Sunday, October 22

Review: Rocky Horror TV special fails to capture shock factor of cult classic


"The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's do the Time Warp Again," reimagines the first "Rocky Horror Picture Show" film with some novel casting choices, including actors of different races, gender identities and sexualities. Steve Wilkie/FOX

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's do the Time Warp Again," reimagines the first "Rocky Horror Picture Show" film with some novel casting choices, including actors of different races, gender identities and sexualities. Steve Wilkie/FOX


"The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's do the Time Warp Again" Directed by Kenny Ortega FOX Oct. 20

A man wearing a tight corset, thigh-high fish nets and bold, red lipstick descends in a castle elevator.

He exits the elevator and in a deep voice he sings, “I’m just a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania!”

Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s arrival rattled the earth in 1975 when “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was first released. The film became a cult classic, particularly among the LGBTQ community.

Fox’s upcoming “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” television special repackages the iconic introduction with some telling changes, including casting Laverne Cox, a transgender woman, as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.


As an outrageous parallel to “Frankenstein,” the film features newly engaged Brad (Ryan McCartan) and Janet (Victoria Justice) who encounter Dr. Frank-N-Furter and the Transylvanians – aliens from the planet Transgender. The couple arrives at Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle as the Transylvanians are in the middle of celebrating the mad scientists’ new creation – Rocky Horror (Staz Nair), an artificial blonde man with glowing skin, bulging muscles and shiny gold boxers.

[Throwback: Weekend Review: ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’]

The special emphasizes the original film’s cultural standing by inserting a fan audience and a familiar narrator that cheer and dance along with viewers.

A narrator played by Tim Curry, who portrayed the original Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and an on-screen audience mimic the initial stage production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

The performing audience throws popcorn and toilet paper and cheers in response to iconic moments, allowing viewers to identify with the original “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fandom.

But the fandom is not so underground anymore and Cox serves as a symbol of America’s changing views on gender and sexuality. I appreciated Fox’s effort to represent LGBTQ actors in the special, but Cox failed to recreate the shock and sense of ambiguity in sexual and gender identity that was was so prominent in the original, and so necessary to its success.

Cox, as a transgender woman, is not the right fit for the role of a cross-dressing mad scientist. Dressed mostly in glitter, she exudes a feminine sensuality as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

The shock factor of seeing a man in drag, dressed in a tight corset, fishnets and stiletto heels is gone. Yes, America’s progressing views on sexuality and gender identity is positive, but the very discomfort Dr. Frank-N-Furter can cause among earthlings in any era is quintessential to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The creators failed to recreate that dramatic taboo.

[Related: A rocky horror counterculture]

Despite its drawbacks, the remake maintained its humorous, nonsensical nature.

When the 1975 “Rocky Horror Picture Show” was released, Newsweek called it tasteless, plotless and pointless. The film proved to be a ruckus of a show, featuring characters in outrageous outfits dancing ridiculous dances for no apparent reason.

In one such incoherent sequence of the TV special, Eddie (Adam Lambert), rides his motorcycle throughout the castle shrieking to the rhythm of rock. Unexpectedly, Dr. Frank-N-Furter stops Eddie, stabs him multiple times, and pushes him out the window in jealousy, after which the Transylvanians snap in approval and move on.

As in the original, Fox’s live television program follows Brad and Janet’s journey toward sexual liberation in between uplifting and funny musical numbers, including “The Time Warp” and my personal favorite “Touch A Touch A Touch A Touch Me.”

Brad and Janet are stripped to their underwear at the beginning of the film and are seduced by Dr. Frank-N-Furter when the mad scientist climbs onto the beds of both fiancees, separately.

Watching the couple learn to not take themselves so seriously was as enjoyable as in the original film. By the end of the TV program, the characters floated in a large luxurious pool wearing glowing gold corsets and kissed whomever came their way.

The scene continues to remind viewers that one of the film’s core message is about the fluidity of human sexuality regardless of who is cast in the roles. Though perhaps a more prominent message may be: you should never take anything so seriously.

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Reyes is the Daily Bruin's News editor and an Editorial Board member. Previously, she was the Science & Health editor covering research, the UCLA health system and graduate school news. She also writes Arts & Entertainment stories and photographs for the Bruin.


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