For more than 40 years, The Rocky Horror Picture Show has been an institution in and of itself, with its fan following taking on a life of its own far beyond what was included in the actual film. The raucous midnight screenings that have come to characterize the movie’s culture still live on, as does the audience participation that helped make the film popular in the first place. But as Rocky Horror season kicks into high gear, it’s time to air some of the better-hidden secrets that few people know about the making of the cult classic. Some of the craziest stories from the film’s production are only just emerging now.
A Rocky Performance
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has lived on as one of the most beloved cult films for more than 40 years. With raucous midnight screenings involving audience participation, it’s easy to see why.
However crazy the film may be, putting it all together made for some truly insane stories. The titular character of Rocky, played by Peter Hinwood, may have looked great on-screen, but it turned out he was an underwear model with no acting experience, so all of his dialogue was cut.
Real Life Haunting
One of the hallmarks of the film was the creepy mansion in which the majority of the events took place. Rather than simply being a creepy set the production team built, Rocky Horror was filmed in an actual abandoned mansion called Oakley Court, not far from the film studio.
The mansion itself is so run-down that they didn’t have heat or bathrooms. The cast complained that they were always wet from the leaky ceilings while they were working on the film.
Upping The Horror
When it comes to Rocky Horror, the title is nearly as important as the film itself, but it almost didn’t pan out that way.
The original title was going to be They Came From Denton High, which alluded to the fact that creator Richard O’Brien envisioned the story unfolding somewhere near Denton, Texas. That title certainly would have been a mouthful, so it’s a good thing the director, Jim Sharman, suggested The Rocky Horror Show, right before it opened.
A True Queen
Tim Curry’s performance as Frank-N-Furter had some unlikely inspiration. Originally, he had envisioned the character as having some sort of German accent.
That all changed when Tim Curry overheard a posh woman speaking on the bus one day, so he ultimately decided to change the character. The result was Curry pulling inspiration from both the Queen of England and his mother’s speech patterns. When it all came together on stage and screen, Frank-N-Furter was a downright queenly character.
A Brad Apple
When Rocky Horror was transformed from the original stage play to a feature film, it was important to the creative team that they kept the majority of the main cast the same.
The exceptions were Brad and Janet, who they thought should be American in order to increase commercial appeal. One of the actors who auditioned for the role of Brad was Steve Martin. Rumor has it Martin was close to nabbing the role, though he would ultimately lose out to Barry Bostwick.
Clad In Reluctance
As the film gained a popular following, so too did the tradition of dressing up as the film’s characters. While the costumes used have both a macabre but still playful air to them, they may have ended up with a very different look.
Sue Blane, the costume designer, initially turned down the offer to work on the film, thinking the project sounded silly and that the salary wasn’t enough. Jim Sharman met with her personally in order to convince her.
On-set mishaps can be a common occurrence when stunts are needed, but for some reason, it seemed like Rocky Horror experienced far more injuries than usual for a film shoot.
Part of the problem may have been due to a relatively inexperienced production team, though that doesn’t explain many of the problems that occurred. Among the on-set accidents included an incident when Meat Loaf was in his wheelchair when it slipped off of a ramp, breaking a camera and a stand in’s leg.
Skeletons In The Closet
Perhaps the most iconic song to come out of Rocky Horror, “Time Warp” is beloved even by people who aren’t ardent fans of the film.
Aside from the easy to follow dance moves, the song is characterized by the inclusion of a clock to really emphasize the role of time in the song. As a visual gag, the clock was coffin-shaped and opened to reveal a skeleton inside. It turns out, that skeleton was no prop. It sold for $63,000 in a 2002 auction.
Life In Technicolor
When the film was first in development, the cast and the creative team wanted to film the first section of the movie in black and white, before suddenly transforming into a color only when Frank-N-Furter stepped out of the elevator.
The idea was inspired by the shift from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz, but the studio decided to nix that element. Instead, Brad and Janet had always experienced color, even before coming to the mansion.
Counting His Draculas
Tim Curry may have had some very specific inspiration for the way he spoke as Frank-N-Furter, but he also had some crazy ideas when it came to who he based the character’s personality on.
On the one hand, Curry wanted Frank to have the villainous capacity that Vlad the Impaler was said to possess. For the other half of his character, however, he wanted to show just how fabulous a villain could be, much like Cruella de Vil.
