Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Rocky Horror Picture Show: 25th Anniversay Edition (1975)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - Action-packed...lotsa larfs & sex...gorgeous gals...thrills & chills...Transylvanian parties...romance

"It was great when it all began..." Celebrate 25 years of midnight movie madness! The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an "erotic nightmare beyond any measure." Relive Richard O'Brien's sinfully twisted salute to horror, sci-fi, B-movies and rock music - A "sensual daydream to treasure forever" - starring Tim Curry (in his classic gender-bending performance), Barry Bostwick, and Oscar winner Susan Sarandon. Do the "Time Warp" and sing "Hot Patootie" with Meatloaf again...and again...and home or in a movie theater, where it will probably be playing for another 25 years!

Director: Jim Sharman
Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Meat Loaf
DVD: 2-Disc set; widescreen 1.66:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1 & Digital Mono; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 36 chapters; rated R; 100 min.; $29.98; street date 10/3/00.
Supplements: Disc 1: Multi-Story (U.K. or U.S. Version): View the Original Cut or the New Edition with Musical Sequence "Superheroes" Edited Back In; Commentary by Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn; The Theatrical Experience: View Rocky Horror as you would in the theater, complete with introduction from RHPS fan club president Sal Piro; DVD-ROM Games, Trivia and More!
Disc 2: Excerpts and Never-Before-Seen Outtakes from VH1 Behind The Music: Featuring Interviews with Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn and Meatloaf; VH1 Pop-Up Video of "Hot Patootie!"; Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show; Theatrical Trailers and More! /font>
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B+/A

When I first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I was a mere lad of thirteen. This memory depresses me for a few reasons, none really related to the film itself. First, it's hard to believe 1980 was 20 years ago; it just doesn't feel like it's been such a long period!

But the passage of time is relative, which is reflected in another of my melancholy remembrances: even though it'd hit screens a mere five years earlier, RHPS seemed like an "old" movie as of 1980. Or maybe that was just me. After all, life passes slowly between eight and 13, and the gap feels wide. As such, something from 1975 seemed ancient when I saw RHPS in 1980.

In regard to the film itself, quite a lot had changed during that five year period. RHPS went from box office dud to cult sensation, all due to the burgeoning phenomenon of midnight movie showings. RHPS pretty much single-handedly made this a workable practice, and seeing the movie in such a state became quite a fashionable thing - so hip, in fact, even a 13-year-old dork like myself wanted to do it!

So my ever-patient parents schlepped me to a midnight showing of RHPS, and as far as I recall, I had a pretty good time. The movie was nothing special, but the songs seemed catchy and it was an unusual and fun experience.

Whatever affection I held for the film disappeared when I rewatched it on videotape in the early Nineties. Devoid of my youthful stupidity - some of it, at least - and also taken outside of the goofy theatrical milieu, I could see RHPS for what it was: a silly and dopey farce. It's been too long for me to remember the specifics of my disdain, but I do know that I found the movie to provide a thoroughly unenjoyable experience.

Another decade, another screening of RHPS - what would this one bring? Probably not surprisingly, an opinion somewhere between the first two. While I can't say I enjoyed RHPS, I definitely didn't loathe it like I did the second time; it's a pretty dumb and pointless flick but it offers a few fun bits that prevent it from becoming a total waste.

The positives: although I don't much care for the retro-Fifties tone they often engage, the songs remain pretty decent. "Time Warp" always was a favorite, and I have to admit that during the few days since I watched the film, I've had "Sweet Transvestite" running through my head much of the time. Meat Loaf's rendition of "Sweet Patootie" rocks mildly as well. None of the other songs stood out to me, but they all were at least moderately listenable.

Most of the actors provide passable but unexceptional work, with one major exception: Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. When he bursts onto the screen at the start of "Sweet Transvestite", he does so with energy, verve and style to spare. His presence dominates the film and almost makes it watchable.

