocky Horror Picture Show should not—under any circumstances—ever be remade.
But the thing is, this isn’t a remake. And I’m not getting technical to justify it, I’m usually the last to tell someone what is or isn’t a remake, and if you still want to call it that then that’s fine. But the producers have referred to this as a tribute and that’s exactly what it really is. It’s the biggest, most extravagant tribute show you’ll ever see.
Yes, it looks different but that’s because it’s the same show. The changes to the source material are trivial. They’re the same kind of in-the-moment, spontaneous choices you make during a stage show. This is designed from the ground up to look like a staged event. It looks fresh, it looks new, it looks extravagant. That’s what it needs to do to be something other than just another shadow cast. It’s a special event and it’s treated as such.
There is so much respect being paid to Rocky Horror’s history. There are tons of references, in-jokes and visual callbacks to the original. Some of them border on distracting, but some of them—like a poster on the wall reading “41st Annual Transylvanian Convention” as a nod to the film’s anniversary—are subtle enough to work very, very well.
My favorite thing about this performance of Rocky Horror is that it doesn’t look like a movie. That’s crucial in making it feel like its own thing. It even introduces The Usherette, a character from the stage show who did not appear in the motion picture. But it also goes a step further in celebrating the show’s history for over forty years by making the audience an active part of the show. There’s a really unique visual interpretation going on in which there’s almost no line between the show and the audience.
We cut several times to a packed, rowdy theater watching the events on the screen. But the castle is also merged with the theater itself. Everything is blended together. That’s probably the best, smartest decision director Kenny Ortega and crew could have made in putting this together because it hits at the core of what Rocky Horror Picture Show is all about. It’s interactive. It’s something you sing at, scream at, and it talks back to you.
This Rocky completely mixes the elements of camp, gothic horror and the general theatergoing experience together. It creates a unique visual hybrid where a castle can have a concession stand and a mad doctor’s creation can be birthed in an ice cream freezer. I would never have thought to take this kind of approach visually and I like that they did something like this because if they kept the look the same it would have felt like a complete rehash.
For the most part, the cast does a very good job. Laverne Cox shines as Frank ‘N Furter, as many suspected she would. Her casting was controversial for a variety of reasons, few of which were really justified. She channels Tim Curry as best as she can while providing a completely different look, which allows for an acceptable balance between old and new—the very thing that the whole production seems to be striving for.
Annaleigh Ashford is the only one to really do something different with her take on the character—and thank God she does, because Little Nell’s performance in the original was lightning in a bottle. Out of all the characters, her weird quirks, mannerisms and voice could not be emulated by someone else. On stage, she is one of the most challenging roles, so it’s smart to see a new take on her here. This version of Columbia is very much a hard-edged, over-bored New York punk. A far cry from Little Nell, but one that manages to achieve the same effect of making this character stand out among the story. She’s an outcast even among the weirdoes, and that’s something that’s absolutely felt here.
Victoria Justice and Ryan McCartan are the surprise hits as Janet and Brad. For me, they were possibly the biggest highlight because I had no idea what to expect from them. To my delight, they both drew the same influence from 1950s overacting as Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick did before them.
There are many references to Frankenstein as well—possibly more than the original—including Brad and Janet dancing over Mary Shelley’s grave and Rocky’s inspired Karloff-esque movements.
That’s not to say that I love everything about it. Of course everything has its flaws. Given the way this is structured, it’s meant to look cheap, so a lack of visual pizazz can be forgiven. I don’t take issue with the budgetary stuff because this was never high budget to begin with; it’s meant to feel like a stage show and the original was meant to look like a B-Movie. But I do think it suffers somewhat from network interference.
I don’t have to remind anyone that Fox is a notoriously conservative network, so doing Rocky Horror Picture Show on said network can be a recipe for disaster. It’s a miracle it turned out as well as it did, given the circumstances, but it didn’t come out unscathed. There are absolutely moments that feel like they were trimmed back for the sake of upholding broadcast standards. The seduction scenes between Frank/Janet/Brad particularly suffer because of this.
But at the end of the day, that’s a small gripe against what is a truly fun, energetic and surprisingly kinetic production. I don’t know why people would seek to condemn it before seeing it and I wish more than anything that those who think it looks like it’s going to be garbage might at least go in with an open mind. Because the whole thing is worth it just to hear Tim Curry say “Don’t dream it, be it” one more time.
This is not a cash-grab remake. It was not made for the money. It’s not going to be raking in the big bucks as a network TV presentation. It was made for the fans, so all I want is for fans to at least try to accept it. Just remember the way the original made you feel and go along for this new ride. Give in. Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.
WICKED RATING: 7.5/10