31 Days of Horror 2016: Rocky Horror Redux

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I have a long history with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but not as long as some folks my age. And as loyal and passionate as I am about the original, I had to watch and/or hate-watch the Fox TV remake last night. Meet me after a jump to the left for my thoughts.

Rocky Virgin

My first memories of Rocky are of the ads on the movie pages in the newspaper when it was first released. I remember the catchphrase, “A Different Set of Jaws,” a play on the shark blockbuster of the time.  It was one of the first movies playing constantly on cable, which I didn’t have but read of in TV Guide. But I never saw it.

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My first real encounter with the film was lying to a girl I met at the skating rink. She was part of a shadow cast telling me about the part she played. I must have been pitiful, pretending to know the character who tap danced during “Time Warp” even though I had no idea.  At that point I had only heard the song on Dr. Demento and that was it.  She wasn’t fooled, and there was no second date. I tried. I eventually saw the film in college, and was much better lying to them that I wasn’t a virgin.

Partic-i-pation

Years later I began to frequent the late Harwan Theatre to see the Transducer Players perform to the film. It was there I proposed to The Bride (yes, during “Damn It, Janet”), and later for a year or so after that performed with the Transducers. With them, and two or three other later casts, I played Brad, Eddie, Dr. Scott, the Criminologist, Rocky, Transylvanians, and Ralph among others.

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And that’s what makes Rocky special, you can be part of the film, whether it’s on stage, just in front of a screen, or merely sitting in the audience yelling call back lines. This is more than a movie, it’s an experience, an interactive one that’s different every time you attend or just see it. More than the recent controversy over the Ghostbusters remake, that’s what makes Rocky sacred, and a film that shouldn’t be remade. Nevertheless I watched the new version, and if I’m honest, it wasn’t bad – it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

A remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been rumored for years, decades even, and considering that it was made 40-plus years ago, it is ripe for remake, no matter how anyone feels about it. Let’s face it, we live in an age when Spider-Man and Batman are rebooted and remade every five years or so. Perhaps it’s about time for a new Rocky Horror; maybe it’s time to give a new generation its turn. After all, a new version does not negate the original, we will always have the real film we all love.

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The Fox TV version this year is subtitled Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, with the acknowledgement that it is both a remake and an homage, right there in the title. This one, while keeping much of the music and script by the legendary creator Richard O’Brien, changes a lot up even as it maintains quite a bit of the original. The genius behind the High School Musical movies, as well as one of the worst music videos ever, Kenny Ortega, directed it, for better or worse.

The Cast

I have to admit, that other than Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, from Orange Is the New Black; Adam Lambert as Eddie, one of the few American Idol contestants to hold my interest after leaving the show; and Reeve Carney as Riff-Raff, who was Spider-Man on Broadway and Dorian Gray on Penny Dreadful; I hadn’t heard of most of the rest of the cast. I was thrilled to see Tim Curry, no matter how he was struggling with the aftermath of his stroke, as the Crim/Narrator, and Ben Vereen as Dr. Scott was a surprise, even if he had little to do.

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Those new to me, like Victoria Justice, did justice to their roles. She was an adequate Janet, which was what many of these newbies were, adequate. I was surprised by the minimizing of Magenta’s role, and then I realized that it hadn’t changed, Patricia Quinn just brought more energy and charisma to the role. Really, only Broadway star Annaleigh Ashford (wow, what a dead ringer for Courtney Love) as Columbia and singer/songwriter Ivy Levan as Trixie stood out for me.

Laverne Cox as Frank

We’ve covered some of the good, some of the bad, and now, it’s time for the ugly. Wow, Laverne Cox was terrible, and what was that accent?? Now don’t get me wrong, she was dazzling visually, and I loved the costumes and costume changes (even the ones that didn’t make sense). Her singing and dancing were superb, and her facial expressions were on target, perhaps in places, better than Tim Curry – she portrayed menace well. But her acting… was the worst, and hated her on screen when she wasn’t singing.

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I can’t imagine what they were thinking. She’s great on Orange Is the New Black so I have to lay this at the director’s feet. When I’d heard she was cast, I was thrilled, I thought it was inspired, I thought it was brilliant, and I thought it was perfect. It was none of those things. Even her Tina Turner impression during “Wild and Untamed Thing” fell flat for me, no matter how good she looked. Laverne Cox was the worst part of this. Even sadder than seeing Tim Curry in such a state, the poor man.

The Doing

I tried to watch with an open mind, unlike many Rocky fans who planned to hate-watch it if at all. The Bride sat next to me, subconsciously saying audience lines, as we watched, bearing witness to how close this was to the original – the lines still worked, in both context and timing, for the most part. I liked the castle/theater overlay, which gave a new and interesting context to the movie within a movie about movies. During the first two songs, the remake began to diverge from the original subtly, and by the time they got to the “Time Warp,” it had become its own thing.

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At some point during “Time Warp,” I stopped comparing, I stopped thinking about the original, and was pulled into this version. By the time Columbia showed up, and especially Frank, I was into this movie and its world and waiting to see what it offered next. The only times I mentally referenced the original was to wonder, how will they do this? I liked the addition of a band, and enjoyed the new takes on “Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite,” and “Rose Tint My World” (even though the latter lost its sinister edge). I would have preferred a more rock score, but enjoyed the doo-wop take.

Conclusion

One thing I did not like was the removal of the iconography of Rocky Horror. Where were the boas, the fishnets, the garters, and bustiers? Without them, this wasn’t Rocky in a way that was soulless. I understand taking the 8 PM audience into account, and that’s why I’m not complaining about the missing nudity and the F word, but Rocky without fishnets, well, it just isn’t Rocky.

Should you see The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again? I would say yes. It’s good for the newbies, good for the oldies, even if for a laugh, or even to get more moves for your Transylvanians to do in shadow casts. I did dig some of the new dance moves for a few songs, even the “Time Warp.” It’s not blasphemy, it’s just new. Remember, no one can take the original from us, so why not give the new one a chance? It’s not great, but it’s not bad.

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About Glenn Walker

Glenn Walker is a professional writer, and editor-in-chief and contributing writer at Biff Bam Pop!. A blogger, podcaster, and reviewer of pop culture in all its forms, he's done stints in radio, journalism and video retail. Ask him anything about movies, television, music, or especially comics or French fries, and you’ll be hard pressed to stump him or shut him up.

Posted on October 21, 2016, in 31 Days Of Horror, Film, Glenn Walker, Halloween and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great Review! Totally agree. I thought Frank N Furter was too much Beyonce and not enough Cabert. As Magenta is my Rocky dream roll, I was disappointed in the performance, but I thought Columbia was the best part of the show. I love Victoria Justice, but I wasn’t sure she was entirely right for Janet. I thought she came out too strong and sexy from the start and the best part of Janet is her ethereal, innocent, naivety. With that all said, it was still fun to dance around in my living room to all of the songs.

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