We Saw 30 Minutes of the new Rocky Horror Picture Show, and it's Pretty Darn Good
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is easily the most beloved camp cult movie of all time, playing a nearly-41-year-long uninterrupted run in movie theaters all over the world. For Rocky fanatics, those who faithfully show up at midnight movie shows week after week, the movie isn’t just a movie—it’s a way of life, a personal statement about letting your “freak flag” fly. Which is probably why fans reacted with, shall we say, some slight hesitation when news hit that Rocky Horror was getting a remake for broadcast television. How could the sexually charged musical, one that was so “of its time” back in ’75, be remade in a modern context? On network television, no less!
Well, this past weekend at Comic-Con International in San Diego, producers Lou Adler and Gail Berman of 20th Century Fox, along with director Kenny Ortega, debuted the first half hour of the new Rocky Horror Picture Show to a packed room filled with hardcore fans. I counted at least two fans dressed as Columbia in the audience, and a Dr. Frank N. Furter or two. And by the time the half hour was up, I think most fans in the audience—including this old-school Rocky fanboy, who spent many a Saturday night during his teen years at midnight RHPS shows—were totally won over.
The new version starts differently from the original, but is also a nod to the shadow casts all over the world, who dress up and act out as the characters in front of each screening. In the original movie, the opening song “Science Fiction/Double Feature” is sung by the character of Riff Raff, represented only as a pair of red lips. Shadow casts instead have one of the Transylvanians, a woman usually credited as Trixie, do the honors on this song. For the new movie, a character credited as “the Usherette” sings the song, a clear tribute to the shadow cast-created role of Trixie. This change signals that things are going to be different, but also still kind of the same.
From this point on, things proceed pretty much as in the original. We’re introduced to our new Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, straight-laced fiancées now played by actors Ryan McCartan and Victoria Justice, with the songs “Dammit, Janet” and “There’s a Light (Over at the Frankenstein Place).” Here’s where I’m going to get some heat from hardcore Rocky fans, but vocally, these two left both original Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) in the dust. While the original two actors were more than fine, McCartan and Justice knock it out of the park, and bring the right amount of self-aware camp to the part of these two uptight do-gooders. These new kids have got some pipes.
We then arrive at the mysterious castle in the middle of nowhere on a dark and stormy night, where Brad and Janet meet Riff Raff, now played by Penny Dreadful’s Dorian Gray, Reeve Carney. Upon hearing of his casting, I though that Carney was too traditionally good looking to play the hunchbacked manservant, but he does a truly killer impersonation of Richard O’Brien’s original version. When he and his sister Magenta (Christina Milian) break out into “The Time Warp,” any doubts I had about this version were pretty much erased. Again, without disrespect to the original, but the choreography and costumes for this version of “The Time Warp” blows it out of the water. If I have one complaint, it’s that the new actress who plays Columbia, Annaleigh Ashford, doesn’t have the pixie-ish look and attitude that original actress Little Nell did.
And then comes the pièce de résistance, as Dr. Frank N. Further makes his big entrance with the song “Sweet Transvestite,” now sung by actress and trans rights activist Laverne Cox. This was the casting that started to make people interested in this project, and Laverne Cox takes the role and makes it her own. From her look down to her vocal style, she is absolutely not doing an impersonation of Tim Curry’s version of Frank at all. The arrangement for the song is different, a bit funkier, and perfectly suited for her talents. It’s the showstopper it needs to be, and although we didn’t see any more footage of the film after that, it pretty much seals the deal that this version of Rocky is legit.
There were other fun things sprinkled throughout the footage we saw; for example when the Usherette sings the “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” and name drops old sci-fi and horror classics, she does so while walking past the referenced films’ original posters. (It’s clearly an attempt to let younger audiences know that lyrics like “it came from outer space,” “the day the Earth stood still” and others are callbacks to actual movies.) Also, there are cutaway moments to a movie theater audience supposedly watching the film, shouting back lines at the screen, as a nod to the audience participation part of the Rocky theater going experience. It’s not done that much—if they did it as many times as they do in the actual theater, you wouldn’t be able to hear the movie at all. But it’s done enough to be a nice touch.
And having Tim Curry, the original Frank N. Furter himself, appear in the part of the Criminologist/Narrator, is like the cherry on top of it all. It’s clear that Curry isn’t quite his old self ever since his stroke back in 2012, and a lot of the lines the Criminologist had have been reduced, but Tim Curry can still gave a side-eye like nobody’s business.
Of course, we just saw 30 or so minutes of what is sure to be a 90-minute film, so I can’t judge it entirely. We still haven’t seen Adam Lambert’s Eddie, Ben Vereen as Dr. Scott, or see how they handle some of the racier elements in the show that come later. But judging from what I’ve seen, I don’t think Rocky fans have much to worry about. The original will live on—no doubt, it was always be used in theatrical presentations and shadow casts. But for fans who want to hear really well done versions of the songs, this new version might be their new go-to option for viewing at home. And its always good to have options.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show will premiere on Fox on Thursday October 20 at 8/7.