Almost, but not quite. On to the film's weaknesses: first of all, it has virtually no plot. There's a loose connection due to some tale of sexual awakening and aliens, but it largely feels like an excuse for a variety of songs. It all becomes very tedious and does little to entertain.

Actually, the movie works fairly well for its first 30 minutes or so. The opening in which the lips sing "Science Fiction Double Feature" grabs the viewer and I found the events that befall Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) moderately interesting, through and including their initial encounter with Frank.

And then. blammo! The whole house of cards collapses. Once the gang goes to the lab to witness the birth of Rocky (Peter Hinwood), the movie spins out and becomes almost wholly uninteresting until it finally peters out 70 minutes later. Oh, there are a couple of moderately decent tunes in between; Meat Loaf's rendition of "Sweet Patootie" remains catchy, and a couple of moments during the climax are entertaining, mostly related to "Don't Dream It".

Ultimately, however, I just found the movie to be dull and largely pointless. It's nothing more than a dopey little film that lacks much energy or spark. I can't say that RHPS is a total disaster, because it contains enough interesting moments to prevent it from suffering that fate, but it's not a good or entertaining picture.

Granted, I'm not sure anyone ever claimed RHPS was any good, since it's maintained a life as a cultural phenomenon and not as a film. Is there any point to watching RHPS outside of its interactive audience setting? I'm not sure. I have a very definite opinion of the folks who enjoy playacting along with the movie, but I'm trying to be polite so I won't express my thoughts other than to say that I don't get it.

Nonetheless, an established cult of fans digs this activity. Will that fun transfer to the home environment? I have no idea. As I'll detail in my discussion of the supplements, the DVD tries hard to bring home the experience, but since I'm not part of the target audience of devotees, I can't say if it works or not.

As a movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show largely stinks. As a cultural phenomenon. well, I'll just say that a lot of people like it and enjoy their participation in it. If you haven't become involved with that group but you find the idea intriguing, you might get some pleasure from RHPS. Otherwise, you're unlikely to understand why it's generated so much fuss.

The DVD:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture presented some concerns, ultimately it looked terrific for such an old and relatively low-budget film.

Sharpness almost always looked clear and crisp. A few wider shots displayed slightly soft qualities, but these were rare and fairly minor; most of the movie gave us a nicely accurate image. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused few concerns, and I noticed only mild artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws also appeared pretty minor throughout the film. Some grain came up at times, and there were a few speckles and a smidgen of grit, but for the most part, the movie seemed wonderfully clean and fresh.

Colors are usually bright and clean. The hues tend toward a cartoony palette that fits the style of the film, and the DVD reproduces them well. On a few occasions - particularly in Frank's laboratory - the colors could look a little heavy, but these instances were exceptions to the rule; the vast majority of the hues were quite solid. Also fine were black levels, which seemed deep and rich, with few signs of murkiness or drabness. Shadow detail appeared similarly clear and appropriately thick but without any excessive opacity. The image to The Rocky Horror Picture Show occasionally shows a few signs of its age, but these are rare, as most of the movie looked terrific.

Also strong is the fine new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack created for the film. The soundfield appropriately opens up the original monaural image but doesn't go "effects happy" and create an excessively busy mix. Effects and dialogue tend to stick pretty closely to the center for the most part. Some gentle use of directional effects occurred at times, such as when we might hear the sound of a party coming from one of the front side speakers, but the impression is nicely mild and doesn't attempt to become something more than is possible with the quarter-century-old audio.

Surrounds kicked in nicely at times but generally seemed logically mild. Usually they displayed gentle ambiance, but a couple of scenes contributed some very involving atmosphere. For example, the lab noises during Rocky's "birth" really swelled up from all the speakers and became quite engrossing.

Best of all, the soundfield presented very strong stereo imaging for the music. The songs seemed well-differentiated from channel to channel but blended together cleanly. All of this created a terrifically positive presentation for the music and the added depth gave the tunes new life.

