Culture  Time warped since 1973

Rocky Horror enraptures Montreal audiences year after year

Just as sure as Halloween will bring the usual mediocre horror film spinoffs and remakes, the hunt for a perfectly original/hilarious/sexy costume, and horribly-written assignments due November 1, so will it bring one of the longest-running of cinematic traditions, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Every Halloween weekend, as some grab their pillowcases for a night of trick or treating and others make “True Blood” from vodka and cranberry juice, thousands of like minded fans will line up outside theatres, fully costumed, with rice and newspaper in hand, anxious to revisit the longest-running cult film in history.

These special screenings, often accompanied by a shadow cast who mimic the film’s actors, are entirely immersive and interactive, inviting the audience to throw rice and confetti into the air, holler at annoying characters (like the narrator), and dance along to every move of “The Time Warp.” These events have become a mainstay of the Halloween season, and have permeated our culture to such an extent that even the TV leaders of all things hip (Glee) have paid tribute to it, much to the dismay of “true” fans.

Although it has reached eternal cult status, the film is not the original source material of the Rocky Horror phenomenon. Richard O’Brien wrote The Rocky Horror Show as a stage musical, which first premiered in 1973. After successful runs in London and on Broadway, the musical was adapted for the big-screen. Although the film failed to garner mainstream success and flopped at the box office, some theatres began showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show at special midnight screenings, catering to the audience who loved the film. Those involved in such events began inventing new ways of engaging with the film in order to evade the boredom that could come with repeated viewings. These midnight screenings became a sensation in large cities like New York and L.A., and by the end of the 1970s gained such popularity that screenings began across North America. Thus, the Rocky Horror phenomenon as we know it today was born.

Like most cities, Montreal is host to numerous Rocky Horror events this coming Halloween weekend. For those seeking the most traditional experience, The Imperial Cinema boasts that it is “the ONLY annual event in town presenting the original cult film on a big screen with a live cast on stage and massive audience participation!” This is the first time the event, which typically takes place at the Rialto, has been held at The Imperial Cinema. There will be two screenings each night of the 29, 30 and 31, with a special discount for students on the 31. What’s more, there’s a costume contest hosted by local DJ/ self-identified drag queen Plastik Patrik.

For those looking for a more unique experience, The Rialto Theatre will be putting on The Rocky Horror Show exclusively with a live cast for the first time ever. Fans of the film be advised: this is not a screening of the classic picture show, but rather a production of the original 1973 stage musical. So, if you’re a diehard fan of the movie, and too used to Tim Curry as Frank-n-Furter or prefer Susan Sarandon in her underwear, then you may want to avoid The Rialto. However, the stage performance promises an exciting experience for old and new fans alike, and will offer fans all the elements that they love about the film and more.

Barry O’Connell, who will play Frank-n-Furter in the Rialto Theatre’s production, sat down with The Daily to discuss the differences between the film and the live show, things to expect at the Rialto this Halloween weekend, and what draws people to this cult phenomenon year after year.

Aside from an additional song not featured in the film, one of the main differences is that the live show involves much more dancing, making full use its 24-person cast and live orchestra. O’Connell also explained how there are many more opportunities for audience involvement. “The same interactions that fans of the movie know and are used to are also incorporated into our show, but there is an added layer of cast response,” O’Connell elaborated. “For example, fans will often yell things at the characters on the screen – well, now the characters will have a chance to yell back. This definitely keeps our actors on their toes.” Director Philippe Gobeille explained that one of the biggest challenges was remaining faithful to the film experience, while, at the same time, interacting with the audience and environment in new ways. Gobeille noted that “we have to keep the magic of how a cast interacts with an audience when it’s not a movie.”

Ezio Carosielli, owner of the Rialto, envisioned an event that could become an annual tradition for the theatre. “He [Carosielli] has a lot of support for creative artists and wants the theatre to reflect a diverse range of programming,” O’Connell said. Aside from entrance to the show, the ticket price admits you to a post-show costume party with, according to the promotional poster, “lot$$$ of prizes to be won and wicked, crazy, sexy, haunting entertainment all night long!” You’ll get the chance to meet most of the cast and crew, and maybe after enough drinks they’ll do “Time warp” again. Also in attendance for the first two nights will be CTV News’ Tarah Schwartz as the performance’s narrator. It’s a Rocky Horror tradition that a local celebrity plays the role of the narrator, John Waters and Molly Meldrum being two past examples.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn’t the first film to gain immense popularity as a midnight movie – 1932’s Freaks and 1968’s Night of the Living Dead are only a couple of the numerous films whose cult followings are rooted in this late-night tradition. Unlike other midnight flicks, Rocky Horror continues to draw in large crowds year after year. When I asked O’Connell, a long-time fan of Rocky Horror, why he thinks this cult classic is particularly successful, he boiled it all down to the show’s motto: “Don’t dream it – be it.” Sentimental as this may be, O’Connell finds the show to have an emotional resonance that has persisted – along with its characteristically bizarre, yet immersive quality – over its relatively short but exhilarating lifespan.