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FACE OFF: Is Rocky Horror Picture Show overrated or a hallowed classic?

Columnist Haley Pote and Opinion Editor Ben Solis square off about Halloween's greatest cult film


Alpha Psi Omega fraternity performs The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Oct. 28 at the Broadway Theatre.

POINT: ‘Rocky Horror’ is a cultural experience everyone should have on Halloween

Let’s do the Time Warp again – and again, and again.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is a cult classic made before our time, but it has transcended generations and continues to win over younger audiences that take delight in the oddity of its spectacle.

I’ve been obsessed with “Rocky Horror” since I was introduced to it back in high school. Maybe it was Tim Curry prancing around in fishnets, or maybe it was the knowledge of the huge fan-base that stretched across multiple decades. Either way, I was immediately drawn in to this weird little world.

Each year, I go to the Broadway Theatre in downtown Mount Pleasant to watch the movie be brought to life by performers who love it just as much as I do.

Now, there are skeptics like my editor who, for one reason or another, cannot grasp the bizarre extravagance that is so deeply rooted in the film and the accompanying culture. Whether or not the movie follows a plot is debatable, and of course, standard morals are called into question.

Overall, the quality of the movie is often panned.

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is not simply a movie, it’s an experience. Expectations are to be left at the door, you’re allowed to let your freak flag fly, and that’s the beauty of it.

It’s a wild ride from beginning to end, even more so when it’s seen live. The actors, dressed in confidence – and not much else – use the audio track of the movie to exaggerate and make the experience theatrical, all the while staying in character despite the audience’s expected harassment.

Not content to simply sit still and be quiet, viewers take on a role of their own, shouting things in response to what’s happening on screen.

“Rocky Horror” is tradition at this point. “Call outs,” as they’re referred to, come from an invisible script that the attendees all seem to know from years of “Rocky Horror performances. This organized form of audience participation creates a feeling of community and kinship.

It’s a mutual understanding among the audience. An understanding between people who enjoy this peculiar brand of atypical entertainment.

For a few hours, societal norms are turned upside down, temporarily suspending any rules that dictate public decorum. Characters – and audience members – dress in drag, alternative fashion and straight-up lingerie.

You get to participate in the chaos surrounded by people who just want to do the same. We’re all here to enjoy the absurdity of it all without judgement.

It reminds me of a phrase spoken by Dr. Frank N. Furter: “Don’t dream it, be it.”

COUNTERPOINT: The ‘Picture Show’ is an overrated relic of ’70s retro-trash

Each year on Halloween weekend, college students, hip teens, theater nerds and aging Baby Boomers turn out to local playhouses to watch the 1975 film version of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” or some bastardized theatrical version of the original work.

Such is the case with our local rendition at the Broadway Theatre in downtown Mount Pleasant.

My colleagues can hem and haw about how great “Rocky” is, or how the movie is OK but the real magic is seeing it live, but I’ll humbly pass. After watching the movie on and off for decades, I can’t shake the opinion that “Rocky Horror” is an overrated relic of 1970s horror camp and rock opera counter-culture.

No one wants to admit it, but the movie and subsequent retellings are nothing more than decrepit pieces of recycled retro trash that should not have lasted past the 1990s.

Now let me be clear: I don’t hate “Rocky,” I just think its mass appeal has worn out its underground cult credibility. I can imagine that “Rocky” was perfect for its era, when drug use and sexual liberation were at an all-time high. It was subversive, tantalizing and ripped right from Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” playbook.

I do believe it stands with the likes of The Who’s “Tommy” or “Jesus Christ: Superstar” in the great pantheon of rock operas. Yet unlike those films, the horror show keeps popping up, recirculated and repackaged as another goofy moment for misguided self-expression.

My beef is more pointed at the people who show up than it is with the movie itself. Its heavy impact on queer and drug culture has completely waned, and that’s due in part to the show’s new majority “normie” audience.

We’re talking about people who publicly scoff at punks, goths and other freaks with their friends over lunch at Panera. People who listen to Taylor Swift, and show tunes, and maybe that one Jimmy Buffett tune because that’s retro too, right?

Then, on Halloween, the same thrill seeking little goody two-shoes show up to “Rocky,” barely dressed and in dark makeup, praising the one day they get to let their freak flags fly. It insults a celebration of the perverse for the sake of a good time and a blast to the past.

Modern “Rocky Horror” fans are the same cats who buy Pink Floyd t-shirts after hearing one song off of “The Wall” and are suddenly obsessed with art rock. So don’t mind me if I stay at home on Halloween and try to avoid “Rocky Horror” fans at all costs.

If I want to do something spooky retro on Samhain, I’ll put on my Misfits records and watch a marathon of “Dark Shadows.” Anything from that era is better than another three-day stand of “Rocky Horror.”


About Ben Solis

Ben Solis is the Managing Editor of Central Michigan Life. He has served as a city and university ...

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