Audio quality appeared inconsistent but generally good for a film of this era. Dialogue and effects both suffer from thin and dull tones. Speech displayed some edginess at times and could be unfortunately harsh and crackly at times. The lines seemed clear and intelligible throughout the film but the bland nature made them stick out in a negative manner amongst the higher quality sound. Effects are also pretty flat, though they featured less distortion than the occasionally-edgy dialogue; at least the effects showed some punch and heft at times, such as during the aforementioned laboratory scene or when we heard thunder. Unfortunately, there's not much that can be done about the various quality problems; as was also the case with the 5.1 remixed of 1975's Jaws, the original stems will clearly betray the technological limitations of the time.

The soundtrack's main redeeming factor remains the excellent music. The songs were obviously recorded under better circumstances than the rest of the mix - since the tunes would have been taped in a studio - and they demonstrated terrific depth and crispness. The range was very strong, with clean highs and some punchy and deep bass, and most of the songs came across as clear and distinct. The only problems I had with the quality of the music occurred because some dialogue had to be integrated with the tunes; this made the original speech seem even more thin and wan due to the stark contrast with the excellent tonality of the songs. Despite those limitations, I found the soundtrack to RHPS to sound great.

The film's original monaural soundtrack also appears on the DVD. Some controversy accompanied this fact because apparently prior video versions of RHPS did not include the original mix; instead they used a downconversion of a stereo edition of the audio. Since I don't know the movie very well, I wouldn't detect any differences between the original mono track and the stereo alteration, but from everything I've read, this DVD indeed includes the mono sound that came with the film originally.

Since RHPS comes as a two-disc DVD package, you probably expect a wealth of supplemental materials. You expect correctly, as we find a terrific gathering of extras here. Most of these appear on the second DVD, but disc one also includes a fair number of some goodies.

First of all, the DVD offers three different cuts of the film. The "US Version" runs roughly 98 minutes and is the edition Americans are most likely to have seen on the big screen. The "UK Version" lasts for about 100 minutes and includes an extra song: "Superheroes", which appears immediately after the departure of the mansion; the two versions reunite when we see the spiral-up shot of Dr. Scott. Does the additional tune make any difference? No, not really, but it's cool to have the option.

(For the record, I've read some comments about different cuts of the film. Some say that the US release originally had "Superheroes" in it and the song was removed for later issues, and a variety of other alternate versions are described by a number of sources. Since I couldn't figure out any definitive answers, I'll leave the question up in the air.)

The third version of RHPS is available as an "Easter Egg". From the DVD's main page, move the icon down to "Scene Selection" and click to the left; some "lips" should highlight. If you select this, you can watch the movie as originally envisioned: the first 20 minutes of the film play in black and white until it makes the Wizard of Oz style change to color when Brad and Janet meet the dancing Transylvanians. Personally, I liked this feature; it added some impact to that portion of the movie and made it more fun.

The DVD provides a wealth of other options that can be accessed while you watch the film. We fin an audio commentary from playwright/composer/actor Richard O'Brien and actress Patricia Quinn. Overall, this is a lively and entertaining affair. O'Brien provides most of the concrete details about the project and fills us in on a variety of aspects of the production, while Quinn sticks mainly to more emotional remembrances; she tells us what parts of the film she loved and also indicates that she's sick and tired of hearing how sick and tired Sarandon was during shooting. The two participants interact nicely and create a nice chemistry between them. Actually, the track gets a little too buddy-buddy at times, but it generally offers a pretty fun experience.

Additional video footage can be seen if you watch RHPS as "the Theatrical Experience". Just like with similar features on The Matrix and The World Is Not Enough, this piece prompts you to use your remote from time to time to access extra material. A pair of lips appear in the bottom corner of the screen; press "enter" on your remote and you watch some crudely-shot video footage of the audience participation elements of RHPS. Because I'm trying very hard to be polite, I won't communicate my opinions of these folks, but let's just say that I wasn't surprised by what I saw.

