Director – Kenny Ortega, Based on the Screenplay by Richard O’Brien & Jim Sharman and the Musical The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien, Producer – John Ryan, Photography – Luc Montpellier, Soundtrack Produced/Arranged by Cisco Adler, Visual Effects Supervisor – Bruce Turner, Special Effects Supervisor – Mark Lawton, Production Design – Peter Cosco. Production Company – The Jackal Group/Ode Sounds & Visuals/Fox 21 Television Studios.
Laverne Cox (Dr Frank-N-Furter), Ryan McCartan (Brad Majors), Victoria Justice (Janet Weiss), Staz Nair (Rocky), Reeve Carney (Riff Raff), Christina Milian (Magenta), Annnaleigh Ashford (Columbia), Ben Vereen (Dr Scott), Tim Curry (The Narrator/The Criminologist), Adam Lambert (Eddie), Ivy Levan (The Usherette)
Brad Majors and his fiancee Janet Weiss drive to see their friend Dr Scott but their car breaks down in the middle of a storm. They go to the nearby castle to ask to use the telephone and are welcomed in. They find themselves in the midst of a party as the transvestite alien scientist Dr Frank-N-Furter brings to life Rocky, a physically perfect body she has created for her own sexual pleasure. Invited to stay the night, Brad and Janet are drawn into Frank-N-Furter’s garish lifestyle and both end up being seduced by her.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) is without any dispute the No 1 cult film of all time. Based on the stage show The Rocky Horror Show (1973), which was a moderate hit in England but a failure in the US, none of the critics or general public seemed to get Rocky Horror at all when it was first released and the film flopped at the box-office. A funny thing then happened and the film started to gain an afterlife on the midnight circuit. This grew in the space of a few years and by the end of the 1970s had become a ritual where audiences returned dressed in costume and began to interact with the screening – singing and dancing along, tossing rice during the wedding scene, throwing toast when Tim Curry proposes a toast and so on. The phenomenon has been celebrated by numerous scenes over the years – at first the punk crowd, then the LGBT crowd and by the end of the 1980s had become something so widespread it was mainstream. There was even an audience participation record released.
The idea of a Rocky Horror remake has been floated around over the years. It was sequelised once as the not-unenjoyable Shock Treatment (1981), which featured most of the original cast excepting Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon, but this is almost always dismissed by the fans of the original. Richard O’Brien wrote a sequel entitled Revenge of the Old Queen in the 1980s but this was never produced, while as recently as the early 2000s O’Brien was attempting to mount a stage sequel.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is a remake that was conducted as a tv movie for the Fox Channel. The film was a reasonable ratings success but none of the original fan audience much liked it. It seems to want to embrace the original – following it on all its beats. It even embodies the idea of audience participation phenomenon and shows an audience in a theatre watching the events up on the screen and reacting at key intervals.
The remake is produced by Lou Adler, the producer of the original, while his son Cisco produces the soundtrack. It does bring back Tim Curry, the original Frank-N-Furter, now cast as The Criminologist, although this could not be further from the Tim Curry who slinked his way across screen in corset and suspenders in 1975. This is Curry following his 2013 stroke and it is sad watching him deliver his lines through slurred words and drooping facial muscles. The rest of the cast are still alive with the exception of Charles Gray and Jonathan Adams so it is disappointing that the film could not find ways to sneak in cameos from Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Meat Loaf or any of the others. It feels like one of those remakes that is more than happy to snatch all the brand name recognition it can from an original but is so certain of its own superiority that it snubs the original talent. Beyond Tim Curry, the sole cameo it does get in is that of Sal Piro, the creator of the audience participation phenomenon, who appears as the photographer in the wedding scene.
Let’s Do the Time Warp Again sinks from about a reading of the opening credits. The most notable of these is the name of Kenny Ortega. Ortega was a former dance choreographer who had previously directed the Disney film Hocus Pocus (1993), the Disney Channel tv movie High School Musical (2006) and sequels, the Michael Jackson documentary This Is It (2009) and the excruciating Disney Channel fantasies Descendants (2015), Descendants 2 (2017) and Descendants 3 (2019). Let that just sink in for a moment – the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the cult film of all time and the one that symbolised transgressive sexuality for several generations, has been placed in the hands of the director of the High School Musical films and assorted Disney Channel fodder. It would be harder to choose a better symbol of one’s rebellion becoming another generation’s symbol of mass-produced conformity than that.
And as you sit through this film’s opening rendition of Science Fiction Double Feature, which is certainly more accomplished than the singing lips in the original with Ivy Levan’s usherette now dancing/singing as she shows the audience to their seats in a theatre, you are given cause to wonder just how much any of what The Rocky Horror Picture Show embodied means anything to the people making this version. In that this is Rocky Horror essentially repackaged to the High School Musical and Glee (2009-15) generation, how many of the audience have actually set through a science-fiction double feature? How many people watching/participating get any of the references to 1930s/50s B movies the song makes (this version is even so helpful as to screen posters of said films in the background)? How many have actually sat in a classical, single screen theatre? Even the notion of going to the Frankenstein Castle to use the telephone seems to belong to a whole pre-cellular era.
Rocky Horror now feels like a work being reprocessed without meaning to a generation oblivious to any of its cultural signifiers. For example, in an era when the battle for the acceptance of gay sexuality has been substantially won and gay marriage is legal in the US and many other countries, Frank-N-Furter’s outrages seem tame. With the casting of Laverne Cox as Frank-N-Furter, you could argue that this Rocky Horror is about trans visibility but with the high-profile gender reassignment of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner a year earlier, this seems more a case where the remake is playing catch-up with the real world. You can commend the remake for its cheerleading a cause but in terms of offering up a vision of transgressive sexuality that audiences can flock to for the liberation it offers, is there anything about The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again that has the makings of a cult film?
Did I hate The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again? Not particularly but it did nothing to excite me. It’s no different from the average revival of the stage show. The main issue is that all the lyrics and beats of the original are so imprinted in the cultural unconsciousness that having someone else sing them seems off. The most jolting of these is Christina Milian’s Magenta who reworks everything with a loud and brassy R&B emphasis, which is certainly different but jarring. A couple of the recastings that the remake gets right on the nose is Ryan McCartan who does a perfectly colourless Brad and especially Reeve Carney who delivers a pitch perfect imitation of Richard O’Brien’s Riff Raff.
All of this does invariably bring us to Laverne Cox. I get that Cox is a high-profile trans figure, having appeared on the front cover of Time magazine – although many people watching the film don’t understand that and I have seen more than one review that simply talks about Tim Curry having been recast with a woman. Cox gives us a Franky that is loud, posturing and campy – but nowhere near a patch on Tim Curry. The main issue for me is that while Cox is okay in her own right, the part never breathes with flirtatiousness in the same way that Curry turned on both men and women alike when he first appeared out of the elevator in drag. Cox’s first number, the show’s signature tune Time Warp, seems off in many of the key beats. Lines like where she asks Brad “Do you have any tattoos?” seem entirely lacking with the suggestive breathiness that Curry gave them.