In 1973, writer and actor Richard O’Brien wrote a stage play called “The Rocky Horror Show” out of sheer boredom during down time between projects. He gathered a group of friends to help him stage the play in London. It was a hit, and kept moving to larger and larger venues to accommodate the crowds who came to see it. Because of its popularity, O’Brien re-wrote the play as a movie, and renamed it “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” a couple of years later.
The entire cast of the play reprised their roles in the movie, with the exception of the lead roles of Brad and Janet, the hapless couple who stumble into the world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle on a stormy night. Producers felt that American actors were needed for those roles to appeal to an American audience. The parts went to Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. Richard O’Brien himself appeared in the film in the role of Riff Raff, the spooky servant to Frank-N-Furter.
The movie had a lukewarm reception when it was released in 1975. The film’s budget was $1.2 million, and it didn’t even make half of that during the original run. But it gained a cult following due to its “audience participation” showings, usually on Halloween at midnight. Roger Ebert once wrote that it was less a movie and more of a “social phenomenon.”
It has been shown continuously in movie theaters since 1975, making it the longest theatrical run in history. The Museum Lichtspiele cinema in Muenchen, Germany has screened the movie every week since June 24, 1977, offering special “RHPS-Kits” to enable celebrations during the show. The kits contain a biscuit (for the toast), rice (for the wedding), a whistle, a candle (for “There’s a Light”), and a sheet of paper with instructions for dancing the Time Warp.
The role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter was famously played by Tim Curry, and it launched his career. The monster he created, Rocky Horror, was played by underwear model Peter Hinwood. Hinwood had no acting experience and had a horrible singing voice so all his lines were scrapped and his voice was dubbed in the songs.
Tim Curry modelled Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s voice after Queen Elizabeth II and his mother’s “telephone voice.”
Dancer Nell Campbell was asked to be in the stage play after director Jim Sharman saw her busking on the streets of London with her tap dancing. Part of the reason the song “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” was written was to give her an excuse to show off her tap-dancing skills.
Pierre La Roche, a former personal stylist for David Bowie, created the movie’s make-up styles, particularly the signature look for Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
Singer and occasional actor Meat Loaf has a memorable part as Eddie, the delivery boy and partial brain donor to Rocky Horror. Eddie gets a fun entrance, bursting out of a freezer on a motorcycle. Meat Loaf let a stunt man handle that part. Writer Richard O’Brien was concerned that Meat Loaf might not be able to handle the song, “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul.” O’Brien brought out the music and handed it to him, saying “It’s okay to flub a few lines. No one in the London cast has ever sung the whole thing correctly anyway.” Meat Loaf looked it over, replied “What’s the problem?” and then sang the whole thing without skipping a beat or missing a single note.
The budget for the costumes was $1,600, far more than the stage production budget. The entire movie took only three months to film at a real castle in London.