The dinner scene that comes during the latter half of the movie was naturally horrifying even for the audience to hear that a group of humans was accidentally eating another.
However, the looks that everyone in the scene had when they “discovered” the remainder of Eddie’s corpse under the table was a genuine surprise. The only people who knew it was actually there were the director, Jim Sharman, and Tim Curry. No one else expected the “corpse” to be there.
Sing Out, Patricia
While the original show was in development, Jim Sharman had been hoping to cast his friend Marianne Faithfull, but found there were no roles available to her at the time.
Once he and O’Brien went back to the drawing board, she was no longer available to take on Magenta. Instead, the role went to Patricia Quinn who signed on only to sing the opening sequence of “Science Fiction/Double Feature” because Magenta otherwise had very few lines in the film.
Jerk To The Left
The creators didn’t necessarily set out to find a dancer as one of Frank’s cronies. In fact, it was almost a fluke that Little Nell was cast.
Jim Sharman and several other members of the production team heard of her dancing for customers while she was working as a soda jerk in London. When they went to see her dance for themselves, she was happy to oblige, so they offered her a role in the production.
Handing Him A Bone
Richard O’Brien did more than just create the concept of The Rocky Horror Show, as he was also eager to act in his creation as well. When he was originally working to bring the concept to life, O’Brien envisioned himself playing Eddie.
However, once director Jim Sharman was on board, Sharman told O’Brien that Eddie wouldn’t be the right part for him. Instead, O’Brien landed the role of Riff Raff, Frank’s creepy handy-alien, in both the show and film.
Add In The Audience
One of the things that sets The Rocky Horror Picture Show apart from other cult classics is the extent of the audience participation. It’s not a film that’s simply meant to be seen.
It’s an experience that’s meant to be enjoyed, often with a shadow cast acting it out in front of the screen. The audience commentary was first developed by a Staten Island teacher, who said it began just because the movie otherwise felt boring.
A Kick Of Curry
After the midnight screenings of the film began to gain traction in New York City, where they occurred at the Waverly Theatre.
None other than Tim Curry caught wind of these supposedly riotous screenings, and decided he wanted to see it for himself, since he happened to live close to the theatre. When he arrived, no one believed he was the real Tim Curry, even once he had gotten inside. An usher threw him out, refusing to believe his identity until seeing Curry’s passport.
Stalling For Time
Even if “Time Warp” is a perennial favorite, it wasn’t a song that was included in the original concept. In fact, the catchy tune was written after O’Brien realized that the script he had would only be 40 minutes long.
In order to stretch the show a little bit longer, he and the film’s co-composer, Richard Hartley came up with “Time Warp” which was definitely a cheeky move, given that the whole purpose of the song was to add time.
Many people have heard of “easter eggs” in movies, little hints that allude to something outside of the film. Rocky Horror, however, ended up with real Easter eggs hiding throughout its shots, as the crew had planned an Easter egg hunt around the set for fun.
Unfortunately, as often happens with Easter egg hunts, not all of the eggs were found before the cast had to return to shooting. At least one of the forgotten eggs can be seen under Frank’s throne.
Rocking The Auction
The titular character of Rocky may have looked great on screen, but he revealed several years ago that the film was his first and last foray into acting, having realized that it wasn’t something he was good at.
Instead, he became an antiques dealer, living a quiet life in London. In 1994, however, nearly 20 years after Rocky Horror debuted on screen, Peter Hinwood decided to auction off the sparkly gold underpants that he wore in the film for a sum of $1000.
Lips Made For Talking
In case you were wondering whose lips audiences see during the opening song of the film, that would be Patricia Quinn, who played Magenta both on stage and in the film.
Though it’s her lips that were filmed, however, the team decided that for the movie, Richard O’Brien would be heard singing the song “Science Fiction/Double Feature.” When Quinn found out she was no longer doing the vocals for the song, she was understandably upset.
The Worst Remake Ever
The hype was real when it was announced that Orange Is The New Black star Laverne Cox would be cast as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in a Rocky Horror Picture Show remake.
However, for many, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again, as it was titled, didn’t exactly live up to the crazy standards set by its classic predecessor. While the TV movie drew in nearly 5 million viewers, critics absolutely slammed the lackluster remake.