Actually, I'm not sure how well the footage communicates the interactive theatrical experience. The cumulative effect of these nine segments (including a pre-movie introduction) was to annoy and irritate me. Oh, I guess that means the footage perfectly encapsulates the interactive theatrical experience! In any case, all toted these video snippets add up to about 18 minutes and 20 seconds of footage and they add an interesting element to the DVD.

A similar audio feature appears if you choose the "Audience Participation" option. This lets you hear "one of RHPS's finest audiences interacting with the movie as only veterans can". What does that mean? It means you'll hear a lot of incoherent mass-shouting. Occasionally the participants came together tightly enough to allow me to understand what they said, but for the most part, the utterances were unintelligible. Maybe this feature will add to your enjoyment of RHPS, but I found it to be exceedingly annoying; it was a grating and unpleasant experience for me.

Finally, "Participation Prompter" uses a subtitle element to tell you when to perform specific activities during the film. For example, it might tell you "Throw your rice!" or "Squirt your water gun!" Note that this feature can be combined with the audio pieces, so you could watch the movie with the participation subtitles - or the "lips" to access the audience video snippets, which also use the subtitle stream - along with its regular soundtrack, the audio commentary, or the "Audience Participation" mix. For true masochists, combine the video cues and the "Audience Participation" track; you'll be suicidal in no time!

The first DVD of RHPS tosses in a slew of DVD-ROM features. In the "DVD-ROM Extras" area, we find a "Timeline" which provides brief factoids for 17 different significant dates in Rocky Horror history. "Participation 101" gives new initiates an idea of what to expect if they want to go through this portion of the RHPS experience. The "Jukebox" allows you quick and easy access to any of the film's 16 songs; it'll also let you hit "shuffle", which will mix up the playback of the tunes. Finally, this section ends with a "Screen Saver"; it shows the castle from the film and displays a variety of quotes.

Next you can try "Activities". We get the "Masochistic Trivia Challenge" which offers an apparently infinite run of questions. No, this doesn't mean that there are kajillions of different items to answer; in fact, after a while you'll see the same ones again and again. However, I could find no end to the game; it seems that you'll play for as long as you like and there's no way to finish it.

Also in "Activities" is "Riff Raff's Story Lab" where you'll find three different tales from which to choose: "What's On the Slab", "A Toast to a New Discovery", and "Everything Changes". Essentially, this is a "MadLibs" feature; you choose from a series of possible words and then the computer creates a silly story that uses them. The word options become more extensive with each successive tale; the first one lets you pick only six terms, but that jumps to 12 for the second story and 26 for the final one. Frankly, this is a pretty lame little feature that got old quite quickly.

"Cast and Crew" provides filmographies for 10 actors plus director Jim Sharman and producer Lou Adler. Each actor entry also lets you view five different photos of the person selected; you move a slider below the images to change them.

Lastly, the "Weblinks" section provides connections to six different sites: "The RHPS DVD Destination Page", the official Rocky Horror site, the official RHPS fanclub site, Fox Television, Fox Home Entertainment, and Fox Movies. Of course, you can access any of these without a DVD-ROM drive as well if you know the addresses, but it's still nice to have all of them collected in one place.

That concludes all of the extras we find on the first DVD of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The second disc provides a wide variety of additional pieces. Most significant is a documentary called "Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show". This 36 minute and 20 second program provides a solid basic history of Rocky from its origins as a stage production through the creation of the film to its afterlife as cultural phenomenon.

Made in 1995, we get then-recent interviews with folks like writer/composer/actor Richard O'Brien, director Jim Sharman, set designer Brian Thomson, and actors like Little Nell, and Patricia Quinn. There are also older snippets from folks like Bostwick, Curry, and Sarandon plus lots of good footage from conventions and other events and photos from the stage show and elsewhere. While I thought the documentary could have been more complete - it feels a little abrupt and sketchy at times - it still works well, and I especially enjoyed all of the insight set designer Thomson added; his comments were the highlight of the piece.

