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A First Timer’s Guide To ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 musical that has garnered a loyal and enthusiastic fanbase despite the film’s initial failure. Read on to learn the history of this unique cult classic, and how you can join in the fun!

What is The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

Originally produced on stage and titled The Rocky Horror Show, this musical first ran on London’s West End before making its way to Los Angeles and Broadway and becoming a film titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The plot, which is objectively minimal, follows an innocent young couple, Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, whose car breaks down on a dark and stormy night. The two stumble upon a castle and soon meet a mad scientist and self-described “sweet transvestite,” Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and his cabal of strange and unusual friends and enemies.  

Although the film flopped, it gained a cult-like status in 1976 once audiences began to participate in showtime rituals.

For decades, Rocky Horror has acted as a creative outlet and place of community for members of the LGBTQ community and other groups viewed as societal outcasts. Its iconic campiness and unique aesthetic keeps the film a staple in theaters. Rocky Horror is now coming up on its 48th anniversary, making it the longest-running theatrical release of all time. 

What Do I Wear?

Anything black or red, corsets, fishnets, boots and heels are a must. Leather or velvet items, gloves, boas, thigh-highs and garters are also common accessories. Generally, the goal of a Rocky Horror outfit is to wear as little as possible. 

A red lip is also an essential, in homage to the iconic opening credits of the film, in which a pair of disembodied red lips sing “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” which introduces the audience to the plot of the film.

What Should I Expect?

Within the Rocky Horror community, first-timers are (somewhat) affectionately known as “virgins.” And to those who have only seen the movie on TV or at home, you’re not off the hook, as the title applies to anyone who hasn’t attended a screening with audience participation. 

Often, the more experienced friends of virgins will draw a “V” in red lipstick on their chest or forehead to identify them. Sometimes, virgins participate in pre-show rituals or are called up to the front of the theater to participate during the movie. 

Many shows feature a shadow cast, which consists of a group of performers who dress as the characters from the movie and silently lip sync and perform the actions occurring on screen at the front of the movie theater.

How Do I Participate?

The key to the Rocky Horror experience is the audience participation. Throughout the movie, expect to hear lots of shouting from the audience. While there’s a catalog of classic call-outs that most fans will know, it’s not uncommon to hear improvised ones as well. 

Read an extensive list of call-outs here.

Props are also common, but not required. Popular choices include rice, rubber gloves, playing cards, and toilet paper. 

Don’t forget to stand up and dance during the Time Warp!

Where Can I See It?

The local Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline has multiple midnight showings a year as a part of its “After Midnite” programming. Check out upcoming screenings here.

Those interested in seeing a full showing complete with a shadow cast will have to travel a bit farther to the AMC Boston Common multiplex, where fans can see Boston’s “FullBodyCast” perform every Saturday at 9:30.

Have you seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

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Ruby Voge is a member of the writing team at Her Campus BU. This is her first semester with HCBU. She is a junior transfer student originally from Princeton, NJ, majoring in journalism. Her favorite topics to cover are movies, music, history, and everything else pop culture! Ruby transferred from American University after her freshman year, where she started out as a sociology major. Outside of HerCampus, Ruby is a features writer for the Daily Free Press, an entertainment writer for WTBU news, a music writer for The BU Buzz, and a DJ in Training for the WTBU show 2Reel. In her free time, Ruby loves baking, collecting Joni Mitchell records, writing reviews on Letterboxd, and the New York Times mini crossword. She is an expert on espresso drinks, Hugh Grant rom-coms, and buying more books than she has time to read. Her favorite spots in the BU area are Clear Flour bakery in Brookline and the Coolidge Corner Theatre.