While I personally cannot be so wonderfully described as a “sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania,” I sure wouldn’t mind. Oct. 17 marked the first of three midnight showings of the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Ritz at the Bourse theater in Old City.
A quick overview for those not yet inducted in the ways of “Rocky Horror:” a picture-perfect wholesome couple from rural America gets lost in a night drive and seeks refuge at a quintessentially spooky castle, lightning and all. From there it’s glitter, Meatloaf (both the food and the musician) and fishnet tights on the shockingly sexy legs of Tim Curry. But that’s just on the silver screen; the audience is what makes this record-breaking theatrical release so special. In the sold-out theater you can throw confetti and toilet paper, shout an unending stream of cleverly timed precursors to dialogue, look out onto a sea of viewers with newspapers over their head, and oh, be singled out as a “Rocky Horror” virgin and maybe even sat on by a live actor — yes, there’s a live performance happening as well.
The Transylvanian Nipple Production theater company put on an impeccable performance, amplifying the actions of the actors on the screen in what is known as a shadow cast. In full costume, an impressive layer of makeup and unbelievable energy, they did the whole movie in real time, right in front of the screen. If you haven’t experienced this theatrical concept, frankly it sounds silly, distracting and maybe even irritating. I felt this way leading up to the show and even considered not going. But after some research, I realized it’s a part of the ever-evolving cult traditions that surround the flick, and I can say with great confidence I was happily surprised by this rare experience.
The legend of the cult following has been developing since the stage production, titled simply “The Rocky Horror Show,” opened in 1973 at the Royal Court Theater in London. Its film adaptation came soon after, in 1975, but didn’t exactly receive instant fame. However, it would seem that some were simply born to be diehard fans, and thus began the specialty midnight releases, with the same small crowd coming back for more, driven by an insatiable love for the film. Soon the audience banter, mostly referred to as call backs, developed regularity, and the props obtained a permanent home in this cinematic experience. As far as the particulars go, it’s totally up to local culture. Here in Philadelphia, everybody uses the props — and how could you not? The Transylvanian Nipple Production Company gives the prop bag proceeds to The Lupus Foundation of America and, well, making a glittery mess in a movie theater is fantastic. The call backs are constant and range between three guys screaming witty things in the back corner to the entire audience singing “The Time Warp” off-key.
This cultural phenomenon is perhaps a little too peculiar to do it justice in this setting. If you’re intrigued and want to be swept up in this subculture, the film’s playing again Friday, Oct. 24, and again on Halloween at midnight at the Ritz at the Bourse. Tickets cost $11. Decide soon, because it always sells out, and it’s easy to see why.