ORLANDO – It’s just a jump … to the left ….
…. and then a step to the right.
If there’s a tradition that never seems to go out of style around the Halloween season, its Rocky Horror.
Whenever Halloween is on the horizon, it seems like someone revives either Richard O’Brien’s campy play “The Rocky Horror Show,” or a local Cineplex brings back midnight showings of the 1975 movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
On Friday, it’s the AMC Universal Complex 20 at Universal CityWalk that’s bringing back 12 a.m. shadow-cast screenings of the cult film – so in other words, if you have an old Frank N Furter costume in your closet, get it out. The Rich Weirdos from Transexual, Transylvania, will be on the big screen every second and fourth Friday and Saturday this month.
So how is it that a movie that flopped when it first got released in 1975 would build up such a loyal following, become one of the all time champions as far as cult cinema goes, and continue to lure in audiences today? What’s “Rocky’s” appeal 36 years later?
“It speaks to the outsider and the rebel in all of us,” said theater director and Rollins College professor John DiDonna.
He should know. DiDonna has been playing Frank N Furter in revival productions of “The Rocky Horror Show” for years, including performances at Theatre Downtown in Orlando.
“I may do it again next year,” DiDonna said. “It’s like seeing an old friend after a while. To do it and leave it and to come back has been nice. I’ve been playing it nine times since I was 18 years old, and that’s kind of fun.”
The British rock musical and its film adaptation are spoofs of old B-movie, science fiction and horror films. The film version first started to gain a following as a midnight movie in 1977, when audiences began acting out the story in front of the screen. It’s since become the longest-running theatrical release in film history, and is one of the most financially successful midnight movies of all time. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” – not a bad accomplishment for a movie about a Sweet Transvestite mad scientist and his handsome bodybuilding “creature.”
DiDonna said besides the fun of the audience participation, the story captures something else with a timeless appeal: the call it makes for people to be who they really are, and to throw away their inhibitions.
“If you look at the mantra of Rocky Horror, it’s ‘Don’t Dream It, Be It,’ ” DiDonna said, quoting one of the best-known songs in the show, when Frank points out his admiration for Hollywood film star Fay Wray of “King Kong” fame – and wishes he could be dressed just like her.
“It’s about freedom and breaking through your own barriers, in many ways,” DiDonna said. “That’s what people like about it.”
It’s also appealing, he said, because Frank N Furter casts aside society’s shackles to be exactly who he wants to be – even if society does opt to punish him for his rebelliousness.
“We like the dark hero who falls, and Frank N Furter is the dark hero who falls hard, and that’s the kind the theater people like,” DiDonna said.
George Gordon, a photographer in Lake Alfred and self-professed fan of the Rocky Horror cult movement, agreed. He recalled watching the movement grow back when he was a college student in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“We had friends who were coming out of the closet,” he said. “This is where people could feel normal, and regardless of their gender or orientation, they could just relax and be themselves, and have fun. Those people are older now, but everyone still has a fun time at the movie.”
But what makes it such a dynamic experience, Gordon said, isn’t the movie itself, which he said wouldn’t be the same at all if someone got the DVD and watched it alone at home. What makes it so unique, he said, is the audience becomes a part of the movie.
“You go in there and have a great time,” he said. “People go in and just have a blast. It’s kind of like a way to blow off steam. I remember throwing toast in the air. I remember going in and saying, ‘This is really fun.’ It’s more of an experience than it is an actual film. It’s not the greatest film in the world, but it’s fun to go watch everyone who turns out to see it.”
And Gordon isn’t the least bit surprised that “Rocky Horror” always makes a comeback around Halloween.
“Look at what it portrays,” he said. “You’ve got them dancing, you’ve got the ghouls. It’s the best time to show it.”
To learn more about the Rocky Horror shows at CityWalk, call 407-354-3374. Tickets for “Rocky Horror Picture Show” are $10.
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