The Rocky Horror Picture Show and four decades of queer sci fi punk

Originally published at:

2015 was the fortieth consecutive year that The Rocky Horror Picture Show has played in theaters, luring out the misfits and punks and queers and oddballs. We’re now seeing the third generation of misfits coming up in the world and dancing in the aisles to “The Time Warp,” while Fox network readies to premier the made-for-TV remake on October 20th. Rocky Horror is more than a fan phenomenon; it’s a bizarre yet empowering film that shows us the intersection of queer, working class, and geek cultures, although you don’t have to be any of the previous to enjoy the hell out of it.


Hells yeah!


So can I use your phone?

One of the most interesting, and also bittersweet, aspects of RHPS for me is that moment when Riff Raff and Magenta burst in. “Frank N. Furter, it’s all over! Your mission is a failure, your lifestyle’s too extreme!”

That’s when it all comes crashing down, first figuratively then literally. What was Frank’s mission? Presumably to convert the straights–two at a time. The fact that Riff Raff is played by Richard O’Brien, the original author, is telling. He seems very prescient. He knew the new sexual liberation wouldn’t last and that we’d be left “some insects called the human race”, lost and without meaning.

And yet there’s a note of hope. Even though the castle and servants take off to a distant planet, leaving Brad, Janet, and Doctor Scott emotionally and physically wrecked our world will do The Time Warp again. And there’ll be another late night double feature to go to. Glam didn’t last but Rocky Horror has.

The sequel Shock Treatment seems pretty prescient too with its take on the hollowness of reality TV before reality TV even before there was reality TV. But it ends on a hopeful note too: The sun never sets on those that ride into it.


May it last 400 years.

I’ll be there to celebrate.


I’ve never truly enjoyed the shouting at the movie while watching it. Some lines are definitely funny and amusing but the majority of it ends up being distracting.

The show is pretty incredible though, and the whole production being put on with very little budget makes it very relateable. That’s definitely the real strength of it… i would never imagine being on stage for Wicked and performing but RHPS dares you and entices you to jump in and enjoy yourself.

Also i wouldn’t call Frank bisexual. He’s an alien after all, i’d say he’s pansexual ;D


Punk? It’s just a brand name now, isn’t it?


I had a very similar experience with the show. My friends took me to see it at a midnight showing. This is before internet, and before being able to get it on tape. It was the first gender bending example I had ever seen. I didn’t have the vocabulary to know I was transgender then, but damn it I didn’t recognize something in Frank.

I also have to add, I was on shrooms and LSD combined at the time, so my experience might have been extremely biased. I did become a fan and saw it at the Neptune in Seattle yearly for a bit.


Magenta, "How sentimental."
Riff Raff, “And also presumptuous of you.” :wink:


“I’m going home” always brings a tear to my eye, and, gosh, Tim Curry’s got a set of lungs on him.


In Birmingham, AL in the late '80s, TRHPS was a safe space for us freaks and weirdos who were either not old enough for the bar scene, or disinclined towards it. Over the span of a few years of Friday and Saturday nights, I figure I saw it in the neighborhood of 100 times. For those of us who grew up in the repressive South, it was a validating and formative experience which extended beyond gender identification issues and into a more general broad-minded approach to the world. And while it was always entertaining to observe the squirming of the occasional square who would wander in, it was even more gratifying when they came back the following week for seconds.


My first experience was watching an illegal bootleg tape at a science fiction convention. I like to start the story with “When I was fifteen a strange man invited me into a hotel room and I had an experience that’s affected me ever since.”

The guy doing the screening was the only person in the room doing the call outs which got annoying–especially since I had no idea that was part of the experience.

When I saw it in the theater there was fun in everyone saying the call outs and lines together. We didn’t belong anywhere else but for a couple of hours we had togetherness.

The last time I went everybody was yelling different things and I couldn’t even hear the movie. That really ruined it.


