The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again
From The Lips of The Cult
In a world full of sequels, retellings, and remakes, no genre is more susceptible to makeovers like our Halloween favorites. Not even the timeless cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), is safe. On October 20th of this year, Fox TV released their new vision for the b-movie tribute film. The idea, when pitched several years ago, received much disdain from all crowds as remakes often do. Why should we? What is there to gain?
This author appeals to her readers now, not only as a critic, but as a veteran to the Rocky Horror scene. I have committed time to a shadowcast where I performed various roles, and attended several other shows in between. I have done the Time Warp more times than I’ve had hot meals. Callouts come to me as naturally as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. And while I may not assume absolute authority on the subject, I feel my voice is considered particularly valid in this situation.
So, to spare you any more antici … pation! I would like, if I may, to take you on a very strange journey …
It comes as no surprise that no one I knew was pleased with the initial news of the TV remake. You don’t have to be a part of the following to sense what could go wrong. However, upon hearing of Laverne Cox being cast as the lead role, potential viewers hesitantly stepped forward with reluctant enthusiasm. Cox, not only a shoe-in for her stellar acting and presence, became the obvious choice for Dr. Frank-n-Furter for her widely-received representation value. Tim Curry’s quintessential role being played by a black transgender woman? Slay. Though we still weren’t completely convinced of the remake’s legitimacy as an honorable homage to our beloved film, we were at least excited to see Cox strut her stuff like no one else can.
The rest of the casting choices? Strange, if not obscure. Mind you, the original film plays with the boundaries of sexuality and at times dips a toe into softcore territory. Introducing former Nickelodeon teen TV star Victoria Justice into the mix as well as American Idol contestant Adam Lambert raised some red flags. And for good reason, as it turns out.
After watching the entirety of the new TV special, I can say with vindicated disappointment that the performances of the cast is where the new adaptation fell short in the greatest respect. As to why, the reasons owe more than to just poor performances, of which there was actually little … Sort of.
The special has a confusing choice of direction. It plays out like a shot-by-shot remake, trying to recreate the essence of the original film with a more rose-tinted filter. Everything is shinier, everything is louder. Yet, all the inflections are still the same. I cringed as I watched these bouncing baby actors try to throw themselves into seeming as awkward and as campy as possible. Why? Because that’s how the original is, surely. So, what’s wrong with staying true to those deliveries?
The problem here lies in that the original film was already something of a recreation on its own. The 1975 production was meant to pay tribute to the b-horror and sci-fi thrillers of previous decades. They played to many exploitative tropes, all wrapped into one fun-and-dance musical variety hour. The acting, however awkward it may have been, was done with a genuine enthusiasm and understanding of the subject material.
Fast forward to 2016, where b-movies are found at the bottom of the horror genre listing on Netflix and enjoyed within the privacy of your own home. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the longest-running film release in theatrical history thanks to the huge fan following. It stands alone, apart from its source inspiration, as an actual unmatched legacy. So, there can be no other choice in its revamping than to simply fit into the mold of what everyone already knows.
Even with Laverne Cox’s stunning swagger hyping up the audience, you cannot help but feel like something is off about these performances.
… Or lack thereof. Herein rests one of the greatest flaws of the TV remake – it’s on TV. An obvious combination of censorship and target audience led to a monumental downfall of the special. Trying to portray the same sexual devices employed in the original film became next to impossible. The show, consequentially, ambles along even more awkwardly than before, a frightening notion in itself. The bedroom scenes, the incest, the lesbian banter, the male objectification, the experimentation … All of it flies out the window. Instead, the special gives us wide, wild blocking and movements that literally dance around the subject of sex.
Like I said, pulling off what the original movie presented is virtually unheard of on cable television. The production works within its limits as best as it can, but how true of a remake can it be if one of the biggest overarching themes of the story slips through our fingers? In an attempt to appeal to a younger audience as safely as they can manage, the remake dooms itself almost immediately.
And here is where they thought they could get us. Because, indeed, without the musical aspect of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you lose at least half the charm of the film. The remake knows this. They turn the amps up to 11 and let it rip, going harder and singing louder. All the locations of the special lay out a stage where a band provides a rock n’ roll show-type environment. The actors show off their belting vibratos and dances with a choreographed precision that dwarfs Susan Sarandon’s pneumonia-ridden kicking line.
Granted, none of it really impresses. As they stand, the songs are good covers at best. The flash hits all the right spots, but the music itself sits in the shadow of the original compositions. The production has not done anything spectacularly new with these songs. Even Cox’s singing hunkers down into the tone and traits of the Curry performance we already know so well.
The most common critique found about the remake states that it poses as the High School Musical version of Rocky Horror. The accuracy stings. Fox channels an extremely Glee-esque vibe with its revisions that certainly does not end with the musical decisions.
So, what now?
As scathing as this review may seem, even my conservative cult heart can find some room to love. The remake does insert its own unique charisma, playing on the archetypes we know and love from the original film. I would actually jump to the opportunity to see this cast live as a shadow performance or a full floor show. But as a reimagining? Well, they tried their best for what holds out as one of the toughest gigs in cinematic history.
And I can assure my readers the greatest good to come from this TV special sits with the cult I have so often referenced.
Even now, over 40 years later, The Rocky Horror Picture Show experience adapts and grows with the times like no other subculture can claim. This remake may not gain its own fanbase, but the one we attended for so long throughout the generations only thrives bigger and better than ever before. We owe it to throwbacks like this TV special for our growing audience and sold out seats. We sold out after the film for The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out. We sold out when Glee did their tribute special. And we’ll sell out again because of this, albeit misguided, remake.
Make no mistake: the Time Warp will be done again and again and again …