I have been asked repeatedly about this remake of Rocky Horror since the project was first announced back in the Spring. My Rocky credentials are a mile long: eleven years of going to live shows, five years of performing with local shadow cast, Transylvanian Lip Treatment, and a guest performance with the Hobart cast, Help Me Mommy. Rocky Horror is truly one of my favorite obsessions.
So I guess it only makes sense that I be asked to review this for Omnibus Journal.
First, let’s get one thing out of the way, this film does not come close the original 1975 movie, and if you try to see it that way, you will be disappointed. The original is iconic, an intangible part of American queer culture and the wider counterculture at large, and nothing can touch that.
The best way to watch this version—and the way I watched it—was as another adaptation of the original stage musical. The original musical has basically run continuously since its 1973 debut in various incarnations all over the world. Thousands of actors have stepped into the roles of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Dr. Scott, Brad Majors, Janet Weiss, and all our favorite Transylvanians.
Seen through those kinds of eyes, the film becomes quite enjoyable as you notice the little quirks and changes throughout the production. One of the most notable differences in the early part of the show is the shift in the Transylvanians; instead of being presented as a burlesque of high-class party goers, they are transformed into punk rockers getting a rush of madness at this strange castle. The castle itself has been transformed and now looks like an old abandoned movie theater, showing homage to the roots of Rocky Horror.
Speaking of roots, how does the new cast measure up to the legendary rock ‘n’ roll romp? Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter was one of the more controversial casting choices, as many couldn’t imagine a woman stepping into Tim Curry’s high-heels. But Cox comes through surprisingly strong; the action is all her face, her facial expressions capture the intensity, horniness, and campiness of America’s favorite transvestite mad scientist.
With Frank’s servants, Reeve Carney portrays Riff-Raff and Christina Milian plays Magenta, and from the original film, the roles are somewhat reversed with Magenta taking more of a dominant role, seemingly calling the shots for her handyman brother.
One of the best reimagined characters was Columbia, played by Annaleigh Ashford. Rather than the hyper glammed up groupie from the original, Ashford’s Columbia is a lollypop sucking raver, over-hyper and somewhat oblivious to what’s going on around her. It provides a great comic foil for both the anti-hero Frank and the heroes Brad and Janet.
The only major casting failure in my view was Adam Lambert as Eddie. While the attire was appropriately rocking and greasy, Lambert lacks the grit in his voice and movements to play a convincing biker creature.
Of course, Rocky enthusiasts will be thrilled to see the return of Tim Curry, although he plays the Criminologist, the Man With No Fucking Neck in this production. Sadly, the role of the Criminologist is reduced in this version, I’m guessing it’s due to Curry’s recent health problems. But it is nice to see an appearance from the man who became the face of Rocky Horror back in its original 1973 run.
What about the songs? This is a rock ‘n’ roll musical right? The songs are honestly kind of mixed for me; I loved the version of “Science Fiction Double Feature”, done in a more upbeat style and with the traditional usherette as in the original stage musical. The floor show sequence was likewise, done in a completely ridiculous over-the-top style, in the spirit of the original. But some of the songs fell a little flat. The performance of “Super Heroes” at the end felt too stiff, and as I said, Eddie’s performance of “Hot Patootie” was too polished and clean for my taste.
As a Rocky junkie, two minor things I have to mention that this production lacked was a strut kick from Cox during the reprise of “The Charles Atlas Song” and the lack of elbow sex between Riff and Magenta (if you don’t know what elbow sex is, watch the original).
I know one of the major concerns for Rocky freaks was how this production would be tamed down for television; we all remember the horrible watering down of it when Glee did a Rocky Horror episode. The production kept most of the raw sexuality of the show intact with only minor editing. Frank sings “mind trick” instead of “mind fuck” in “Planet Schmanet Janet” and of course, Columbia doesn’t pop her nipples out during the floor show. The only other editing I noticed was the way Eddie’s death is played out: he’s thrown out of the window instead of being butchered with a pick-axe, and during the dinner scene, his corpse wasn’t shown mutilated.
So what is the final summation here? I’ll be honest, while I expected to go into a Lewis Black tirade while watching this, once I started seeing it as a new production of the original musical, it was quite enjoyable. I wouldn’t recommend it for Rocky Virgins, you should still go see the original film at a midnight show and immerse yourself in the freaky culture surrounding it. But for those of us who know Rocky inside and out, this production is a refreshing reminder that the lights have not yet gone down on our beloved Late Night Double Feature Picture Show.
Featured image courtesy of Steve Wilkie/FOX.