That’s kind of what annoys me is that the callouts are different and it’s just too much, one time i made the mistake of listening to the DVD with the audience interaction track turned on. It was non-stop yelling, sounded like a riot mix tape.

My first experience watching it was by myself. I was in my early 20’s and a friend was going to a live show and i expressed interest in going, she asked me if i had ever seen it and i said no so that was my homework before i went. I was instantly hooked and rewatched it non-stop for a week until i got to go in drag to a fairly large showing in an outside stage at a casino in Reno. The live show and the crowd was amazing :slight_smile: I’m glad i took pictures of it, to this day it’s the best showing i’ve been to.


“I’m Going Home” gives me chills every time i watch that scene, and not ashamed to say it’s brought me to tears before. Tim Curry’s performance of that number is absolutely inspired.


Growing up as a trans girl, I was bullied, and beaten unconscious, and taught to hate myself.

At some point I know I watched Rocky Horror, and I know I hated it, and I blotted out most of what happened in it.

I can’t give a detailed critique, but I am damn sure Rocky Horror taught me to hate myself even more.


I took that observation to be spot-on. As @Elmer said, going to Rocky was something that those of us too young for the bars could do, and the punk scene was definitely representing at the theatre @SpunkyTWS and I went to. I remember a halloween showing; during the part when the camera zooms into an extreme close-up of The Criminologist, the audience starts chanting “fuck that chin!” Usually a cast member uses their arms to make a shadowpuppet to do just that into the cleft of his chin. That halloween, a kid pogo’d his mohawk in there instead. It was one of the most punk rock things I’ve ever seen.


Cinema South, right? I wasn’t there the night a drunk couple fell through the screen nor was I ever there on a night when any of the rolls of toilet paper thrown during the dinner scene were set on fire. I kind of feel like I missed out.

The Franklin Theater was much nicer, really, and the gang would stick around for at least an hour after the movie to chat.

Once on the way home from a screening there my friend’s car ran out of gas at the ramp for Exit 69.


we’ve talked about this before
. Never knew about Cinema South. I thought Franklin was the only game in town in Middle TN.


This was my experience too, definitely.

I posted something similar earlier, but weirdly all of my posts were removed.

1 Like

When I was in high school in Dallas the late 1970s, we used to go to see Rocky Horror every Saturday midnight. It was at Rocky Horror that the queers, mostly closeted and those who were to become the punks first came together.

Many younger queers these days think that older gay white men are clueless on trans issues. Well, we grew up with RHPS, The Kinks Lola, David Bowie, Lou Reed Walk on the Wild Side, The Sweet, and that was only in the 1970s. In the 1980s we had Peter Burns and Boy George.

Genderqueer freaks have been around for some time. New to you, perhaps?


My experience with Rocky Horror is a bit different than most. I grew up (LOL) an aficionado of monster movies, cult films, and weirdness of all sorts. In the VHS days, international tape and disc formats coupled with licensing problems made easy access to weird cinema more problematic than it is today. A lot of obscure things were available only on laserdisc in Japan, which were expensive to buy, or could be had duped onto VHS for about $20. So there was a robust market for bootlegged movies which would otherwise not be available.

The rarest of my movies were ones which were not released for home use anywhere, but sometimes we’d get a professional telecine transfer from a collector. In about 1985 I was able to finally buy a great tape transfer of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, years before an official release. So instead of going out to an indie cinema, I usually brought it to friend’s houses and parties, subverting weekend movie nights of teens over several towns for years. Eventually I felt I had watched it too many times, so I semi-retired it until my video collection was liberated in my 20s.

It did not have a direct effect upon my feelings of sexuality or identity, apart from being happy to know that there were other freaks out there enjoying weird things. But indirectly I think it was a good influence with its relative optimism and tolerance compared to more exploitive films which dealt with kink themes. Watching it again a few years back for the first time in 15 years or so, I like it even more than I did before. Shock Treatment I saw in my 30s and thought was brilliant as well.