20 Things You Never Knew About The Rocky Horror Picture Show
1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the ultimate cult film. Though midnight movies existed before it came out, it basically invented the Friday night midnight showing as a concept, and took audience participation to a whole new level. Now there are screenings and amateur ‘shadow casts’ all over the world, as well as an official touring production of the stage show in the UK, while the original movie is still considered a masterpiece of cult and camp cinema. To honour this incredible legacy, we’re counting down the top twenty things you never knew about the iconic movie.
20. It was Tim Curry’s first ever film role
Tim Curry’s performance as the mad scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter is so iconic, you might assume that the actor was well into his film career when he made Rocky Horror. The truth is that Rocky was not only Curry’s first starring role, but his first feature film appearance altogether. Curry’s met Rocky Horror’s screenwriter, Richard O’Brien, after performing as part of the cast of Hair in 1968.
O’Brien then went on to write the part of Frank-N-Furter for specifically with Curry in mind. The fact that Curry slays the part in the film can be put down to something very simple: that he originated the role on the stage, being the first actor to ever play the alien doctor in Richard O’Brien’s original stage show. This made Curry the one and only choice when it came to casting the role in the movie.
19. ‘Rocky’ had never acted before – and he now works in antiques
Curry was not the only one with limited film experience, but he at least had years of theatre training to help him along the way. The actor who would play Rocky, Peter Hinwood, had never acted before full stop. Director Richard O’Brien decided to cast Rocky by searching every gym in London, and approached Hinwood for the part purely because of his body.
As a result, Hinwood looks the part but not much else, and most of his lines would have to be cut from the film. Watching the movie back, Hinwood himself realised that he couldn’t act, and decided to go into the antique business instead. In 2000, Hinwood opened up about his why he decided to leave behind his acting career in an interview with People magazine: “One, I can’t act. Two, I cringe with embarrassment every time I see myself on film. Three, I relish a quiet, peaceful life.”
18. The conditions on set were miserable
With its motorbike chases, classic dances and even a swimming pool finale, it’s hard to watch Rocky and not think about how much fun it must have been to film. In truth, though, the two months of shooting were super unpleasant for the actors, since the castle they were filming in had a leaky roof, no heating and not even a single bathroom.
The actors were reportedly cold and damp the whole time they were filming, and Susan Sarandon (who played Janet) even got pneumonia towards the end of the shoot. While Sarandon was sick, she was made to shoot the final pool scene in freezing water and then immediately do the onstage dance number with no break. A true professional, there’s no hint of her illness in the final product.
17. The costume designer had to be drunk to accept the job
The glitzy outfits seen in Rocky Horror have become almost as recognisable as the movie itself, with fans typically dressing up as the characters at screenings of the film. The look of the characters was almost very different, however, since costume designer Sue Blane really had to be persuaded to take the job. In fact, she had to have a drink before she was willing to accept it.
Blane knew almost everyone involved with the production but was unwilling to take on the project given its tiny costume budget of just over one thousand pounds. Director Jim Sherman had to take Blane out to dinner to get her to agree, which she said she partially did because she was drunk. Thankfully the movie turned out to be a hit, so it’s unlikely she came to regret her drunken decision.
16. Frank was nearly played by Mick Jagger
Even before the movie’s 1975 release, many actors had played the characters of Brad, Janet and Dr Frank-N-Furter in the original stage show, and the parts have continued to be played by new actors during every new tour. However, while all these performers have brought fresh and exciting takes to the characters, it’s hard to get behind some of the casting decisions that almost happened for the movie.
For example, Barry Bostwick wasn’t the studio’s first pick for Brad, as they wanted famous comedian Steve Martin to take home the role instead. Not only that, but Mick Jagger desperately wanted the part of Frank, but apparently didn’t stand a chance after Curry’s audition. The role in the original Rocky Horror play was originally written with Curry in mind, after all.
- Credit: Marcel Antonisse / Anefo / National Archive via Wikipedia Commons
15. You can now stay in Frank-N-Furter’s Castle
Even before Rocky Horror was filmed there, the famous ‘Frankenstein Place’ had a rich cinematic history. The Gothic Victorian country house is called Oakley Court, and was used as a setting throughout the 50s and 60s by Hammer Films. The historic horror movie studio filmed both inside the manor and outside in the grounds, for five features including The Man in Black and The Brides of Dracula.
