Shock-O-Rama: A Different Set of Jaws -

Shock-O-Rama: A Different Set of Jaws

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Shock-O-Rama: A Different Set of Jaws

Participation Never Felt So Good

By Chuck Francisco     October 20, 2012

It's your first time. A ball of nervous energy rolls in your stomach, like two angry battling dragons. You adjust the cheap, Internet purchased costume, conscious of all the surrounding eyes; watching tauntingly. It's laughable to be concerned with your costume, when there's a lipstick scarlet letter emblazoned on your forehead.  People are such silly animals, do easily embarrassed. Your friends warned you not to let on that it was your first time doing this live, but virgin status emanated from you like an optic blast from Scott Summers sans sun glasses. It's time to mount the stage to be subjected to the friendly (albeit embarrassing) public cherry popping, which has kicked off these stage shows for decades. Who knew that attending The Rocky Horror Picture Show could be so stressful? Ah, but it's all part of the authentic experience. 
It certainly takes something special for a film to become the Cal Ripkin Jr. of movies. Like the Iron Man, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is known for it's longevity. As the longest running theatrical release in history (37 years and still going), it has benefits which any film following it don't, helping to sustain its appeal. At its core, screenings of this perverse pleasure are not simply shows to be passively attended. They've grown into epic spectacles of revelrous debauchery, where judgementality is checked at the door, along with inhibition and sanity. While there aren't as many midnight screening venues as their used to be, it would be well worth a two hour ride for you to be initiated into the world of Rocky, especially as a Halloween event. Indeed, many areas that don't usually run RHPS will get a shadow cast together for a yearly October show. I'm attending one this very evening in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, which includes the great Tom Amici (who won the Brad role in a nationwide casting contest, documented as a special feature on the 25th anniversary Blu-Ray). The uninitiated might find this weird or scary, but I promise that the barrier for entry is not nearly as frightening as it seems. How did this crazy phenomenon get started in the first place? 

While it's true that most normal folks immediately equate The Rocky Horror Picture Show to midnight movies screenings, it certainly was not the first of the cultural institution which it would soon come to the forefront of. In fact, the film actually did pretty poorly upon initial release, which led Fox to withdraw it from theaters to try different release strategies. College campuses provided fertile soil to grow the film's audience, but the real turning point came at The Waverly Theatre (now the IFC Center) in New York City, hitting their weekly midnight bill in April of 1976. By Labor Day, the audience who so dearly loved the film that they attended every weekend, began shouting abuse, jokes, and replies back at the screen. Here, in this hotbed of cinema, a cultural institution would be born. Nearly thirty years later, the film is referenced in everything from movies, to TV shows, and even video games (far, far too many to begin cataloging here). Let's take a look at what normally goes into one of these crazy events.
The film itself is the nucleus around which everything else spins with ferocious intensity. During the show, there are an enormous number of callbacks to shout at the screen. Many of these hundreds of humorous lines have become tradition, such as calling Brad an asshole or Janet a slut. While it's common for the majority of the audience to shout these in unison, there are also plenty of new jokes being created too. There are guides on the Internet to the standard callbacks, and both the 20th anniversary DVD and the 25th anniversary Blu-Ray include an audio track with a live participating audience. It's a great way to get your feet wet. In addition, there are a number of props used throughout the film at key points. Nearly all RHPS events sell prop bags, which include everything you need, plus instructions on when to use them. 


If you're incredibly lucky, your show will include a shadow cast; individuals on the stage in front of the film, acting out all the parts with incredible precision. They are the ringleaders of this circus of sin, and their ad libbed pantomiming enhances the humor of an already hysterical happening. The shadow cast also typically handles the virgin hazing. You read that right. Rocky Horror virgins get their cherries popped good during the pre-show. The stunts performed are always good natured, always ridiculous, and always a laugh riot. Just like in Fight Club, if it's your first time here, you have to perform. 
Don't be discouraged though; at it's core The Rocky Horror Picture Show is about non-conformity, accepting people for who they are, and allowing folks to rock their inner bad self. If you've never been to the a live show, please seek one out. I started attending in my early twenties, but wish I'd started much earlier (I first began watching Rocky Horror when I was twelve, which in retrospect probably explains a lot). If you've never even seen the movie, definitely seek it out. You may have heard weird tales about it from misinformed folks, who likely heard similar stories from someone else. Like many of the odd films I've recommended here in Shock-O-Rama, see with some friends over drinks. And totally come back to let me know what you think. It's not easy having a good time; let Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter fill you with Antici....
See you (in garters) at the movies.


Saturday Shock-O-Rama Streaming Suggestions
Want to watch something schlocky right now? Try on a few of these suggestions, available right now from the listed service (most of which are FREE!).

Netflix -  Son of Frankenstein - Horror (1939)
Crackle -  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation - Action/Horror (1995) 
YouTube - Tales From the Crypt - Horror (1972)

And if you simply can't get enough horror happenings here on Mania, might I humbly suggest checking out Tuesday Terrors? It's got all the shocking news to keep you current (and possibly help you survive until the credits roll).

Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights andColonial Cult Cinema. You can hear him on awesome podcast You've Got Geek or follow him out onTwitter. 


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InnerSanctum 10/21/2012 2:07:56 PM

 I so miss those days long ago when this was a semi reoccuring event.  I have talked to so many people who have only seen the film on VHS, or DVD.  How can they even entertain the idea of understanding the film without the audience?  This is not a "sit at home" film.  You must participate in order to appreciate.  

CyanideRush 10/22/2012 11:21:21 AM

I completely agree, InnerSanctum. There are far fewer places that offer it as an event, though. I really hope folks seek them out and attend them.

Betenoire 10/23/2012 1:19:52 AM

When I lived in Milwaukee in the mid to late 90s the film would run every weekend complete with a shadow cast at the Oriental Theater where it had been showing since January of 1978. Sadly it looks like it is now down to running just once a month (though they have a Halloween showing as well as a second which is good as it was always packed) but is definetly a blast. Nothing like seeing it live.



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