The genre and gender-defying film The Rocky Horror Picture Show is 40 this year, but still looking lovely. In honour of its birthday, here are 40 facts you may not know about the ultimate cult classic.
1. The film was based on a stage production
Richard O’Brien (who you may know as the presenter of ’90s game show The Crystal Maze) originally wrote a musical called The Rocky Horror Show for the stage while he was unemployed. Well-known Australian theatre director Jim Sharman (who went on to direct the film adaptation) agreed to direct the first performances above the Royal Court Theatre in London.
2. The writer and director first worked together on Jesus Christ Superstar
You might be wondering how the then unemployed actor Richard O’Brien came to know successful theatre director Jim Sharman in the first place, and the answer is that the two met when Sharman cast O’Brien as a leper in a stage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. You can’t really get less Rocky Horror than that.
3. Most of the original stage cast appeared in the movie version
Tim Curry, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn and Nell Campbell all appeared in the original stage production of Rocky Horror and went on to star in the film.
4. The film was shot in less than two months
According to O’Brien, the whole shoot took just six weeks and took place in the middle of winter.
5. Frank N Furter’s castle is located in Berkshire
Most of the filming took place on a somewhat derelict country estate called Oakley Court in Windsor, close to Bray Studios. Previously used as the setting for various Hammer Horror films including The Brides of Dracula (1962) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966), Oakley Court is now a luxury hotel.
6. The castle was a cold, wet and miserable set
Barry Bostwick, who played the bumbling Brad Majors, revealed in an interview that Oakley Court was cold, damp and had no working toilets for the cast to use. According to Bostwick, he and his fellow actors were “always wet” during filming because of the leaky roof.
7. The famous disembodied lips at the beginning of the film belonged to Patricia Quinn…
Quinn (who plays Magenta) mimed along to a recording of O’Brien singing the opening song ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature’ for Rocky Horror‘s opening scene. Rumour has it that this arrangement was a compromise designed to keep Quinn happy as she was not allowed to perform the vocals herself.
8. … but model Lorelei Shark provided the mouth on the movie’s iconic poster
You might think that Quinn’s lips were also used for the now instantly recognisable Rocky Horror promo poster, but in fact the popular ’70s model Lorelei Shark provided the sultry pout in question.
9. Mick Jagger wanted to play Frank
The Rolling Stones singer reportedly asked to play Dr Frank N Furter in the film adaptation after seeing the stage production but – we’re pleased to say – Tim Curry kept a hold of the part.
10. The musical’s working title was ‘They Came From Denton High’
This somewhat less majestic name was wisely scrapped before previews of The Rocky Horror Show musical began in London.
11. Susan Sarandon came down with pneumonia during filming
Well, to be honest, some of her colleagues thought it might just have been a bad cold, but by all accounts Sarandon (AKA Janet) was not at all well during the filming of the floor show and pool scenes near the end of Rocky Horror – purely because the set was so cold and damp. According to O’Brien she was “shaking with fever” and “should have been under medical supervision”, but refused to stop working.
12. It wasn’t an instant hit
Despite Rocky Horror‘s cult following now, when it was first released back in 1975 it was virtually a universal flop. It wasn’t until cinemas began showing the movie at midnight screenings that it became popular.
13. There was an (even more wacky) ’80s follow up featuring Brad and Janet
O’Brien and Sharman collaborated again on 1981 film Shock Treatment which – although not a direct sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show – featured the characters of Brad and Janet and saw the majority of the principal Rocky Horror cast return, minus Tim Curry. Although not as popular as Rocky Horror, the bonkers Shock Treatment has gained its own cult following and – in an enjoyable twist – O’Brien has decided to adapt it for the stage. The production will premiere in London this spring.
14. O’Brien wrote a direct sequel to Rocky Horror in the ’90s
The film was to be called Revenge of the Old Queen and bootleg copies of the script can be found online, but it now seems unlikely that the movie will ever be made. In the script characters directly reference The Rocky Horror Picture Show, revealing that the plot was actually a true story and aliens from the planet Transsexual in the galaxy Transylvania are actually walking among normal humans on earth.