The Perks Of Being Rocky Horror
One of the most on-the-nose references to The Rocky Horror Picture Show can be found in the critically acclaimed coming-of-age movie The Perks of Being A Wallflower.
It is revealed that some of the main characters, played by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller, enjoy taking part in a high school rendition of the spooky cult musical. Lerman’s character actually becomes more popular with his peers after being roped into the production last minute.
It’s not just The Perks of Being A Wallflower that has heavily paid tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Shows such as Glee, The Drew Carey Show, 3rd Rock From The Sun, That ’70s Show, Fame, CSI: NY, and Charles in Charge have direct references to the cult classic.
Rocky Horror‘s influence has also bled into the world of Hollywood, making its way into movies such as Loser, Men in Black, Halloween II, and Vice Squad, to name a few.
As previously established, the behind-the-scenes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show saw some quite bizarre and unorthodox antics on set. Many of the actors and performers treated the production as a bit of a joke, or like an elongated Halloween party.
Interestingly enough, the movie’s DVD commentary reveals the moment that two of the main actors got together and did something that helped enhance their performance…Richard O’Brien claims that he and Patricia Quinn consumed “something exotic” before filming “Dammit Janet.”
The Sequel That Never Happened
While many movies and TV shows have referenced it and a remake was recently released, The Rocky Horror Picture Show also had plenty of proposed sequels that never actually got greenlit.
During the end of the ’80s, O’Brien wrote The Old Queen, a script detailing the life and times of Frank-N-Furter’s mother. It turns out that the sequel would’ve been even more bizarre than the original. This script can actually be found online if you search well enough.
David Bowie’s Wife Revolutionized Rocky Horror
It is widely believed that David Bowie’s wife was one of the very first people to speak back to the movie, creating the interactive audience phenomenon that is still popular until this very day.
Tim Curry revealed all in an interview with NPR. “I remember when Bowie came and he brought this huge entourage, and she was with him, and when Richard O’Brien was about to kill me, she shouted ‘No! No! Don’t do it!'” he said.
Susan Has No Regrets
Although The Rocky Horror Picture Show could’ve easily ruined the careers of everybody involved, one individual is wholeheartedly thankful that she was involved in it.
To this day, Susan Sarandon has no regrets that she was one of the main characters in the cult movie. In 1993, in an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Sarandon said the following: “It thrills me that my grandchildren may see their grandmother in her half-slip and bra, seducing a monster.” Profound words from a truly iconic actress.
Chill In The Air
It wasn’t just the vibe of the movie that was chilling. Because of the lack of amenities in the mansion used to film the majority of the movie, Susan Sarandon became seriously ill during production.
The creative team recalled that though it was her first musical, she was compelled to push through her illness in order to finish shooting. In the floor show scene, they shared that Sarandon was literally shaking from her fever.
When you’re vigorously acting, sometimes accidents can happen, like when Barry Bostwick accidentally hit Susan Sarandon in the face during the dinner scene.
Jim Sharman loved the moment, so he decided to keep it in the film, especially since Sarandon’s reaction was so genuine. In return, Sarandon got her revenge on Bostwick by purposely stepping on his foot with her stilettos during the scene where the main cast members perform in the floor show. In the film, you can see Brad wincing in pain.
Destined To Flop
When the film was made, the team had been inspired by the success of the stage production, which had had stellar runs in both London and Los Angeles.
Upon releasing the film, however, the reviewers were less enthusiastic about the campy movie, and it seemed like audiences agreed. Somehow, though, the midnight viewings of the show picked up in popularity, which helped it to become a cultural phenomenon against all of the odds, surprising even the creative team.
Move Over Jagger
As casting began for the film, there was a particular big name rockstar who wanted to get in on the movie. Mick Jagger actually requested to audition for the role of Frank-N-Furter, perhaps expecting that his celebrity would help sell the idea to the creative team.
They, of course, already knew they wanted Tim Curry to reprise his role from the stage show, and easily turned Mick Jagger down. The film helped to launch Curry’s movie career.
Di-ing For Approval
Princess Diana may have had a reputation for being a much-beloved role model in the UK, but before she was married to Prince Charles, Diana had been a big fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which was first released when she was a teenager.
Tim Curry recalled after meeting the Princess following some other performance of his in Austria, she shared that Rocky Horror “quite completed [her] education.” He also revealed she had a “wicked smile” when she said it.