Additional interviews can be found in the "Rocky on VH1" domain. Here we get "Excerpts from VH1's Behind the Music and Where Are They Now." There are interview clips with O'Brien - who is filmed in a normal setting and also as he tours the castle featured in the movie - plus Sarandon, Bostwick, Meat Loaf, and Quinn. All told, these snippets add up to about 56 minutes and 20 seconds worth of material. Some of the material is redundant - among others, Loaf and Quinn tell stories we've already heard in the other programs - but there's a lot of fun stuff to be found here; I especially enjoyed Sarandon's frank take on her experience.

Another VH1 feature appears as well. We get a "Pop-Up Video" version of Meat Loaf's "Hot Patootie". It uses the usual "PUV" smart-aleck style as it provides a slew of semi-useless factoids about Rocky. A lot of the data will already be familiar if you've gone through the rest of the supplements, but it's an entertaining enough bit; at least it makes it explicitly clear when Loaf is replaced with a stuntman.

"Deleted Musical Scenes" includes two different songs, though only one will really seem new. "Once In a While" is a melancholy ballad from Bostwick that would have appeared right after Brad's tryst with Frank; it lasts three minutes and 10 seconds and definitely deserved to be cut. The other tune is "Superheroes", which is exactly the same clip found in the "UK" version of the film.

"Outtakes" doesn't offer much in the way of deleted scenes; for the most part, we find either unused takes or alternate angles. There are four different segments involved: "The Time Warp", "Brad and Janet Undressed", "Janet's Seduction", and "Floor Show Preparation". All of these include two different clips except for ".Undressed", which has five alternate takes. Added together, the snippets take 10 minutes and 10 seconds to watch. They' re moderate fun but not anything particularly memorable or special.

The "Alternate Credit Ending" plays "Time Warp" the whole way over the text, whereas the actual sequence starts with a reprise of "Science Fiction Double Feature" and then goes into an instrumental version of "Time Warp". Other than the tune in question, I could discern no changes.

Two theatrical trailers appear on the DVD. The first is just a 30-second teaser, but the second provides a much more extensive look at the film; it lasts for three minutes. It also credits one "Susan Saradon". I wonder if she's related to Barry Bostick?

"Misprint Ending" features the footage to "Superheroes" but lacks the correct audio. As such, we see Sarandon and Bostwick sing but don't hear their vocals. This one-minute and 45-second snippet's a vaguely cool thing to see, but I'm disappointed the DVD doesn't mention its history; did prints appear with this mistake? What's the scoop? I know not.

"Sing-A-Long" lets you join in on two different songs: "Toucha Toucha Touch Me" and "Sweet Transvestite". For these tunes, the vocals have been removed and the lyrics are provided at the bottom of the screen so that you can play Janet or Frank on your own! One gripe: the film quality for these clips is terrible.

In the "Photo Gallery", 17 frames of material appear. The first 13 of these are production shots, while the final four depict album covers. The images are fairly interesting, but this section is awfully brief - they could only find 13 pictures?

Finally, the DVD includes a decent little booklet. This text features a small diagram that shows how to do the Time Warp, an "Audience Participation Prop List", plus brief biographies for 10 of the actors. Whew! It's quite a package.

Too bad The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn't a better movie. At this point in history, I'm not sure it matters anymore if RHPS is any good; it's become so famous for other reasons that the movie itself seems almost irrelevant. Personally, I didn't like it, but others find something interesting about it.

In any case, the DVD provides surprisingly wonderful picture and sound; these elements rarely betray the film's age and low-budget origins as it seems crisp and clear most of the time. The supplements are also excellent, as we find a slew of compelling goodies. Now that I've seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show three times, I can definitely say it does nothing for me, but I do really like this DVD; it's a quality presentation that provides a lot of bang for the buck. Current RHPS fans will love it, and those who haven't seen the movie should give it a look as well; hate it I may, but I think it's one of those films everyone should see and decide for themselves.

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