What better movie to cap off another successful Halloween season than The Rocky Horror Picture Show? Never mind that it’s November 1 – or after depending on when you find your way here. This movie, as horrifyingly amazing as it is, works year round, which is why it still plays at midnight every Saturday night in most cities. Just check your local showtimes before running out in your garter and fishnets.
And we have Richard O’Brien, the man who wrote the original musical on which this movie is based, to thank for this gift that keeps on giving, burnt toast and newspapers included in that giving. We’re even more fortunate that he put his thoughts on The Rocky Horror Picture Show down in commentary form, which we’re hitting the PLAY button on right now.
Let there be lips. That’s what they say. You know, at the midnight shows. Just keep reading.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Commentators: Richard O’Brien (co-writer, ‘Riff Raff – A Handyman’), Patricia Quinn (‘Magenta – A Domestic’)
1. O’Brien kicks the commentary off by noting the opening 20th Century Fox logo with piano accompaniment was originally intended for near the end of the film, when Frank-N-Furter appears over the swimming pool. Evidently, Fox had an issue with this, because an RKO logo is now used for the later scene instead.
2. The famous lips that appear over the film’s opening credits belong to Patricia Quinn, who had also sang the opening song, ‘Science Fiction/Double Feature,’ during the staged musical. The producers offered her the part of Magenta for the film, but explained to her that she wouldn’t be singing the song for the film. She turned the part down initially, but after taking a tour of the sets she would be working on, she changed heart and took the part. Minus an opening song. It was O’Brien who would sing the opening song.
3. “In all these years, I have begrudged you taking my song,” says Quinn jokingly. O’Brien answers by saying he begrudges her for having such a “delightful mouth.” “One wonders, really,” he says regarding that mouth. This movie is naughty.
4. Quinn notes how cold she was the day they shot the opening scene at a secluded church set. O’Brien points out they had smoked “something exotic” on the way to set that day, which explains the deep, thoughtful looks Riff Raff gives in this scene. Magenta looks rather warm, though.
5. “I demand that Sue Blane invented punk, and this movie invented punk,” says Quinn about The Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s costume designer. Quinn goes on to explain that Vivienne Westwood and the SEX boutique gets a lot of the credit for this but that they were essentially stealing designs from Blane and the original, Rocky Horror musical. O’Brien notes there is some truth in what Quinn is saying but tags it diplomatically with a quote from Coco Chanel. “Anyone who thinks they’re original has got no sense of history.”
6. Production could only afford both ends of the church, which are clearly seen in the film. What isn’t seen is the middle of the church, which had no sides or roof.
7. Quinn notes she didn’t realize the film version of their musical would feature actual Transylvanians, as the staged version did not. She does well by them by referring to them as “freaks.” “I’ll never work again for using the word ‘freak’,” she says later. O’Brien mentions how fascinating it was seeing Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon practicing choreography along
8. O’Brien points out the line “over at the Frankenstein place” was the one line during the staged version of the musical that made him relax. “My sphincter was tight,” he says, explaining how nervous he was during the show’s first performance, since he was backstage for much of the first act. When this line was sung, he heard the audience laugh and knew everything was going to be alright.
9. “Oh, please don’t talk about her damn flu any more,” says Quinn regarding Susan Sarandon and some kind of famous flu she once had. “That’s all she ever discusses as much as I love her.” Well, at least she didn’t call her a freak.
10. The house where much of the film was shot was located right next door to Hammer Horror studios. O’Brien also notes the house has been used in a number of different films, though he only names The Innocents as one of them.
11. Quinn points out how everyone in the house has a different accent. O’Brien has a wonderful English accent, she herself chose a German accent thinking their characters were from Transylvania, Little Nell had an Australian accent, and Tim Curry’s accent sounds like it’s from Kensington. We only assume she’s right about that last one, but she notes there was never any discussion between them about what accent they should be using. “It made no difference,” laughs O’Brien.
12. The elevator seen in the film only went up one floor in actuality, and creative editing was necessary to make it appear to go up and down multiple floors as it does. Also, certain sets were reused for multiple settings. Frank-N-Furter’s lab was also part of the swimming pool for example, and the church in the beginning was also Meatloaf’s feeding trough. Okay, that was just mean.
13. O’Brien points out the surgical mask Quinn is wearing during Frank’s “unveiling” ceremony, and he asks her if someone told her to put that one. “I just did everything I was told,” she says laughing. “I didn’t know what was happening from one second to the next.” The actress makes sure to note she isn’t a stupid person, but O’Brien quizzes her asking for the capital of France. She doesn’t respond.
14. “Now this is rather risque, this little moment for the time,” says O’Brien during the moment where Frank is admiring Rocky. Quinn notes how she feels the whole thing was risque for its time. “Yes, I suppose it was,” O’Brien agrees. Quinn points out she thought it was shocking how the characters actually go to bed with one another, which they didn’t do in the staged version. “I got a little prudish at that moment,” she says.