Much later, the house was turned from a film set into a luxury hotel, with everything from the spooky library to the threatening gargoyles left intact. The hotel even hosts screenings of the movie projected onto the actual walls of the ‘castle’, after tea is served on the lawn of course. Hopefully if you choose to check into the hotel, your stay won’t be anywhere near as chaotic as Janet and Brad’s was…
14. There’s a real skeleton in the film
The Time Warp is now arguably even more widely loved than Rocky Horror itself, a song known even by people who have never seen the film at all. Fans of the song who have also seen the movie, though, will remember an odd-looking clock in the foyer of the castle, which Riff-Raff dances around and attempts to dust at the beginning of the scene.
The clock is a vintage horror prop designed to look like a coffin, and it has one very unique quirk. The skeleton inside it is actually 100% real, as the clock’s designer demanded that her bones be put there after she died. Thanks to the movie, the image of her skeleton has been immortalised, along with her odd choice of final resting place.
13. It has a truly wacky sequel
The events of Rocky Horror are obviously very strange, but the plot of 1981’s follow-up Shock Treatment makes the first movie look commonplace by comparison. No Frank or Rocky this time; instead the film follows Brad and Janet, who are forced into a reality TV show after being selected as the worst married couple in their hometown.
It only gets weirder from there, as it turns out the whole thing was a ploy set up by Brad’s evil older brother, who is in love with Janet and wants her for himself. What’s more, Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn play sibling hospital workers who are also in love, and the whole town is trapped in a giant television studio.
12. Four sequels were written
Though Shock Treatment was the only Rocky Horror sequel to actually get made, it far from the only one written. O’Brien actually wrote three other film sequels to the 1975 original, named Rocky Horror Shows His Heels, The Brad and Janet Show, and Revenge of the Old Queen respectively. Rocky Horror Shows His Heels is the fan-favourite, since in that one both Rocky and Frank are reincarnated, and have to survive by drinking the blood of virgins. In this sequel, Janet is pregnant with Frank’s baby, and the ghosts of Riff Raff and Magenta return to steal the baby away.
The Brad and Janet Show is much like Shock Treatment, while Revenge of the Old Queen sees Riff Raff back on his home planet, tasked by the queen with bringing back a dead Frank and defeating the UFO investigators trying to discover him on Earth. Sadly, none of these three films were ever made, mostly due to Susan Sarandon’s increasing fees and Tim Curry’s unwillingness to reprise his role.
11. Only Tim Curry knew about the tablecloth reveal
Despite the name, The Rocky Horror Picture show is mostly a comedy, but one dark moment comes when the whole group are eating dinner together. Over the course of the scene, Frank slowly drops hints that what they are eating is actually human meat, and that he had Eddie cooked and served after murdering him in an earlier scene.
The climactic scene ends when Frank rips the tablecloth off the table, revealing a clear table containing Eddie’s corpse underneath. The scene was actually a surprise to every one of the actors present except Curry, so their shocked faces at seeing the half-eaten delivery boy are completely genuine. The reveal of Eddie’s corpse at the table also suggests that, sickeningly, the diners have possibly been eating Eddie’s body.
10. Richard O’Brien wrote the original script while he was out of work
Before The Rocky Horror Picture Show, there was the Rocky Horror Show: the 1973 musical stage show which the 1975 film was based on. The play was written by Richard O’Brien, who at the time was struggling to make a break as an actor. He ended up writing the script while he was out of work and had a lot of spare time on his hands.
“It started as a way for me to spend winter evenings when I was an out of work actor,” O’Brien later said. “It was the first thing I’d ever written, and to me it didn’t even seem like writing – more like doing a crossword puzzle.” While to O’Brien, writing the script was just a way to fill his evenings, the show and film have gone on to be hugely influential.
9. The scene where the castle ‘flies’ was achieved by using a cardboard cut out
In the film’s final scene, Riff Raff and Magenta announce that they will be flying the castle back to their home planet Transsexual in the galaxy of Transylvania. In order to film this scene, production designer Brian Thomson initially suggested that the team build an intricate, full-scale model of the house. However, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t enough time or money to go through with it.
Instead of using a full-size model of the house, the team decided to use a cardboard cutout of the front of the house. This proved much easier, time-efficient, and cheaper – but it came at the price of authenticity. If you look closely, you can actually see the real house in the background of the shot. Still, this small movie mistake doesn’t take away from the film’s brilliance.
8. The audience participation was borne out of boredom
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is famous for the way audiences behave at midnight film showings. Since the 70s, filmgoers have dressed up and shouted at the screen, ‘participating’ in the movie themselves. This tradition wasn’t borne out of love for the film, however. Instead, it came about after audiences got bored watching the film.
One customer said: “We thought it was pretty boring, and we thought if we yelled back it would be more fun.” Although the tradition was borne out of boredom, it is now part of the reason the film’s legacy lives on: to this day fans of the film don costumes and turn up to midnight screenings of the movie, ready to ‘participate’ in the action themselves.