15. Some Hammer Horror props were re-used in the film
As well as shooting on an old Hammer Horror set, some props used in Rocky Horror were borrowed directly from those iconic films. The tank that Rocky is born from – as well as the dummy swathed in bandages inside it – both originally appeared in 1958 Hammer Horror The Revenge of Frankenstein which was also filmed at Bray Studios.
16. Brad and Janet weren’t meant to be American
20th Century Fox insisted that some American actors should feature in the film, meaning that the Brits who played Brad and Janet on stage were replaced by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon.
17. Steve Martin could have played Brad
Apparently comedy legend Steve Martin auditioned for the part of Brad Majors, but was beaten by Barry Bostwick because of Bostwick’s past success as the first Danny Zuko in the original stage production of Grease. We can’t help but think Brad would have been a lot funnier if Steve had been cast, though…
18. It has the longest-running theatrical release in history
Shaky start aside, The Rocky Horror Show has gone on to become one of the most popular movies in cinema history. 20th Century Fox have never pulled it from theatrical release and it has been shown in cinemas across the world constantly since 1975.
19. O’Brien searched London gyms for the perfect Rocky
In a 1992 interview Tim Curry revealed that he first heard about the Rocky Horror stage show after bumping into Richard O’Brien on the streets of London. Supposedly O’Brien had been visiting various gyms across the city in search of “a muscleman who could sing” to play the part of Rocky.
20. Rocky’s singing was dubbed
Ironically, English actor (and muscleman) Peter Hinwood who went on to portray Rocky in the movie couldn’t sing – or act, really – and his character’s songs were dubbed by Australian singer Trevor White. Apparently Rocky’s lines were cut down significantly because Hinwood couldn’t deliver them believably. In an interview in 2000 he confirmed that he gave up acting to become an antiques dealer because he realised he couldn’t act and hated watching himself on screen.
21. Brad and Janet were going out during filming
In 2013 O’Brien let slip that Bostwick and Sarandon were actually dating during the filming of Rocky Horror. We can’t confirm whether or not this true because it hasn’t been mentioned by any other member of the cast or crew in any other interviews. It’s possible that even Bostwick and Sarandon didn’t know they were an item at the time, but O’Brien was the gatekeeper of the Crystal Maze, so we’re going to trust him on this one.
22. The costume budget was $1,600 (around £1,060)
Considering the number of elaborate costumes required, we think designer Sue Blane did a pretty good job of budgeting.
23. A live fan cast performance tradition began at screenings in 1976 and is still going strong today
A year after the film’s release various regular performance groups began to appear at screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show across the USA. The actors would dress like their chosen character from the film and act out the story at the front of the cinema as the film played. This type of performance has become a big and important part of the Rocky Horror cult tradition.
24. There’s a set participation guide for these screenings (and it’s extensive)
It is also customary for the audience members at these interactive film screenings to take part in “callbacks” throughout. A quick Google search will give you a mindbogglingly long list of appropriate – but actually extremely inappropriate – retorts to shout after certain lines in Rocky Horror. There are also certain props that the audience can bring along – for example, a party hat to put on at the same time as Dr Frank to wish Rocky a happy birthday. And woe betide anyone who strays from the script.
25. The film and its following is often referenced in pop culture
A few recent examples that you might remember include the special Rocky Horror episode of TV show Glee, and the book (and film) The Perks of Being A Wallflower. The latter directly references the live fan cast performance tradition, when a group of high school kids form their own Rocky Horror acting troupe.
26. You can attend various regular Rocky Horror conventions
A huge 40th anniversary celebration is coming up in September this year, but in the past conventions like El Fishnet Fiesta in Arizona have enticed thousands of Rocky Horror fans.
27. It was Tim Curry’s first feature film
Despite his leading role and commanding performance in the movie, Tim Curry had never appeared in a film before Rocky Horror. Curry trained as a stage actor and appeared in a few TV shows (mostly in small bit-parts) but made the crossover into film thanks to Rocky Horror.
