Richard O'Brien Critical Essays

Introduction

Richard O'Brien 19?–

British playwright, songwriter, screenwriter, novelist, and actor.

O'Brien uses humorous, outrageous concepts drawn from genre films, science fiction, and comic books to comment wryly on contemporary social and sexual roles. He is best known for the stage and film productions of The Rocky Horror Show, which he based on his little-known novel, They Came from Denton High. While the plot parodies Frankenstein and Dracula and the music is reminiscent of 1950s and 1960s jukebox records and glitter rock, its lyrics are considered its most original attribute. They contain many puns and double meanings, but their underlying sarcasm is clearly defined.

Although some critics felt O'Brien's play, written in collaboration with Richard Hartley, was pretentious and too obviously campy, in general it was considered fresh, sometimes cheerful. Most agree that whatever good points the play may have had were lost in its transition to film. However, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has inspired a new concept in audience participation. Having failed to draw much attention during regular showings, it began appearing weekends at midnight, to record crowds, and eventually attained cult status.

O'Brien has produced two other plays, T. Zee and Disaster, which are spoofs along the same line as The Rocky Horror Show. Neither, however, made the impression nor achieved the success of the earlier work. T. Zee parodies comic strips, particularly Tarzan, and Disaster mocks such Irwin Allen films as The Poseidon Adventure: most critics felt they were confused and insubstantial.

Even though O'Brien is not a prolific writer and much of his work is relatively unknown, his cleverness and the originality of his parodies, especially The Rocky Horror Picture Show, cannot be denied. This work's popularity with young people is proven weekly, and many of them have adopted O'Brien's message "Don't dream it—be it!" as part of their own philosophy.