7. Columbia and Magenta were initially one character
Director Jim Sharman was keen to cast his friend and musician Marianne Faithfull as Columbia, but the part ultimately went to Nell Campbell (aka Little Nell). Sharman was so keen to involve Faithfull that he created an extra part for her, in Magenta. But Faithfull was ultimately unable to take the role as she was on tour at the time.
Patricia Quinn was eventually took the role. She decided to take the part after hearing the song Science Fiction/Double Feature. “It was one of the best song’s I’d ever heard. I went home and told my agent I wanted to do it,” she recalled in an interview in 2006. “And he said: “You haven’t read the script yet”. And I said: “I know, but I still want to do it.””
6. Little Nell was cast purely for her tap dancing skills
Little Nell was cast as Columbia while she was working as a ‘soda jerk’ in London. Director Jim Sharman had heard that Nell would tap dance while pouring drinks and realised her tap dancing skills could be useful for the role of Columbia. Sharman took some of the production team to see her at work, where she danced for them.
The team was impressed by Nell’s dancing abilities and she ultimately won the role. Her career took off after she starred in the film and she went on to sign a recording contract with A&M Records. Her debut single, Stilettos and Lipstick was released in 1975. She has also continued to work as an actress, opened a nightclub, and written several magazine articles.
5. Tim Curry was once thrown out of a midnight screening of the film
Tim Curry was living near the Waverly Theater in New York just as the film’s cult status took off. One night Curry decided to attend a showing at the Waverly Theatre after watching fans flocking to midnight showings in full Rocky Horror costumes. He eventually called up the theatre and asked if it would be okay for him to come.
Unfortunately, the theatre didn’t believe it was really Tim Curry. Undeterred, he went anyway, and the theatre let him him. He told NPR: “Finally I showed up, and they sort of believed me and took me in.” The fans were ecstatic but an usher eventually threw him out, claiming he was an “imposter.” Curry eventually proved his identity after showing the staff his passport, but declined the chance to go back into the venue.
4. It took a while to settle on an accent for Dr. Frank-N-Furter
Every bit of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s character is iconic: from his extravagant costume to his posh British accent. But it took a while for Curry and producers to decide just how Dr. Frank-N-Furter should speak – he is technically an alien, after all. Curry initially tried to act the character with German and American accents, but these didn’t seem right.
Curry later revealed in a 1975 interview that it was director Jim Sharman who suggested that he try out an exaggerated British accent. Speficially, he urged Curry to talk like a “Belgravia hostess with the mostess.” Apparently Curry then modelled the Frank-N-Furter voice after an upper-class woman he heard talking on the bus.
3. Lady Di was a huge fan
The Rocky Horror Picture Show has many fans from all sections of society. Even Elvis Presley, The King of Rock n’ Roll himself, was a fan of the movie. But did you know that the film was also loved by actual royalty? Diana, Princess of Wales counted herself as a huge fan of the movie and even asked to meet Curry after seeing him in a theatrical performance of Love for Love.
Curry was placed at the end of the ‘receiving line’ to meet the princess. When the two met, Diana told Curry with a “wicked smile” that Rocky Horror had “quite completed [her] education.” Prince Charles also met Curry but he was not as big a fan of the show as his wife: apparently the Prince only vaguely recognised Curry “from television.”
2. Eddie’s motorcycle stunt caused multiple injuries
In Eddie’s first scene, he breaks through the freezer he is trapped in by ploughing through it on a motorcycle and bursting into song, singing Hot Patootie-Bless My Soul. Meat Loaf wasn’t comfortable riding a heavy-duty motorcycle, and so a stuntman was brought in to ride the bike. Meat Loaf still rode the bike for the closeups, however.
To film Meat Loaf riding the bike, camera operators rigged a wheelchair with handlebars and a camera, but the wheelchair was difficult to balance because of the weight of the camera. Ultimately, while Meat Loaf was trying to get the shot, the wheelchair flipped over, cut his arm, and broke the camera. The stuntman tried to catch Meat Loaf, but the future rock star ended up breaking his leg.
1. Patricia Quinn was gutted that she didn’t get to sing the opening song in the film
One of the most memorable songs in the whole show is the opening number, Science Fiction/ Double Feature. In the original play, the song was sung by Patricia Quinn, but producers changed things up for the film and the song was sung by Richard O’Brien himself. Needless to say, Quinn was not happy about the change at all.
She was so livid that she reportedly almost quit the production. Thankfully she stayed on. And though she did not get to sing the song, she does have a small but important part to play in the opening scene. Although it is O’Brien who sings the song, Quinn’s lips were used for the movie’s opening – arguably one of the most iconic images from the movie.