28. The Museum Lichtspiele cinema in Munich has shown the film every week since June 1977
And they are very proud of the fact. If you happen to be in the area you can head along to the cinema to catch a screening of Rocky Horror every Friday and Saturday night at 11pm.
29. Frank N Furter nearly had a German accent
In a TV interview Tim Curry explained that he originally intended to give Frank a typical ‘mad scientist’ German accent, but eventually ended up mimicking a very posh lady he once noticed on the bus to create the character’s extremely proper English voice.
30. Peter Hinwood auctioned his gold hot pants for $1,000
Hinwood discovered Rocky’s signature tiny gold hot pants in his home in the early ’90s and sold them at auction. Of course, it was Hard Rock Café who snapped them up to add to their memorabilia collection.
31. David Bowie’s makeup artist was hired for the film
Pierre La Roche – the man who created David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust look as well as the iconic Aladdin Sane make-up – was brought on board to create the make-up looks for the Rocky Horror cast, particularly Frank N Furter. However, La Roche may have been too slow for Tim Curry, who supposedly learned how to apply his own make-up on set in order to save time.
32. Before Brad and Janet’s car breaks down they’re listening to Richard Nixon’s resignation speech on the radio
Although the film’s narrator states that Brad and Janet break down close to Frank N Furter’s castle on a November evening, the couple are listening to former US President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech on their car radio – an event which took place in August 1974. In the past Richard O’Brien has explained away this continuity error – with his tongue firmly in his cheek – by revealing that Brad had recorded Nixon’s speech and liked to listen to it regularly.
33. Meat Loaf was the only actor who could do Eddie’s song justice
Meat Loaf was brought on board for the film after appearing as both Eddie and Dr Everett Scott in the original Los Angeles stage production. Apparently O’Brien was concerned that the American singer would be unable to do Eddie’s fast-paced song ‘Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul’ justice, as the actor who played Eddie in the London stage show had struggled. There was no need to worry though – Meat Loaf nailed it, of course.
34. The costumes inspired punk rock fashion
Despite the fact that designer Sue Blane admitted to doing no research whatsoever before creating the Rocky Horror costumes, her work went on to inspire a whole new style of dressing. Blane is credited with starting trends such as brightly coloured hair and ripped fishnet tights that became a big part of punk rock fashion.
35. Vincent Price was rumoured to be interested in the project
The production team desperately wanted Vincent Price to appear as the film’s narrator, but due to scheduling conflicts the horror legend was unable to accept the role. According to O’Brien, Price was sitting in the audience on the opening night of the Rocky Horror stage show, so we’re guessing he really was a fan.
36. Brad and Janet inflict pain on each other onscreen
Those of you with a keen eye may be able to spot Sarandon’s grimace as Bostwick slams his fists on the table during the dinner scene and accidentally hits her hand. Don’t worry though, she gets him back by standing on his foot with a stiletto heel during the floorshow – you can also clearly see his pained reaction to this in the film.
37. Frank N Furter was (quite fittingly) a supporter of gay rights
In the lab scene Dr Frank dons a green outfit somewhere between a dress and a surgical gown. The pink triangle on his chest was originally used by the Nazis to easily identify homosexual prisoners in concentration camps, but was later reclaimed and adopted as a symbol of gay rights.
38. When Frank whips off the table cloth in the gruesome dinner scene, only Tim Curry knew what was underneath
Years after the film was made and released O’Brien admitted that only Sharman and Curry knew that Eddie’s gory remains would be hidden under the table cloth. Sharman was a fan of playing pranks on set, and wanted a natural horrified reaction from his cast in this case.
39. Meat Loaf couldn’t actually ride a motorcycle
A stunt double was used in the far away shots of Eddie riding his motorcycle around Frank’s lab, and in the close ups Meat Loaf is actually being pushed in a wheelchair to simulate the movement of his bike.
40. Tim Curry, Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn cameo in the opening scene
Remember the minister and old caretakers in the opening wedding scene? If you look more closely you’ll notice that those characters are actually played by Curry, O’Brien and Quinn (AKA Frank, Riff Raff and Magenta).
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