15. O’Brien points out how Meatloaf’s stunt double on the motorcycle was incredibly small. “He was smaller than me,” he says. Quinn remembers the stunt double riding the motorcycle off the edge of the elevated set it was on, and she says he wasn’t okay. “He’s never been heard of since,” she says. O’Brien says he didn’t know that. They never break the joke, so apparently a stuntman disappeared on the set of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
16. “I suppose we’re looking at him like we don’t like him very much,” says Quinn about how she and O’Brien look at Tim Curry in much of the movie. O’Brien jokes he didn’t like Curry but then points out he decided that Riff Raff didn’t like Frank-N-Furter very much. He tries to come up with reasons why this is with “envy” and “he was attractive and he got all the fun and had the witty lines, and there was me inarticulate and ugly with a hump.” Quinn says she didn’t think of this, since she saw Riff Raff as beautiful. “That does say something about you, though,” says O’Brien.
17. The commentators try to wrap their brains around whether or not Riff Raff and Magenta had a sexual relationship as well as being brother and sister. O’Brien always believed it was going on, but Quinn never felt the story had anything to do with incest. She points out the sign the two of the make together, but it was fans of Rocky Horror who decided it was an incestual act, what they call an “elbow fuck.” Quinn says this, and O’Brien acts shocked. She tries to think of another word for “fuck,” but O’Brien responds with, “Do we need one?”
18. Brad had another song in the original version of the musical, and it was intended to be in the movie version. O’Brien can’t remember why it was ultimately left out, but he does mention it was cut in during the scene with Janet along in the laboratory. The name of the song is “Once in a While,” and here’s a link to it as a deleted scene.
19. O’Brien mentions the head of 20th Century Fox changed between the studio greenlighting The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the film going into production. “One of the things about the show was that it needed cuts, but I think now that was possibly because of the fact they didn’t understand it,” he says. Alan Ladd Jr., who took over as head of Fox didn’t want to do the film, but he was too late to put the stop on it. He still turned up on set during production and made it known he didn’t want the film to get made. By the time the film was finished and released, Alan Ladd Jr. was no longer head of Fox.
20. Originally, Columbia and Magenta were going to be just one female character. As O’Brien remembers it, the play and film’s director Jim Sharman wanted his friend, singer Marianne Faithful, for a part, but Little Nell had already been cast. Therefore, the one character was split into two at the script level. After this, Faithful left the production for a tour in India, and Quinn was cast. “It had to be you,” O’Brien sings to her.
21. Dr. Scott busting through the wall was actually a solution to a problem, since the laboratory set had no entrance or exit but the elevator. The decision to have him bust through the brick wall was a last-minute decision.
22. According to Quinn, the statue of Little Nell from the end of the film when several of the characters have become frozen in stone was purchased by screenwriter Alan Sharp, so now you know what writing Rob Roy can get you.
23. During the famous dinner scene – every good horror movie has one – the cast didn’t know what was underneath the table. “The horror that goes around, the response is kind of real,” he says. Quinn notes how while watching the movie it appears her character knows they’re eating Eddie, but she didn’t have a clue.
24. When the characters are frozen, O’Brien originally intended to have a ray of light circle the character, then they would dissolve and disappear. He wanted their bodies to look as if they were in a state of flux rather than frozen in stone like the finished version looks. He notes the characters had to come up with poses they would strike naturally, but he does point out how unrealistic it is their statues would each have a base.
25. O’Brien remembers the stuntman for Tim Curry showing up the day they were to shoot the “floor show” scene and not knowing how his character would be dressed for it. “It was a wonderful moment, a wonderful day,” says O’Brien referring to the stuntman realizing he would have to dress in corset, boa, and fishnets. O’Brien notes the stuntman tried to act extra masculine during the day to make up for it. “If I had a time machine, I’d like to spend half an hour there watching that just for the joy,” he says.
Best in Commentary
“He doesn’t shave under his arms. He’s a real hussey.” -Richard O’Brien about Tim Curry, which is sadly not followed by a round of applause.
“This film was like some other world unfolding to me. It was like I was in a story that was happening.” -Patricia Quinn
There’s no question that O’Brien and Quinn are good friends, as the relationship comes across well in the way they converse with one another. It’s a good combination to have for this film, but it never seems like the two get into the meat of making The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Many of the genuinely shocking revelations here – Rocky Horror starting the punk movement being chief among them – are only touched upon before the two move on to the next topic.
That next topic is generally people they know who are seen in then film and personal anecdotes about people we don’t know. O’Brien’s stories more often than not seem to be going somewhere but fizzle out either without anything interesting in the end or stopping almost mid-thought. As interesting as The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, there should have been loads of insight into where the creation came from, O’Brien’s love for science fiction movies, and stories from the set. Quinn provides enough for this latter part, but a whole lot more of the former would have made this commentary as interesting as the film itself.