Richard O'Brien Tony Rayns - Essay

Tony Rayns

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

An entertainment as singular as The Rocky Horror Show clearly poses greater problems for adaptation to the cinema than most stage originals; its unprecedented blend of Gay Lib street theatre, end-of-the-pier theatrical tat and B-movie references demands something more original than a simple transposition to film. At least two feasible strategies present themselves: one would be to adopt the idiom of the Fifties' B-movies themselves (thus adding the film to the genre on which it comments), another to reverse the model of a cinematic play and produce a calculatedly theatrical movie. Jim Sharman (the original stage producer, here directing his first movie) flirts with both ideas, but it's symptomatic of his and actor-author Richard O'Brien's general failure that they have pinned more faith in pointless and completely expendable attempts to 'open out' the play. Most damagingly misconceived is the opening sequence, showing the wedding that inspires Brad and Janet to get engaged, where the crudely signalled hints of parody and American Gothic are both insulting in their obviousness and redundant in the context of what follows. What does follow is a self-consciously slick rendition of the original material, shorn of the song reprises, staged and performed with evident delight in having larger and more lavish sets to move around in…. But the greatest frisson that The Rocky Horror Picture Show has to offer is its closing title, revealing that it was shot at Bray Studios, site of the decline and fall of Hammer horrors. It's ironically fitting that this bizarre, ill-conceived hybrid should be dancing on the grave of the real British B-movie tradition. (p. 182)

Tony Rayns, "'The Rocky Horror Picture Show'," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1975), Vol. 42, No. 499, August, 1975, pp. 181-82.