The History of the Rocky Horror Picture Show

October is one of the best times of the year. I look forward to Halloween night spent at The Rocky Horror Picture Show downtown every year. If you haven’t been to The Rocky Horror Picture Show here in Toronto, it’s definitely something you should check out! The night is full of singing, dancing, watching the movie, calling out and responding to the movie, and, of course, costumes.

Out of curiosity, I decided to delve deeper into the history of The Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. Source via Giphy


The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a campy “trash” film full of sexual exploration and self-acceptance. The film premiered in 1975 in Los Angeles, and after its release, it was quickly forgotten about. Due to small audiences at its release, all other screenings around the US were cancelled, including the release in New York on Halloween night. With all the opening nights cancelled, it had seemed the film was a dud. However, a young executive at 20th Century Fox decided to screen the movie as a midnight madness screening in New York on April Fools 1976.


After that moment, The Rocky Horror Picture Show transformed in the past four decades from a failed musical to “ underground phenomenon, to rebellious coming-of-age ritual to mainstream icon, all thanks to the hardcore fans who flocked to its late-night showings” (Katharine).


The Rocky Horror Show was first born in 1973 during the punk revolution, and was later reincarnated by Jim Sharman into The Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1975. It is currently the longest running movie in history (40+ years), and is kept alive by its immersive fan based screenings, costume parties and “unadulterated idolatry of weirdness”.


The Rocky Horror Picture Show was first created to embody all that’s unacceptanced and outside of the mainstream, but has now become a huge crowd pleaser that’s celebrated year round at midnight screenings where fans dress up, sing, dance, respond to the lines and throw props in the air.

Source via Giphy


The film’s “counter cultural traditions” started when a group of regulars at the screenings made a weekly trip to New York’s Waverly Theater where the film was being screened. The group sat in the first row of the theatre, where they would scream for their favorite characters, boo villains, and tell jokes that they would later be repeated at future screenings. These jokes and responses formed into a kind of “audience script”, which audiences still recite today. People began showing up to screenings in costumes after theatres began letting people in for free if they were dressed up.


Rocky Horror midnight screenings started popping up all around the US through word of mouth from the attendees of the New York based spectacle. With the increase in the fan base and the more screenings around the US, the movie’s song “Time Warp” began being played at school dances until people who had never seen the movie could sing along.


Inspired by the energetic filmgoers, a shadow cast began performing the musical on a stage below the screen as midnight screenings became more popular. The first shadow cast appeared at a screening in New Orleans. The shadow cast transform every screening into a mini dance party and, with time, other Rocky Horror traditions were born, such as newcomers (referred to as “virgins”) having to parade around with a red V on their foreheads drawn on with red lipstick.


It seemed that The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s theme of inclusivity was one that spoke to large audiences. The inclusivity of the experience as well as the immersivity resulted in the growing population of Rocky Horror screenings.

Source via Giphy


Going to a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening is not just about the film’s content, but also about the sense of community you feel at the screenings, the costume contest, the support from people who love the same thing as you, and the encouragement that makes you feel comfortable in your skin and closer to people on a vulnerable and real level. No one censors who they are at a screening. It’s a celebration of the fluidity of gender and sexuality, as well as a celebration of self proclamation and embracing one’s own weirdness.


This Halloween I encourage you to go to a screening. Feel the love of the community, and be completely yourself.