Why The Rocky Horror Picture Show Still Matters

I remember the first time I saw Jim Sharman’s 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was thirteen at a friend’s Halloween party when we all piled on the couch to watch a movie she assured us we’d love (but only after it weirded us out). Immediately, my cynical middle-school self was sucked into the musical’s campy, glitzy world with their songs being stuck in my head for weeks. Though I may not have realized it at the time, Rocky Horror is more than just a Halloween classic, it contains important and radical ideas of gender expression, feminism and sexual liberation that continue to be relevant today.

 

 

            For those unfamiliar with the musical, in brief, Rocky Horror follows engaged couple Brad and Janet on their wacky stay at Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s secluded mansion. The so-called “sweet transvestite,” Frank-N-Furter, opens the formerly conservative couple’s eyes to his ways of glamour, seduction and sexual freedom. As their stay gets longer, Brad and Janet’s barriers slowly start breaking down as they follow the “Transylvanian” way of freedom.

 

            Through its subversive theme and plot, The Rocky Horror Picture Show became a cult, underground success after it initially flopped in the box office. This cult popularity was largely due to a large queer following. The musical has been a touchstone for lgbt+ people around the world. Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s character is unapologetically queer and gender non-conforming. He struts around in a burlesque-style costume and even creates Rocky, a Frankenstein-type man, as “eye candy” for himself. His high glamour and androgynous-ness startles Brad and Janet at the beginning of the film, yet it is never used as a joke or seen as something that needs to be toned down, which is common in other queer media representations. Frank-N-Furter is an (albeit wacky) image to queer youth that they don’t have to hide and they should celebrate their identity without worry of how others may view them.

 

 

            The second way Rocky Horror broke boundaries is with its approach to sexuality and pleasure. Released in 1975, this movie was right on the tails of the 1960s sexual revolution and the influence is potent in the plot of the movie. Brad and Janet’s relationship is used in the film to heavily questions notions of marriage and monogamy.

 

            “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me” is a ridiculously catchy song that comes about halfway through the musical. In it, Janet realizes she doesn’t need to subscribe to the notions of sexuality society has placed upon her as a woman. From there she embraces her desire and expresses it through song to many different characters throughout the mansion. Janet serves as an important model for women who feel enclosed by expectations put upon them, showing that by unlearning these stereotypes, you can achieve liberation.

 

 

            Sure, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is campy and over the top. It’s a lot to handle on the first watch, but there’s a reason it’s such a classic. To this day, around Halloween, theaters everyone pack with avid fans excited to dress up, sing along and throw things at the stage during a screening of the movie or production. The film is a cultural icon that I don’t see going away any time soon.

 

The movie so important to so many people because it pushed the boundaries on gender expression and critiques how society labels people. It asks these important questions in a thrilling, fun-loving way few movies have done since. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cult classic not for the quality of its filmmaking, but for the freedom it allows views. Everyone is allowed to come as they are, and leave more confident in themselves. The best way to sum it up is in the words of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, “Don’t dream it, be it.”